May/June 1997, p.2
Provocateur: Taste of the Future
New Yorkers are slowly getting to know the joys of streets without autos. The banning of traffic on Fifth Avenue for four successive Saturdays proved so delightful to pedestrians and so generally harmless to merchants that Saturday closings have now been tried out twice on Lexington Avenue and on Eighth Street in the Village, with one-day experiments scheduled for thoroughfares in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
The pleasure of pedestrians in these early experiments has been unmistakable and understandable. On these same streets they had habitually inhaled lungsful of carbon monoxide, strained to talk and be heard above the screeching of machinery and leaped for the curb to escape taxis poised to swoop down on them the second the light changed - or a second sooner.
Instead of this commonplace nightmare, they now find themselves strolling, breathing, talking in conversational tones and threatened by no machine more formidable than the colorful mini-trains left over from the World's Fair. By-products of the relaxed atmosphere, one businessman reported, were congenial customers and a courteous sales staff, both rare phenomena in Manhattan.
While business was not everywhere improved, only an occasional merchant reported it appreciably off. Those on Madison Avenue, in fact, were so "inspired" by the Fifth Avenue experience that they requested and received the privilege of having their own street regularly closed to traffic on Tuesday evenings, starting next month. Since the "general concept of street closings," Mayor Lindsay says, is now "firmly established as city policy," it is reasonable to raise a fundamental question. Surely the problem of auto pollution will not be solved by eliminating it on Fifth Avenue only to double it on Lexington. And just as surely the nerves of New Yorkers will not be soothed by turning a single mile of a single street into a pleasant mall for a single day of the week. Isn't the real purpose of this new policy to prepare people for the day when the private car will be permanently banned from much of the central city? It surely ought to be - and not just to prepare them, but to give them enough taste of a traffic-free city to stimu-late a popular demand for it in the not-so-distant future.
--The New York Times editorial, August 18, 1970
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