Not all efforts to establish pedestrian streets have been successful. Where failures have occurred, these have generally been attributed to either an insufficiently dense population of potential patrons, inadequate or incompatible public transit within the zone, and/or indifferent design, maintenance, and promotion of the street.
The most successful pedestrian streets tend, not surprisingly, to be those served by the permanence and high capacities of rail transit systems. In the larger cities these may include underground metros, often supplemented locally by light rail; in smaller cities light rail itself may serve as the metro, running at higher speeds on separated rights-of-way in outlying areas, but more slowly at grade within downtown auto-free zones as the hubs of regional networks. In Europe there are thriving examples of light rail/auto-free streets in Amsterdam, Heidelberg, Linz, Zürich, Bremen, Kassel, and Gothenburg. In the US they are found in Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Memphis and Portland.
Denver’s 16th Mall—one of the most prosperous pedestrian streets in the US—was masterfully designed and constructed. Its visual attraction certainly accounts for much of the Mall’s financial success.
Portugal has invested a substantial amount of artistry, resources, and effort in the paving of its sidewalks and plazas. Throughout Lisbon, there is a common color pallet of paving stones, taken from the local quarries. Within the restraint of this pallet, a great variety of designs has been developed, creating a wonderful series of outdoor public spaces. A similar idea might be appropriate for 42nd Street — the paving of each block designed as a variation on, yet as an integral part of the whole.