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Bronx Advocates Press State DOT to Take Action on Sheridan Plan

After years of wrangling, advocates, businesses, and elected officials have gotten behind a city plan to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard and take trucks off local streets by building direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Hunts Point. Now it’s up to the state to turn the plan into reality, and the first step is funding an environmental impact statement for the new ramps. For help, Bronx advocates are looking to similar projects across the state.

New ramps from the Bruckner expressway (indicated by a blue circle) would take trucks bound for Hunts Point off local streets in the South Bronx, but it’s up to the state to take the next step. Image: DCP

Earlier this year, the State Senate included $3 million in its budget proposal for the study, but it did not survive budget negotiations. Advocates are hoping the ramp project will be included in state DOT’s next five-year capital plan, due to be released in October at the same time as the MTA’s own capital plan. Inclusion in DOT’s document would help line up funding for the environmental study.

If Bronx advocates are successful in securing funding for the EIS, it would build upon the city’s analysis last year, which estimated the cost of ramps connecting the Bruckner with Oak Point Avenue at $72 million. The city’s study included only two ramps, for traffic going to and from the east, but advocates want the state to study four ramps, for access to both eastbound and westbound Bruckner.

For that study to happen, advocates have to convince the Cuomo administration’s DOT of the importance of the Sheridan project. In 2010, DOT rejected a complete teardown of the Sheridan. The city’s own study last year came to a compromise position that advocates have embraced. To build support for the new vision and spur action from the state, Bronx-based advocates are turning to highway teardown efforts in New York’s other major cities to build a statewide coalition.

Last month in Albany, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo hosted a forum with invited speakers from Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, and Syracuse, where highway teardown projects are either being implemented or studied.

“It helps us elevate what’s going on in the Bronx,” said David Shuffler, executive director of SBRWA member Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. “It’s not just one neighborhood.”

The coalition is now looking to engage with the state DOT to develop standards and a process for how highway removal could work across New York state. Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of SBRWA member Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the groups are looking to host a larger forum this fall in Rochester. That city is represented by both the Senate and Assembly transportation committee chairs and has a federally-funded highway teardown in progress.

“One of the things we need to do is create the political will at the state to make action,” said Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “It’s important for us to… work with community advocates in other areas of the state that are facing similar challenges.”

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Moving Cars vs. Investing in Places — The Struggle for American Cities

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to jam an even bigger version of I-94 through the Story Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are brawling in the press over a proposed highway project — a fight that exemplifies the enormous rift in America about what transportation policy should accomplish.

Walker still thinks about transportation projects the same way the interstate planners of the 1950s thought about them. In his view, the economy depends on moving cars and trucks.

So naturally, Walker insists on plowing a $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee. Among the options on the table is a proposal to double-deck a portion of the highway through a densely populated neighborhood. According to Walker and the state DOT, spending a ton of money to stack highway lanes on top of highway lanes is a practical solution to aid the economy in this barely growing metro area.

“I think the last thing you want to do is have employers look to go bypass the city of Milwaukee when they’re talking about jobs and commerce here,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So you’ve got to make sure there’s a good transportation system.”

One person who disagrees vehemently is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In this case, Barrett represents a very different school of thought about transportation and planning — he thinks investing in places, not traffic movement, will make his city better off.

Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he’s “mystified” by Walker’s refusal to pull the double-decker option off the table. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the additional highway deck, which would have a “negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives” of residents of the Story Hill neighborhood.

Admittedly, there’s more going on here than contentious views about transportation. Walker and Barrett are political rivals who’ve faced off twice for the governor’s chair. But in many ways they embody the broader debate about American transportation policy — the tug of war between the Eisenhower-era mentality of moving traffic at all costs, and the seemingly ascendant notion that public wellbeing depends on transportation decisions that make places healthy and economically strong.

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7 Photos Show How Detroit Hollowed Out During the Highway Age

While searching for images of highway interchanges in urban areas, I came across these historic aerial photos of Detroit on a message board, showing how the city fabric has slowly eroded. It’s a remarkable record of a process that has scarred many other American cities.

1949: Here’s what the east side of the city looked like right at the middle of the century, with Gratiot Avenue forming the diagonal. Detroit was a big, bustling city.

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1952: Just a few years later though, urban renewal and other city-clearing initiatives were already leaving their mark.

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1961: Almost a decade later, you can see a large space south of Gratiot had been cleared to make way for Lafayette Park, a neighborhood of high-rise residential towers.

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Battle Lines Drawn Over Syracuse Highway Teardown

Syracuse's I-81 is crumbling. Will the city rebuild it, or tear it down?Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

Syracuse’s I-81 is crumbling. Will it be rebuilt and continue to divide downtown Syracuse, or will it be torn down? Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

To keep the aging relic blighting downtown, or tear it down?

That’s the question looming over many American cities with Eisenhower-era highways these days. And nowhere is that question more immediate than in Syracuse.

Syracuse’s Interstate 81 is one of the best candidates for a highway teardown in the country. The aging elevated freeway is widely considered a blight on the city and is nearing the end of its useful life. The state of New York is considering a plan to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard.

If Syracuse tears down I-81 — and there are a lot of compelling reasons to do that — it could set an important precedent for other American cities, helping to make intentional highway removal more common.

The removal of I-81 enjoys a great deal of grassroots and political support, but nothing worthwhile ever happens without a fight, and a new group has emerged to oppose the teardown. They call themselves Save 81.

Among Save 81′s public list of members are a number of suburban politicians and business owners who believe the highway is vital to their interests.

The issue has been heating up since last year, when state officials narrowed down the options for I-81 to two: tear it down or rebuild it. In doing so, the state acknowledged that burying the roadway is not financially feasible.

A concept rendering for the boulevard that could replace I-81. Image: Onondaga Citizen League

A concept rendering for the boulevard that could replace I-81. Image: Onondaga Citizens League

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You Can Now Bring Street Transformations to Life With Google Street View

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If you ever want to show someone that it’s possible to change streets and cities for the better, Google Street View can now help you do it.

Google recently made it possible to view archived Street View images. This means it’s easier than ever to show what streets looked like before and after a redesign. (Thanks to the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma for bringing our attention to this new feature.)

We were able to animate a few street transformations from around the country with the new Street View feature. Above you can see the arrival of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail on North Street. People for Bikes called the project the second-best protected bike lane in the United States.

Allen Street on New York City’s Lower East Side features one of New York City’s most unique bikeways, which runs in the center of the street and is part of a boulevard-style median, complete with small plazas like this one in what used to be the middle of intersections:

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City Council Gets on Board With Overhauling the Sheridan. Will Cuomo?

A model from the Department of City Planning shows how the Sheridan Expressway could be transformed — but it all depends on Governor Cuomo. Click to enlarge. Photo: Stephen Miller

After nearly two decades of advocacy and planning to transform the Sheridan Expressway, South Bronx residents and businesses have a plan they agree on. The next step: Governor Cuomo’s State DOT must launch an environmental review to begin implementing the plan. The State Senate included $3 million for the review in its budget proposal [PDF]. With a unanimous 10-0 vote this afternoon, the City Council transportation committee urged the state to follow through and conduct the study. The full City Council is expected to endorse the request tomorrow.

“This vote is a historic moment for our campaign,” said Angela Tovar, director of policy and research at Sustainable South Bronx. “This plan is both mutually beneficial for businesses and for community residents.”

It’s been a long campaign to reach this point: Local residents, under the umbrella of the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance, fought back a state plan to expand the Sheridan in 1997. More recently, after the state — followed a couple of years later by the city — rejected complete removal of the expressway, advocates focused on what they could accomplish as the city continued to study other options to transform the highway.

The final product of the city’s multi-agency planning effort would provide residents with safer streets and improved access to the Bronx River, while creating better routes for the 15,000 daily truck trips to and from the Hunts Point wholesale food market.

“We have consensus with the business community, which has long been seen as adversarial to this change,” said Kellie Terry, executive director of THE POINT Community Development Corporation.

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Tear Down These 10 Freeways! (And Then Tear Down Some More)

New Orleans' Claiborne Expressway is ripe for demolition, says CNU. Image: CNU

New Orleans’ Claiborne Expressway is ripe for demolition. Photo: CNU

Freeway teardowns are no longer as rare as an earthquake during the World Series.

The Congress for the New Urbanism is back with its annual Freeways Without Futures list — the 10 highways most likely to be history in a few years. This year, the organization is also recognizing five other campaigns to watch, plus a handful of other projects in various stages of study and completion, in places like Akron, Buffalo, and Dallas.

Ranking at the top is New Orleans’ I-10/Claiborne Overpass. This elevated highway nearly destroyed the Treme neighborhood, one of the country’s first free black communities, when it was constructed in the 1960s. After the structure was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, planners started to reconsider its future, resulting in the first calls for a teardown. More recently, U.S. DOT awarded the city $2 million to study the road’s future, including the option of replacing the elevated structure with an at-grade boulevard.

Leaders at Syracuse University think I-81 is an impediment to the school's growth. Image: CNU

Leaders at Syracuse University think I-81 is an impediment to the school’s growth. Photo: CNU

CNU also singles out Syracuse’s I-81. The political momentum to remove this 1960s-era eyesore, especially a 1.4-mile section that extends into downtown, has been building for years. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Minor supports it, and even New York State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald has expressed her personal opinion that “it would be great for the community to bring it down,” CNU reports. A teardown is one of six options currently being formally considered by the state DOT.

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Dallas Official: Without a Highway Teardown, Park Gets “Free Shade”

Getting officials on board with a highway teardown in Dallas is no easy task. Just ask Patrick Kennedy, a Dallas planner who has led the charge to remove IH-345, an elevated stump of a highway near central Dallas.

A Dallas official described this setting as a good place for athletic courts. Photo: Dallas Morning News

Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation dismissed the teardown proposal out of hand, refusing to even consider it in the range of alternatives being discussed for the aging viaduct.

Local officials, meanwhile, seem to think that won’t be an entirely bad thing for the park they’re planning nearby. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan recently told the Dallas Morning News that IH-345 might actually provide an amenity to park-goers.

“One nice thing about an elevated freeway is that it provides free shade, which is important, and you can do things like athletic courts that would be appropriate for underneath a freeway,” she said.

Kennedy and his supporters at A New Dallas have been arguing for years that tearing down the elevated highway stub is the best thing for the city. They argue that removing the highway would cost about as much as repairing it: around $100 million. But rather than saddling the city with an expensive maintenance liability, the teardown would open up enough space to support $4 billion worth of development, returning up to $100 million in property tax revenue annually to the city.

Despite the unfortunate comments by Jordan, a growing number of local leaders have been warming to the idea, Kennedy says. He’s not giving up just because TxDOT is being dismissive.

“This is just TxDOT issuing an administrative edict,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t mean we should not call them out for abandoning any pretext of a public process.”

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Will the Feds Support Rochester’s Downtown Highway Teardown?

Rochester's sunken Inner Loop Expressway completely encircles downtown. Now the city is poised to remove a portion of it. Image: Innovation Trail

It’s been called a “noose around the neck of downtown.” The Inner Loop in Rochester, New York — a regrettable 1960s-era sunken highway — completely encircles the city’s downtown, forming a wall between residential neighborhoods and the central business district.

The road is unsightly and impassable on foot, a huge barrier to walkability. And it doesn’t even see that much traffic: Some sections of the road carry less than 7,000 vehicles per day, a volume that could be easily supported by a regular, two-lane road.

One rendering of the proposed surface street to replace the Inner Loop East. Image: City of Rochester

The current city leadership is firmly committed to a $24 million plan to fill in and replace a stretch of the road called the Inner Loop East — about two-thirds of a mile — with an at-grade city street. It would open nine acres of city land to mixed-use, walkable development. The plan would improve safety and help support active transportation, officials say. The City Council voted last year to allocate $6 million in local funds for the project.

All Rochester needs now is federal matching funds, but that has proven difficult to accomplish. The city has twice tried, and failed, to win federal TIGER funds for the project. Rochester recently submitted its third TIGER grant application, seeking $18 million, and the city has Senator Chuck Schumer on their side, according to the Rochester Business Journal. Schumer recently met with new Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to try to persuade him that Rochester deserves the grant.

Meanwhile, the city is moving to finalize the design portion of the plan. Some versions even call for a two-way protected bike lane on the new surface street. If the funding comes through in the next few months, the demolition and reconstruction could begin as soon as next fall, the Business Journal reports.

Mayor Thomas Richards told the Business Journal that the highway removal could give this shrinking industrial city a much-needed boost.

“This project will benefit the entire city,” he said. “We are building a city that encourages walking, biking and enjoying the outdoor environment. Replacing this section of the Inner Loop will demonstrate the city’s commitment to fostering quality of life here in Rochester.”

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Highway Revolts Break Out Across the Midwest

The evolution of state and regional transportation agencies is painfully slow in places like Missouri and Ohio, where officials are plowing ahead with pricey highway projects conceived of decades ago. But plenty of Midwesterners have different ideas for the future of their communities, and they aren’t shy about speaking up.

Protesters picket outside the headquarters of the Southeast Michigan Regional Council of Governments against plans to spend $4 billion on two highway widenings. Image: Transit Riders Union

One after another, residents of major Midwestern cities have challenged highway projects in recent months. People in Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oklahoma City have reached the conclusion that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on road widenings might not be in their communities’ best interests.

And it’s not just a few activists. Challenges have come from people like Council Member Ed Shadid in Oklahoma City, institutions like the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and local governments like the city of Maplewood, just outside St. Louis.

Detroiters held signs outside a meeting of their regional planning agency earlier this month, picketing plans for $4 billion worth of highway expansion projects. Though the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments ultimately green-lighted the plans, members of the agency had to sit through two hours of negative public comments first. Not only was the public moved to speak out, so were the city of Detroit and the county of Washtenaw, which officially opposed the project.

And in Oklahoma City, the grassroots group Friends of a Better Boulevard has twice fought back state DOT plans to install a wide, highway-like boulevard in a developing area near the city’s downtown. As we reported this week, the FHWA recently intervened on the group’s behalf and forced ODOT to consider a proposal to restore the street grid instead of building a new road.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, environmental and civil rights groups may soon obtain a court injunction against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee, on the grounds that project sponsors did not consider its potential impact on sprawl and transit-dependent communities. And in Cleveland, a few scrappy activists and the Sierra Club are opposing a $100-million-per-mile roadway that would displace 90 families on the city’s southeast side.

Now St. Louis has a highway battle on its hands. In many ways, this fight echoes the other protest movements. The South County Connector — like Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor” — is a “zombie” highway project. It was first conceived in 1957. The original concept was for an “inner belt expressway.” Its stated purpose is to “improve connectivity between south St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, and central St. Louis County” and “improve access to Interstates 44, 64, 55, and 170.”

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