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The Randall’s Island Connector Is Finally Here

This spring, the Highbridge re-opened between the Bronx and Manhattan, the first car-free crossing linking the two boroughs. Now the second one in less than a year is open with the debut of the Randall’s Island Connector. The project has been in the pipeline for what seems like forever, and on Saturday it opened to the delight of many South Bronx residents.

The connector provides a direct and easy link between the developing South Bronx greenway network and Randall’s Island, with its athletic fields, picnic tables, miles of beautiful greenways, and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. From Randall’s Island, you can bike or walk to the big island via the 103rd Street footbridge.

Advance apologies for some of the sound. When the winds are gusting over 30 mph and you are below an Amtrak train trestle, well, those aren’t ideal conditions. But kudos to the hundreds of people who showed up on a cold and blustery fall morning to celebrate the occasion.


Trucker Who Killed Woman Admits Negligence, NYPD Still Blames Victim


Footage from the scene shows Floria Burton walking around a stopped truck blocking an unmarked crosswalk before the driver accelerated and ran her over. Still via Daily News

Update: The Daily News identified the Queens hit-and-run victim as Agalia Gounaris, 84, of Flushing. Police said the bus was located in Connecticut, en route to a casino, and that by that time evidence was lost due to rain. The driver was being questioned, the News reported.

Motorists took the lives of two people walking yesterday, bringing to eight the number of pedestrians killed by New York City drivers in the last week.

Floria Burton, 55, known locally as “Ms. Pat,” was pushing a laundry cart across Seneca Avenue at Bryant Avenue in Hunts Point at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when a dump truck driver ran her over.

There are no traffic signals at Seneca and Bryant avenues. Video published by the Daily News shows Burton approach the corner and pause before walking around the front of the truck, which appears to be blocking an unmarked crosswalk. When she is directly in front of the truck, the driver accelerates into her.

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Burton’s friend Maritza DeJesus, who saw what happened, spoke with the News:

“He backed up and went over her again,” she said. Burton was alive, but fading fast, DeJesus said, tears streaming down her face.

“I was talking to her. I was saying, ‘Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on!’ When she looked at me she didn’t even recognize me. She was already gone.”

Despite video evidence indicating otherwise, unnamed police sources gave the impression that an oblivious Burton stepped into the driver’s path as the truck approached. In a story with the headline “Woman talking on cell phone killed by dump truck,” the Post reported that Burton was “chatting on her cell phone when she was struck.”

“Witnesses said she was on the phone and did not see the truck coming when she was hit, according to police,” reported DNAinfo, which posted video that clearly indicates Burton was hit as she tried to walk around the stopped truck.

It is not clear from the video if Burton was talking on a phone, but she wasn’t holding one to her head. Meanwhile, NYPD filed no charges despite the driver’s admission that he wasn’t paying attention when he hit Burton. From the DNAinfo story:

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Bronx River Greenway Gets a $10 Million Boost From TIGER

A critical link in the Bronx River Greenway is getting a funding boost from the feds that should help put an end to years of bureaucratic delays.

Phase two of Starlight Park (the red part) includes the missing link in the Bronx River Greenway that will be getting a $10 million TIGER grant. Map: Bronx River Alliance

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded New York City a $10 million TIGER grant to build out walking and biking paths and bridges connecting two parks along the Bronx River. The project will fill a gap in the greenway so people can avoid a dangerous highway ramp.

The project consists of three bridges and .75 miles of paths directly linking Concrete Plant Park to the south and Starlight Park to the north. Without this link, the only route along the river between the two parks involves crossing a Sheridan Expressway access ramp.

The state DOT had years ago committed funds to the project, estimated in 2008 to cost $35.7 million, but that funding expired in 2009 after the department could not reach an agreement about one of the greenway bridges with Amtrak, whose Acela Express runs along the river between the two parks. In 2013, the first segment of Starlight Park opened, and the Bronx River Alliance called on the state and city to get the greenway project done as part of the second segment.

With the $10 million from the feds announced Monday, a $7 to $10 million funding shortfall remains, according to Claudia Ibaven of the Bronx River Alliance. In addition to the TIGER grant, the project has a commitment of $12 million from the city and additional funding from various state, federal, and non-profit agencies.

The project does have the attention of major elected officials. In a statement announcing the TIGER award, Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Congressman Jose Serrano all lauded the grant as an important step in the pursuit of better pedestrian and bicycle routes in the Bronx.

“This link is essential to making the Bronx River Greenway a truly viable non-motorized transportation network that promotes sustainability and healthy transportation options for South Bronx neighborhoods, which have historically been deprived of open space, bicycle and pedestrian trails, and waterfront access,” Gillibrand said in the statement.


Eyes on the Street: Protection for Cyclists on Bruckner Boulevard

DOT crews were out on Bruckner Boulevard yesterday putting in Jersey barriers to protect a new two-way bike lane. The bikeway will run for half a mile between Hunts Point Avenue and Longwood Avenue, the first phase in what should eventually be a link between the Bronx River Greenway and Randall’s Island. For the time being, it will terminate at Longwood, with sharrows pointing to the less-stressful Southern Boulevard.

The bikeway is part of a package of improvements that will help people safely walk and bike between the neighborhoods around Bruckner Boulevard, which many must cross to access the 2, 5, and 6 trains. It’s one of the most dangerous streets in the Bronx: Between 2009 and 2013 there were almost 600 traffic injuries at the five intersections covered by this project [PDF].

The bikeway on Bruckner Boulevard should extend south and connect to Randall’s Island. Image: NYC DOT


South Bronx Greenway Takes Shape on Food Center Drive

Planting is underway on the latest segment of the South Bronx Greenway on Food Center Drive. Photo: Angela Tovar/Sustainable South Bronx

Crews tend planter beds on the latest segment of the South Bronx Greenway on Food Center Drive, set to open this fall. Photo: Angela Tovar/Sustainable South Bronx

A decade in the making, the South Bronx Greenway segment along Food Center Drive in Hunts Point is almost complete. The loop, which will provide a protected path along a busy truck route past some of the region’s largest food and beverage distributors, is set to open this fall.

First proposed by the city in the 2005 Hunts Point Vision Plan, the greenway along Food Center Drive will provide a safe link between residential areas of Hunts Point and the neighborhood’s waterfront parks.

Currently, Food Center Drive has three lanes in each direction divided by a concrete median. A 2004 traffic study by the city found that 70 percent of truck traffic on the loop moves counter-clockwise, so the street will become one-way under the new design, with both sides of the median carrying counter-clockwise traffic. The project also removes one car lane on the outer loop to make way for the greenway.


The bikeway on Food Center Drive will help link the residential areas of Hunts Point to its waterfront parks. Map: EDC

One-way operation enables the elimination of left turns across the greenway. The change, which has been under discussion for years, entailed mapping Food Center Drive as a city street and receiving approvals through the city’s land use review process, including from the borough president and the local community board.

Some businesses along Food Center Drive, however, launched a last-ditch effort to stop the one-way change at last week’s Bronx Community Board 2 economic development committee meeting.

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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.”


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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Hunts Point to Cuomo: Get Trucks Off Local Bronx Streets

Hunts Point is one of New York City’s largest industrial hubs, generating 15,000 truck trips every day over local streets in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The result? Pollution and dangerous streets for residents, as well as wasted resources for businesses. Yesterday, the city released a mammoth study of land use and transportation in the area, and it includes one recommendation that local advocates say the state should pursue immediately: a study of direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to the industrial areas of Hunts Point.

Today, trucks going to Hunts Point follow the solid red line on the highway, but follow the dashed line on local streets. Direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway at the blue circle would keep trucks off local streets. Image: DCP

Tuesday morning, neighborhood advocates from the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance gathered with Assembly Member Marcos Crespo and Hunts Point industrial business owners to call on the state to prioritize new ramps connecting the Bruckner Expressway directly with Oak Point Avenue in Hunts Point, which would keep trucks off neighborhood streets.

The city presented recommendations for improving the area around the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway in June and yesterday released its final report. Implement those recommendations is now up to the state, which controls the expressways that carve up the neighborhood.

The Alliance sees the Oak Point ramps as an area of common ground with industrial interests on Hunts Point. Management of the Hunts Point Terminal Market opposed tearing down the Sheridan Expressway, a major goal of the Alliance. Ultimately, the city recommended converting a major section of the Sheridan to a surface street instead of completely removing it.

As initially proposed by the Alliance, the ramps would connect to the eastbound and westbound Bruckner. While the city had performed traffic analysis only for ramps carrying traffic to and from the east, it did not preclude the full set of ramps, and advocates called on the state to study the four-way ramp option.

Advocates are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo and his DOT commissioner, Joan McDonald, to move forward with the Oak Point ramp study. They are joined by groups including the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation and the Hunts Point Produce Market. The coalition’s letter to Cuomo notes that the Oak Point ramps would help support a $29 million investment from the governor’s regional economic development council in the Hunts Point Produce Market.

“Of all the plans and proposals, this is something we agree on. Let’s move forward with this,” said Assembly Member Marcos Crespo. “We have businesses that are saying, ‘We’d love to do more, but we’re constrained.’ This would loosen up those constraints to a large extent.”

“It’s just going to make business a lot easier to do, because trucks will go directly into the industrial area,” said Edward Taylor, owner of Down East Seafood distributors, which has 60 employees and 15 trucks. “There’s a lot of really big tractor-trailers that are just not made for these streets,” he said. “Now is the time to put the infrastructure in so we have the opportunity to grow the area without impacting the folks that live here.”

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NYPD Issues Careless Driving Summons for Death of Bronx Senior

A 66-year-old woman struck by a driver last week in Hunts Point was at least the 29th senior killed by a New York City motorist in 2013, and the third person killed by a driver in the City Council district represented by Maria del Carmen Arroyo in five weeks.

Maria Montalvo. Photo via News 12

Maria Montalvo. Photo via News 12

Reports said Maria Montalvo was in a crosswalk at Hunts Point Avenue and Lafayette Avenue last Friday at around 10:40 a.m. when the driver of a Nissan pickup truck struck her while making a left turn.

From DNAinfo:

Moments after the crash, Montalvo’s husband and adult daughter rushed to her side from their nearby apartment building. O’Neill, who has known the family for 35 years, declined to give their names.

“He went to his wife, looked down and lost it,” he said.

Montalvo’s daughter was equally emotional, screaming, “It’s my mother, what happened, who hit her?” according to O’Neill.

Montalvo died at Lincoln Hospital. News 12 reported that the 55-year-old male driver was issued summonses for failure to exercise due care and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

The crash happened in daylight hours, and Montalvo walked with a cane. So if this incident occurred as reported, it’s pretty clear that the victim died as a result of negligent behavior on the part of the driver. Still, it’s impossible to know exactly what factors led NYPD to issue summonses.

Careless driving was intended to be a default infraction for crashes that injure vulnerable street users. But in the hands of NYPD it is reserved for very serious injuries or fatalities, and is seemingly used in place of criminal charges. Historically, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Reckless drivers have killed three people in Arroyo’s council district since the start of October. Witnesses said the motorist who hit 74-year-old Candida Acosta of Mott Haven on November 5 was speeding and ran a stop sign before jumping a curb and slamming into an apartment building. The driver was not charged or summonsed by NYPD. Nor was the school bus driver who ran over Genielle Laboriel on October 2, as the victim was riding a skateboard across E. 160th Street from a Melrose Avenue sidewalk.

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City Recommends Turning Sheridan Into Surface Road. Your Move, State DOT.

A model from the Department of City Planning shows the city's recommendation for converting the Sheridan Expressway to a surface road. Photo: Stephen Miller

Community activists in the South Bronx have been fighting a long time to remove the Sheridan Expressway, a short freeway that cuts off their neighborhoods from the Bronx River. After the state Department of Transportation rejected the teardown in 2010 and city agencies ruled it out  again last year, advocates trimmed their sails and worked for the best option short of complete removal. And last night, the effort to reimagine the Sheridan took a major step forward: The city’s study team officially recommended transforming the Sheridan Expressway to a surface road, opening up land for park access and new development.

The city’s multi-agency team, funded by a $1.5 million federal TIGER grant, included staff from the Department of City Planning, NYC DOT, and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, along with the Economic Development Corporation. Now that the two-year study process is complete, the focus turns to the state — and the city’s next mayor — to turn the recommendations into reality.

The plan would direct truck traffic bound for the Hunts Point Produce Market off local streets and directly to the wholesale market via a surface-level Sheridan and new Bruckner Expressway ramps at Oak Point Avenue. Most of the recommendations were revealed in May in draft form, but there have been some tweaks in the month since.

On June 14, every member of the Bronx City Council delegation except James Vacca and Melissa Mark-Viverito signed on to a letter to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel, asking the city to add elements identified by the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance, the neighborhood coalition advocating for a teardown. The letter recommends new Oak Point ramps to and from the west, not just the east, which would lead more truckers to take the Bruckner, as well as closing the northbound ramp from the Sheridan Expressway to Westchester Avenue, which would improve neighborhood access to Concrete Plant Park. The city’s final report recommends exploring those ramp changes, but because the study period has concluded, the city will not perform a traffic analysis for those options, instead leaving that to the state.

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