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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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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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City Close to Recommending Surface Road Replacement for Sheridan

The city is close to recommending that the Sheridan Expressway, a short, sparsely-used interstate that community activists have targeted for removal for years, be transformed into a street-level roadway that opens land for new development and improves neighborhood access to parks along the Bronx River.

Today, trucks going to Hunts Point follow the solid red line on the highway, but follow the dashed line on local streets. The plan to convert a section of the Sheridan Expressway to a surface road would also add direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway at the blue circle. Image: DCP

The news came Tuesday night at a public meeting attended by about 60 people, where staff from the Department of City Planning, the Department of Transportation, and the Economic Development Corporation fielded questions after unveiling the draft recommendations, which would narrow the road width from 210 feet to an estimated 115 feet, create three signalized intersections along a section of the Sheridan, and open up new sites for development.

The next morning, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance held a press conference on an overpass above the Sheridan. “That is a good start,” Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice Executive Director David Shuffler said of the surface road proposal. “But we still feel that they have a lot more ways to go.”

The plan’s two major components come with cost estimates: DOT says that new ramps connecting Oak Point Avenue with the Bruckner Expressway would cost $72 million, while transforming a section of the Sheridan into a surface road would require $45 million. These cost estimates don’t include other recommendations, such as pedestrian access improvements and decking over a portion of the highway.

“Closing things is always cheaper than opening them,” DOT federal programs advisor Linda Bailey said, adding that the project team was trying to keep costs down in order to improve the likelihood of the project’s most important components becoming reality.

The Oak Point ramps, in combination with the closure of a ramp from the southbound Sheridan to Westchester Avenue, would re-route trucks accessing the Hunts Point Produce Market off local streets and directly to the industrial area. Advocates want ramps to and from the west, as well, but DOT only studied east-side ramps, which would serve traffic using the Sheridan and reduce the overall project cost by tens of millions of dollars. Another DOT cost-saving measure was to redesign the off-ramp from the westbound Bruckner; instead of flying over the expressway, it would connect directly to street level at Leggett Avenue.

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Sheridan Alternatives Offer Hope for Surface Road in Place of Expressway

One option under consideration for the Sheridan Expressway is to convert a section of the highway to much narrower road with some at-grade crossings at intersections. Image: DCP

While the city’s refusal to remove the Sheridan Expressway left South Bronx advocates frustrated, the fight to transform the under-used highway continues, with the city’s federally-funded planning study on track for completion in June. A presentation to community partners last week [PDF] shed new light on options the city is considering, offering some hope that the highway’s footprint could be drastically reduced, essentially becoming a surface road.

The presentation to the project’s community working group on March 7 was led by Tawkiyah Jordan, Sheridan Expressway project manager for the Department of City Planning, and Michael Marsico, assistant commissioner of modeling and data analysis at NYC DOT.

Four options were analyzed:

  • “No build” would not modify the existing street and expressway network;
  • “Retain” keeps the Sheridan Expressway as-is but adds direct ramps from Oak Point Avenue in Hunts Point to the Bruckner Expressway;
  • “Modify-Separated” converts the Sheridan to a street-level boulevard, while also retaining the parallel West Farms Road and adding the Oak Point ramps;
  • “Modify-Combined” merges the Sheridan with West Farms Road, creating a single street-level boulevard, while also adding the Oak Point ramps.

Prior to last week’s meeting, the city said only that it was considering an undefined “modify” scenario, along with “no build” and “retain.” Splitting the “modify” option into the “separated” and “combined” alternatives is a big step forward. Both would significantly alter the Sheridan between Westchester Avenue and the the Cross Bronx Expressway, leaving the southern section near Concrete Plant Park, which is adjacent to an Amtrak rail corridor, mostly untouched.

The two modify scenarios would also provide space for new development and bring pedestrian crossings to street level. Under the “separated” scenario, the road right-of-way would be narrowed from the existing 210 feet to approximately 155 feet; under the “combined” option, it would be reduced further to an estimated 115 feet.

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Deferred, Not Defeated: Sheridan Teardown Advocates Move Ahead

In the wake of the city’s refusal to consider removing the Sheridan Expressway, advocates from the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance gathered last night at a town hall meeting to revise their game plan. Although the long-term vision of removing the highway lives on, the discussion focused on other potential improvements along the Sheridan corridor.

Community members talk about alternatives to highway removal at last night's town hall. Photo: Stephen Miller

“We started this campaign wanting a full removal of the Sheridan,” Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice Executive Director David Shuffler told the crowd of just under 100. “We’re at a different place now.”

“It’s off the table for now and the Alliance accepts that,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog. “These sorts of grand visions often take decades.”

With or without a highway removal, many community goals can still be achieved, including improved pedestrian safety and redevelopment to support business incubation and affordable housing. The Alliance has long advocated for new ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to the Hunts Point Produce Market to reduce the impact of truck traffic on surrounding neighborhoods, but also wants to ensure that local residents get better access to new waterfront parks along the Bronx River.

All the Alliance members — Mothers on the Move, Nos Quedamos, The Point Community Development Corporation, Sustainable South Bronx, the Pratt Center for Community Development, YMPJ and TSTC — were at last night’s meeting. Overall it was a young audience, with lots of turnout from teenagers involved in local community groups. ”I was a young person when I got involved in this work many years ago,” Shuffler told Streetsblog. ”What’s really critical is an inter-generational conversation. We engage their parents, as well.”

Participants broke into six groups to discuss how the area around the Sheridan Expressway can be improved without removing the freeway entirely. They looked at five zones along the corridor before reporting back to the entire meeting.

In addition to identifying opportunities for affordable housing, business incubators, and recreational space, participants discussed new approaches to reconnecting the areas that have been divided by the Sheridan, such as decking over sections of the highway instead of a complete teardown.

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You Can Drive a Truck Through the Gaps in City’s Refusal to Remove Sheridan

The city told advocates that if the Sheridan Expressway is taken down, truckers heading to the Hunts Point market will end up on local streets instead of taking the Major Deegan, because of this difficult merge from the George Washington Bridge. However, if the lower level of the GWB was open to trucks, as it was before September 11, 2001, the merge onto the Deegan would be easier. Image: Department of City Planning

Last month, the Bloomberg administration unexpectedly ruled out the option of removing the Sheridan Expressway and replacing it with housing and parks, telling South Bronx advocates that added truck traffic projected for local streets was a “fatal flaw” in the highway teardown. After a closer look at that truck traffic analysis, however, the coalition calling for the highway removal says the city overlooked some obvious options to keep trucks off neighborhood streets.

When the city’s Sheridan team started meeting with South Bronx community groups last year, they indicated that the teardown decision would take a wide range of factors into account, like economic development and pollution reduction. But at a meeting with advocates on May 10, the city changed course and ruled out removing the highway based only on an analysis of truck traffic. The about-face came while the NYC Economic Development Corporation is negotiating a long-term contract with wholesale distributors at the Hunts Point Produce Market, which some trucks access via the Sheridan. As WNYC reported today, the market was opposed to the teardown, and city officials have indicated privately that the removal plan was a casualty of the negotiations.

Now the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance — the coalition that supports removing the Sheridan — is highlighting flaws in the truck traffic analysis and pressing the city to resume a full study of the teardown plan.”They have taken the worst-case traffic scenario and used it to justify dropping this alternative from further study,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The Sheridan teardown plan includes measures to keep truck traffic off residential streets — specifically, the construction of new ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Oak Point Avenue, giving trucks a more direct route to the Hunts Point market. But the city asserted that under the teardown scenario, trucks would not switch from the Sheridan route to the Bruckner route. Here’s why advocates say that assumption is off-base.

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City Abruptly Rejects Sheridan Teardown; Serrano and Advocates Fight Back

The Bloomberg administration has abruptly ruled out the possibility of tearing down the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway and replacing it with mixed-use development, jobs, and parks. Neighborhood advocates and electeds are vowing to fight the decision, which they say fails to follow through on the comprehensive analysis the city promised to conduct as part of a $1.5 million federal grant.

sheridan teardown

After receiving a $1.5 million federal grant to comprehensively study the potential to replace the Sheridan Expressway with development and parks, New York City suddenly rejected the teardown option based solely on a traffic analysis. Image of community vision for the decommissioned Sheridan: Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance

At a meeting with South Bronx community groups on May 10, city officials unexpectedly announced that they would no longer consider the teardown option, according to advocates who attended. Led by the Department of City Planning, the Sheridan study promised to produce a comprehensive analysis of how replacing the Sheridan with development, jobs, and parks stacks up against rehabbing the aging highway and letting it stay in place. Instead, say advocates, officials simply showed community members a cursory traffic analysis to justify the rejection of the teardown option.

Earlier meetings between the city’s Sheridan team and neighborhood advocates had been promising, indicating that the city would evaluate not just the traffic impacts of tearing down the highway, but also the economic, environmental and social benefits of replacing the highway with other uses. “We thought they would do a more comprehensive, thorough review, and they didn’t,” said Veronica Vanterpool, associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The sudden shift came as the city was in the midst of a 90-day negotiating window with the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market Cooperative – wholesale food distributors operating out of the South Bronx — over a long-term contract. While lightly used compared to other highways (its route basically duplicates that of the Major Deegan, four miles west), the Sheridan is a primary route for trucks bound for the market, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation is keen to prevent the market from decamping to New Jersey.

The teardown was expected to marginally lengthen truck trips to Hunts Point, but would also include a number of measures to relieve bottlenecks in the local highway system, as well as new ramps providing direct truck access to the market from the Bruckner Expressway. Whether the market distributors would actually follow through on threats to move to the much more inconvenient side of the Hudson River is also highly questionable.

Advocates today demanded that the city put the teardown option back on the table. “The city’s study so far falls extremely short of the purpose of this grant and it cannot prematurely remove options from the table before completing the comprehensive analysis,” said Jessica Clemente, executive director of We Stay/Nos Quedamos. “Reconsidering the option to remove the Sheridan Expressway will help the city ensure that the Hunts Point market — and local economy — continues to thrive and South Bronx residents can enjoy a safer, more vibrant community.”

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What Should Happen to the Sheridan Expressway? Share Your Ideas Tomorrow

The potential teardown of the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx is the most exciting street reclamation initiative in the works anywhere in NYC. For years, local advocates doggedly built the case for replacing the aging highway with housing, parks, and other uses. Recently we’ve seen some major breakthroughs that make the teardown an increasingly realistic scenario. Most notably, the U.S. Department of Transportation is funding a comprehensive study by the New York City Department of City Planning to determine what could take the Sheridan’s place.

Tomorrow the city will be hosting its first public workshop for local residents to weigh in with their ideas about the future of the Sheridan and the surrounding neighborhoods. From Vincent Pellecchia at Mobilizing the Region:

This Saturday, October 15 from 9:30am to 2:00pm, the NYC Department of City Planning will host a public charrette at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School - 1021 Jennings Street, Bronx, NY – 10460. Bronx residents and anyone interested in the future of the South Bronx should plan on attending.

A public charrette is essentially a workshop that allows citizens to get involved in the planning process by helping the City better understand the community and their visions of what the future of the community should look like.

The focus of the charrette will be to develop land use and transportation scenarios for the future of the Sheridan Expressway.

Basically, the City wants to hear from you. It wants to know what you think is the best way to use the Sheridan and surrounding land, and the best way for getting around the South Bronx more safely and efficiently.