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Want Safer Biking and Walking Across the Harlem River? Tell DOT Your Ideas

Residents from the Bronx and Manhattan told DOT last night how they want to improve walking and biking across the Harlem River bridges. It was the second of four Harlem River bridges workshops this month.

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT is looking to improve access at all 16 bridges along the Harlem River, including the soon-to-open Randall’s Island Connector. Streets up to a mile inland on both sides of the river fall within the scope of the project.

“We’re not coming here with a plan,” project manager Alice Friedman told the approximately 15 people at last night’s workshop. “We’re really here to hear from you.”

Attendees last night split into three groups to highlight problem areas and offer suggestions. Most wanted wider paths on the bridges, safer intersections where the bridges touch down, and protected bike paths connecting nearby neighborhoods to the crossings. There were also smaller requests, such as better signage, more lighting, mirrors on blind corners, and improved snow clearance.

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite said he often uses Exterior Street on rides to Mill Pond Park. “This is our safest route,” he said. “And there’s nothing protecting bikes. And there should be.”

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DOT Drops Buffer From Bronx Bike Lanes Under Vision Zero Safety Plan

Think buffered bike lanes are a stepping stone to protected paths? Not on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, where DOT is proposing to remove buffers and add turn lanes. Image: DOT [PDF]

On Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, DOT is proposing to remove bike lane buffers and add turn lanes. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT is downgrading buffered bike lanes as part of a street safety project on 1.3 miles of Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, a Vision Zero priority corridor. While the street appears to have enough room for protected bike lanes while maintaining the current motor vehicle lanes, DOT instead opted to narrow the bike lanes, remove the buffers, and devote space to a center median and left turn lanes.

The project [PDF] also redesigns two intersections to provide more space for pedestrians and slow down turning drivers. At Rev. James A. Polite Avenue, DOT is closing a “slip lane” that drivers use as a shortcut to avoid the traffic signal at 167th Street. The change will add three parking spaces. DOT is also installing painted curb extensions at Avenue St. John and Dawson Street.

Prospect Avenue (in purple) is a Vision Zero priority corridor. Image: DOT

Prospect Avenue (in purple) is a Vision Zero priority corridor. Image: DOT

The biggest changes, however, are for Prospect Avenue itself, where DOT is removing painted buffers from the street’s bike lanes to make room for a striped median and left-turn lanes. Concrete pedestrian islands will be installed at 152nd, 155th, 162nd, 165th, and Jennings streets.

In its presentation, DOT says that “existing buffered bike lanes encourage double parking” and that removing buffers “improves bike lane design” by making the lane “less susceptible to double parking.” Drivers also often use the bike lane to pass turning vehicles on the right, DOT said.

DOT has already made similar changes to a short section of Prospect Avenue, between Freeman Street and Boston Road, after a repaving project last summer.

Streetsblog asked DOT if it collected before-and-after data to see if removing bike lane buffers on Prospect Avenue has actually reduced double-parking. We also asked if the agency considered upgrading the buffered bike lanes to protected lanes, which could also have included pedestrian islands, instead of removing the buffers, but the agency did not reply to those questions.

From Jennings Street to E. 149th Street, there were 16 serious injuries, including 12 pedestrians and four motor vehicle occupants, between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT. During that period, one person, a motor vehicle occupant, died in a crash on Prospect Avenue. Six bicyclists were injured, none seriously.

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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.

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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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Creating Safer Streets Linking the South Bronx to Randall’s Island

Current conditions on 132nd Street, which will provide access to the Randall’s Island Connector greenway segment. All photos and renderings by Civitas courtesy of New York Restoration Project

132nd Street as envisioned in The Haven Project recommendations.

The South Bronx neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven are a stone’s throw from 480-acre Randall’s Island, but a ring of highways and industry separates residents from all that parkland. Now, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is working with local advocates and health researchers to create better walking and biking connections between the South Bronx and Randall’s Island, taking advantage of a long-planned greenway segment set to open this summer.

The South Bronx has high rates of asthma, diabetes, and obesity, making it especially urgent to provide opportunities for physical activity. The Randall’s Island Connector, a nearly-complete greenway segment running beneath the Hell Gate Bridge, will help by linking the South Bronx to Randall’s Island with a car-free path. But to reach the connector after it opens, residents will still have to navigate streets overrun by trucks and lined with industrial uses.

That’s where NYRP and its initiative, The Haven Project, come in. Launched after a community meeting last June, the project aims to create safer access to the greenway. The first round of recommendations has been released [PDF] — including plans for waterfront greenways, new street trees, protected bike lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings — and a full report is scheduled for June.

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Bruckner Boulevard Protected Bikeway Clears Bronx CB 2 Committee

Unused road space on Bruckner Boulevard is being reclaimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall's Island. Images: DOT

Excess road space on Bruckner Boulevard will be claimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall’s Island. Images: DOT [PDF]

A DOT plan to add pedestrian space and create a two-way protected bikeway along a key half-mile stretch of Bruckner Boulevard received a unanimous thumbs-up from Bronx Community Board 2’s economic development committee Wednesday night [PDF].

“Bruckner Boulevard is a very wide, multi-lane boulevard,” said DOT project manager Kimberly Rancourt. “It has lots of traffic but it also has excess space that isn’t needed for capacity.” The plan repurposes that unused asphalt, currently striped as a buffer zone, to add protected bike lanes in the Bruckner Boulevard median from Hunts Point Avenue to Longwood Avenue.

The area is dangerous, with 585 injuries at the five intersections in the project between 2009 and 2013, including 65 pedestrian injuries and 10 bicyclist injuries. Both Bruckner and Hunts Point were identified as priority corridors in DOT’s Vision Zero Bronx pedestrian safety action plan, and their juncture — often busy with pedestrians going between the 6 train and the Hunts Point neighborhood — is also named a priority intersection. There, DOT is proposing new pedestrian islands, large curb extensions, and a new crosswalk in the boulevard’s median.

The protected bikeway will provide a key link in the South Bronx bicycle network, though it will need to be extended to provide a seamless ride to points south.

To the north, the project connects with Monsignor Del Valle Square, where a redesign under development by DOT and the Parks Department will include protected bike lanes. Those lanes will link to improvements installed in 2013 that connect with the Bronx River Greenway, including a short protected bike lane on Bruckner between Bryant and Longfellow Avenues.

To the south, the project would strand cyclists when they reach Longwood Avenue. DOT said it is working on a plan to extend the Bruckner Boulevard median bike lanes southward across a “difficult section,” though there is no public timeline for the second phase. The southern extension of the Bruckner bike lane would link to Randall’s Island, where a long-anticipated connector path to the South Bronx Greenway is set to open this summer.

The plan “exponentially” increases the Bronx’s tiny allotment of protected bike lanes, said Transportation Alternatives Bronx organizer Laura Solis, and with the Randall’s Island connector opening soon, DOT should extend it southward as soon as possible. “The goal is definitely to see that continuous connection to Randall’s Island,” Solis said. “This is one step closer.”

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Bronx Beep Ruben Diaz Calls on State DOT to Transform Sheridan Expressway

The effort to transform the Sheridan Expressway got a boost this morning from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in his State of the Borough address called on the Cuomo administration to take action.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. says the Cuomo administration has to stop dragging its feet and transform the Sheridan Expressway. Photo: rubendiazjr/Twitter

The 2013 proposal from the Department of City Planning would turn the little-used stub highway in the South Bronx into a boulevard, opening up land for mixed-use development and removing a barrier to the growing park network along the Bronx River.

A coalition of community groups fighting to remove the Sheridan has butted heads with the state DOT over the project for years. This morning, Sustainable South Bronx spotted this paragraph in Diaz’s prepared remarks [PDF]:

We must finally act on the redevelopment of the Sheridan Expressway. We have seen the success of converting highways into boulevards with pedestrian crossings, such as those found on the West Side of Manhattan. It will not only provide for new housing development opportunities, but will improve pedestrian safety and access to parkland along the Bronx River, without compromising access to the Hunts Point Market. The State can no longer drag its feet on the future of the Sheridan.

Back in 2011, Diaz told the Hunts Point Express that he opposed tearing down the Sheridan because he feared truck traffic would overwhelm local streets, but he came around and supported the city’s plan in 2013. His remarks today are a sign that the Sheridan project is still a priority for Bronx leaders.

“The language used by the Bronx borough president shows an urgency and really instructs the state to act to advance this project,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “There’s not been much movement since 2013 on this project, and a lot of elected officials have spoken up in support… It’s great for the Bronx BP to speak up for this project.”

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DOT Proposes Roundabout for Dangerous Longwood Intersection

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout. Image: DOT [PDF]

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout, shorter pedestrian crossings, and slower car speeds. Image: DOT [PDF]

New York seemingly has a traffic signal on every corner. To improve safety at one Bronx intersection, DOT is going with something different: a roundabout.

The proposal is part of a larger road diet for Intervale Avenue in Longwood [PDF]. The plan was supported by a Bronx Community Board 2 committee in a 7-1 vote earlier this month.

Currently, the intersection of Intervale and Dawson Street, at the northern end of Rainey Park, is wide-open, with only a painted triangle in the middle to break up the expanse. People walking on the western side of Intervale have to cross 200 feet of asphalt.

“For years, we’ve asked for DOT to install a sidewalk there,” said CB 2 district manager Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “A lot of cars, they do illegal activities there that put lives at risk.”

Roundabouts — not to be confused with rotaries, their larger, faster cousins — have a lot of benefits. They slow down traffic at intersections and compel drivers to negotiate the right of way with other road users, instead of rote reliance on a traffic signal. They also save drivers time, instead of holding them at red lights.

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse up to 200 feet wide. Image: DOT

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse where crossing distances are up to 200 feet. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Roundabouts should be designed with walking and biking in mind, too. On that count, the Intervale Avenue proposal is a huge step up from what’s there today.

The plan would convert Dawson Street from one-way to two-way and add “splitter islands” to both divide traffic as it approaches the roundabout and give refuge to pedestrians. On the north side of the roundabout, the splitter island is actually a wide median that extends for the entire block and through the crosswalk at East 163rd Street.

Two painted curb extensions would be added to crosswalks where north-south traffic from Intervale enters the roundabout. Drivers would pass the crosswalk before approaching “yield” markings at the roundabout itself. In an unusual design choice, the roundabout includes parking along its outer edges. The plan still calls for the removal of a few parking spaces.

Although about two of three of neighborhood households are car-free, parking is usually a top concern at the community board, Salamanca said. In this case, safety came first. “This intersection of Intervale and Dawson has been so stressful [to cross],” he said. “We as a community are okay with four parking spaces being taken to improve the safety of the community and the kids going to the park.”

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The Search Is on for Healthy Food Vendors to Serve This South Bronx Plaza

Food vendors could be coming to The Hub, now that it is being rebuilt after reclamation from automobiles in 2008. Image: Garrison Architects

New food options could be coming to Roberto Clemente Plaza at the Bronx Hub. Image: Garrison Architects

In the Meatpacking District, people can grab a seat and buy healthy prepared food from a vendor in a bustling plaza. But New Yorkers who live in less affluent neighborhoods tend not to have the same options — at least not yet. A new effort aims to bring several vendors to a plaza under construction in the South Bronx.

Each of DOT’s public plazas has a local partner in charge of maintenance, tasked with keeping the space clean and putting out tables and chairs each day. While well-funded business improvement districts back plazas in the city’s central neighborhoods, plazas in low-income communities rely on a more diverse mix of supporters, from community development corporations to merchant associations.

Many of the city’s high-profile plazas also include food kiosks or other concessions to help fund maintenance. There are 11 active plaza concessions agreements, according to DOT, but those arrangements are tougher to set up in communities with fewer resources.

Retail offerings near these plazas are often limited. Many residents who commute into Manhattan also do much of their personal spending near work, sapping local retail strips of customers. Plaza supporters in the South Bronx hope they can reverse that pattern, boosting local shopping options and funding plaza maintenance by bringing in vendors.

The idea will be tested at The Hub, a major bus and subway juncture in the South Bronx. While nearby vacancy rates are low, the retail scene — dominated by wireless phone stores, fast food, and discount department stores — could be serving a wider spectrum of the neighborhood’s needs.

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One City, By Bike: Unlocking Uptown Cycling With the Harlem River Bridges

This is part four of a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part onepart two, and part three.

Photo: Stephen Miller

Biking onto the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx. Bike access to and from Harlem River bridges ranges from inconvenient to very dangerous. Photo: Stephen Miller

Forging good cycling routes across the Harlem River represents a strong organizing principle for a multi-year program to deliver better cycling to Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx.

Just as many of the bike lanes in Brooklyn north of Prospect Park and Manhattan south of 14th Street emerged around the bikeways on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, the Harlem River bridges present natural focal points for bike network development. A comprehensive set of improvements here would be a major contribution to the “Bill de Blasio bike network” I began to outline in part three of this series. It could also go hand-in-hand with Citi Bike expansion into the Bronx.

While most of the pathways on the Harlem River spans are good or at least decent for cycling, connections from the bridges to Manhattan and Bronx streets run the gamut from inconvenient and unwelcoming to very dangerous. A bike network program for the Harlem River bridges would create safer, more attractive access and egress routes, linking the bridges to ongoing bike network development in the southern Bronx and upper Manhattan. A few examples:

  • The connection from First Avenue to the Willis Avenue Bridge needs traffic calming, longer crossing times and more room for cyclists and pedestrians to protect them from heavy traffic turning from First Avenue onto 125th Street.
  • The Bronx side of the Third Avenue Bridge is characterized by very heavy traffic coming from several directions, with poor design and inadequate signal time for pedestrians and cyclists getting to or from the path. The bridge itself still features “cyclist dismount” signs. Painted bike lanes on Third Avenue in the Bronx are severely worn and require cyclists to negotiate extremely intimidating traffic.

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How a Non-Profit Housing Developer Brought Safer Streets to the South Bronx

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The sidewalk between the subway stairs and stanchions at this Southern Boulevard street corner used to be a traffic lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

When the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, known as WHEDco, was founded in 1992, the dark days of arson and abandonment in the South Bronx were still fresh in people’s minds. The organization set out to build new housing in a devastated neighborhood — and decided to take a broader view of community development by also looking at employment, nutrition, crime, and education. When WHEDco’s latest development, Intervale Green, opened in Crotona East in 2009, its residents identified another major need: safer streets.

Intervale Green has 128 apartments for low-income residents, including 39 for families leaving the city’s homeless shelters. WHEDco surveyed 450 nearby residents soon after Intervale Green opened to get a better sense of the neighborhood’s needs.

Kerry McLean, WHEDco’s director of community development, said traffic safety and crime came up as major concerns. Residents saw the elevated train above Southern Boulevard as a blight, with peeling paint and not enough lights at night. Cars were speeding, and residents did not feel safe walking home from the train.

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The same street corner before the changes, when bus riders waited on the asphalt. Photo: Google Maps

In 2009, WHEDco organized a meeting with residents, Community Board 3, the 42nd Precinct, and DOT to see what could be done. “Much to our amazement, they came,” McLean said. “Community members actually felt like there was somebody who was listening to them who could make change.”

“We had all our meetings in the Intervale Green building, so we worked with them on this,” said DOT Bronx Borough Commissioner Constance Moran. “They helped us scope out the islands, and the trees, and the benches, and all of that.”

“People were surprised because it was one of the first times in a long time they felt that their voices were going to be heard,” McLean said. “The Department of Transportation was not looking at streetscape issues in this neighborhood at all before we engaged them.”

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