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Posts from the "South Bronx" Category

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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 Ticketing People for Riding Bikes on the Willis Avenue Bridge Bike Path

NYPD is at it again, handing out tickets to cyclists for riding on a bike path. This time, the 25th Precinct was handing out sidewalk-riding summonses to people riding the shared bicycle-pedestrian path on the Willis Avenue Bridge between East Harlem and Mott Haven.

If it looks like a bike path and is marked as a bike path, NYPD will ticket you for cycling on it. Image: DOT

If it looks like a bike path and is marked as a bike path, NYPD will ticket you for cycling on it. Image: DOT

Just before 9:00 this morning, reader Joe Rienti was commuting from East Harlem to Fordham University when he was stopped by an officer immediately after getting on the bridge path at 125th Street. He wasn’t the only one. Rienti said officers had pulled over four other cyclists. Streetsblog also received a report from a reader who escaped getting a ticket but was told to dismount by officers who were already busy handing out summonses.

Rienti says the officer told him that the precinct had received complaints about cyclists using the path. Rienti told the officer that it’s a shared-use path where cyclists are allowed. ”He sort of just shrugged his shoulders and wrote the ticket,” Rienti said. ”I thought he was going to give me some sort of warning.”

“There used to be signage saying you can’t bike there because they were doing construction, but they took it down,” Rienti said. In fact, DOT’s work to replace the Willis Avenue Bridge wrapped in 2010; the project website touts a “combined pedestrian/bicycle pathway along its north side.” In a video describing the project, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says “the new bridge has important safety enhancements…[including] new pedestrian walkways and bikeway.” The city’s bike map [PDF] indicates that the bridge’s north side is a designated “bike/pedestrian path.”

Streetsblog asked the 25th Precinct about the ticketing, but the precinct referred questions to One Police Plaza, which has not replied to our inquiries. Rienti said he contacted Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito about the ticketing blitz and will fight his summons in court.

Update: Rienti says in a followup e-mail that he received another ticket on his commute home tonight on the Willis Avenue Bridge after an officer brushed away the DOT bike route information Rienti showed him. “He told me that you can only bike where there is a sign telling you it’s okay,” Rienti said, adding that he also plans to fight the second ticket in court.

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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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Eyes on the Street: No Parking in the Low Post

Photo: Susan Donovan

Streetsblog reader Susan Donovan, a.k.a. Futurebird, posted this pic on Instagram yesterday. It’s a DIY basketball court on Walton Avenue near Joyce Kilmer Park, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. Writes Donovan:

Creative traffic calming in the Bronx! My neighbors have painted a basketball shooting zone on the street near the bike lane and hydrant creating a basketball court right in the street. (You can see the movable hoop stored nearby.) The city should do this. It’s counter intuitive but street play slows cars and makes everyone safer. What a cool idea.

By taking the play streets concept a step further, this grassroots public space reclamation is reminiscent of a time when kids could play on their blocks with no police barricades needed. Before children “darted” in the streets, they grew up on them.

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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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Mott Haven Residents Rally for Safe Streets and Truck Enforcement

South Bronx Unite and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito rallied against deadly truck traffic in Mott Haven on Saturday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Early Saturday afternoon, about 25 people gathered at the corner of St. Annes Avenue and East 138th Street in the South Bronx, protesting heavy truck traffic and deadly driving in the Mott Haven neighborhood.

A series of pedestrian deaths in recent months and the lack of truck route enforcement from the 40th Precinct — as well as a city-subsidized Fresh Direct distribution center planned for the neighborhood — have many residents concerned about the safety of crossing the street.

On December 13, Ignacio Cubano, 69, was killed in crosswalk at 138th Street and St. Annes Avenue by a semi truck driver. On January 7, an elderly woman was critically injured crossing at the same location. Six days later, a taxi driver ran over a man at 138th Street and Brown Place. Most recently, on April 1, a hit-and-run SUV driver killed two pedestrians on Bruckner Boulevard at 138th Street. On Saturday afternoon, an elderly driver injured four people on the sidewalk near The Hub, a busy commercial area at the north edge of the neighborhood.

At the rally, convened by the environmental justice group South Bronx Unite, participants handed out fliers to people walking along the bustling commercial street. ”We walk these grounds with our feet — we hope that we can get safe streets!” the group chanted.

East 138th Street is designated as a local truck route, which means truck drivers should be heading to or from a destination in the neighborhood. But residents say many truck drivers use the street as a through route to Manhattan to avoid traffic on the Major Deegan and the Bruckner Expressway.

In 2012, officers from the 40th Precinct did not write a single ticket for truck route violations, while issuing 2,272 tickets for tinted windows over the same period [PDF]. Responding to a January letter from resident Monxo Lopez, the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, said that citations are often issued for tinted windows because officers need to see inside a vehicle during car stops.

At a precinct community council meeting in January, after the two crashes at 138th Street and St. Annes Avenue, McCormack told residents that “most of the victims are elderly, and they are making mistakes,” according to the Mott Haven Herald. In an interview last week with DNAinfo, McCormack noted that some of the victims were not using crosswalks.

“He has a 1950s mentality,” Lopez said on Saturday. “He’s blaming the pedestrians for their own deaths.”

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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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DOT Plans Safer Walking and Biking Routes to Bronx River Greenway

DOT is proposing to add a two-way, jersey barrier-protected bikeway to a block of Bruckner Boulevard that's currently a high-speed asphalt free-for-all. Image: DOT

The Bronx River Greenway, threaded along the waterfront between expressways, railroad tracks and busy arterial avenues, is difficult to access for many of the surrounding South Bronx residents. A proposal from DOT [PDF] would improve park access while providing some order to the area’s streets.

“It’s hard for folks in the neighborhood to get to these parks,” said Joe Linton, greenway director for the Bronx River Alliance. “We’re going to need these on-street improvements.”

The plan has four components. The first will add a two-way barrier-protected bikeway along a block of Bruckner Boulevard, immediately adjacent to the Bruckner Expressway. It would connect a sidewalk near the southern end of Concrete Plant Park to north-south bike lanes on Bryant and Longfellow Avenues. The lane is carved out of the massive expanse of asphalt currently used for a 41-foot wide travel lane.

While this is a huge safety gain for a location that currently sees a lot of wrong-way cycling on a high-speed road, the lane connects to a pedestrian bridge across the Bruckner Expressway that has no ramps. Instead, bike riders have to carry their bikes up a sloping set of stairs.

“They can still do more to seamlessly connect it,” said Richard Gans, a volunteer on the Transportation Alternatives Bronx committee. “In general, we’re happy with the improvements that are proposed,” he added.

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Bronx River Advocates Petition State and City to Fix Greenway Gap

While a network of parks continues to sprout along the banks of the Bronx River, a dangerous gap between two parks could fester for years, preventing the creation of a continuous, safe walking and biking route for local residents. Advocates have launched a petition asking the city and state to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to complete the missing link, so people don’t have to risk their lives biking and walking across a freeway on-ramp between two parks.

Phase 2 of Starlight Park in the Bronx stalled after an impasse between the New York State DOT and Amtrak went on so long that funding expired in 2009. Advocates want to get it back on track. Map: Bronx River Alliance

A continuous greenway along the banks of the Bronx River, a longtime goal of nearby residents, has been moving ahead piece-by-piece for years. In the next step forward, the state is expected to open the first phase of Starlight Park as soon as this spring, after Hurricane Sandy delayed a fall 2012 opening. Meanwhile, the city is progressing on a greenway section linking Starlight Park to East Tremont Avenue to the north.

To the south sits Concrete Plant Park, a narrow strip of green on the river’s west bank, between Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. The problem is getting from one park to the other.

To travel between the two parks, residents have to walk or bike along an on-ramp to the Sheridan Expressway. The second phase of Starlight Park, between East 174th Street and Westchester Avenue, would provide a safe route by extending the greenway, but bureaucratic snafus have put it on hold.

“It’s so unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists that we do really need this connection to get between Concrete Plant Park and Starlight Park,” said Maggie Scott Greenfield, deputy director of the Bronx River Alliance.

The delays began when the state DOT and Amtrak failed to reach a legal agreement for a greenway bridge over the rail line. State funding for the project expired in 2009.

Looking to get the process back on track, the Bronx River Alliance has launched a petition asking the state to recommit funding and for the city to take over project management from the state so the park can be covered by an existing indemnity agreement between the city and Amtrak.

“We’ve heard that the state will look to see where funding is available,” Greenfield said, “But they are not confident that they will be able to provide 100 percent funding.” The state had committed to cover the entire cost of park construction before the funds expired four years ago.

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