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Posts from the South Bronx Category

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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

southern_after

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.

southern_before

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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Seeking Safer Routes to Walk and Bike Across the Harlem River

Harlem residents point out how to improve safety on streets near the Harlem River Bridges on Saturday. From left: Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council; community council vice president Sherri Culpepper; Louis Bailey of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives; and Maria Barry, chair of Manhattan Community Board 10's Vision Zero task force. Photo: Stephen Miller

From left: Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council; community council vice president Sherri Culpepper; Louis Bailey of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives; and Maria Garcia, chair of Manhattan Community Board 10’s Vision Zero task force. Photo: Stephen Miller

Have you ever tried biking or walking across the Harlem River? Despite a plethora of bridges, walkers and bikers often face crossings and approaches that are confusing or downright hostile. A new campaign from Transportation Alternatives and local residents aims to focus DOT’s attention on making it safer for New Yorkers to get between the two boroughs under their own power.

There are 11 bridges connecting Manhattan and the Bronx, including the High Bridge. Nine currently have paths for pedestrians, though most are narrow, and cyclists are allowed to ride on only two of them. New Yorkers walking or biking on either side of the bridges have an even tougher time, penned in by the car-clogged Harlem River Drive and the Major Deegan Expressway. Nearby bike lanes are a hodgepodge with few clear, safe routes leading to the bridges.

On the East River, the city has built out bike routes on bridges and nearby streets, and bike ridership is climbing year after year. Organizers of the new campaign say it’s time for the Harlem River bridges to get the same attention to safety, and on Saturday they gathered for the first of three summer “street scans” to identify places where streets could be safer and easier to navigate.

“I’ve been saying for years that there should be bike lanes in Harlem, and there were none past 110th Street for many years,” said Sherri Culpepper, vice president of the 32nd Precinct community council.

It’s not just about biking for Culpepper, who also walks and drives in her neighborhood. She learned of Saturday’s event from the Manhattan Community Board 10 Vision Zero task force. “I was happy to see that there is an initiative to make the streets safer. Because we have kids that walk to the park by themselves; they go to the community rec centers,” she said. “Drivers are just driving too fast in the community.”

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Bronx Advocates Press State DOT to Take Action on Sheridan Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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