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Posts from the "South Bronx" Category

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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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The House That EDC Built: A 9,000-Car Complex With 8,930 Empty Spaces

In case you’re just tuning in, all that taxpayer-subsidized parking built for the new Yankee Stadium has failed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Yankee Stadium parking in its natural state. Photo: Daily News

In today’s Daily News, Juan Gonzalez reports that Bronx Parking Development Company LLC is expected to default this year on the $200+ million in triple-tax-exempt bonds issued by the New York City Industrial Development Agency, the financing arm of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Since the threat of default has loomed for some time now, let’s look at the more recent developments cited by Gonzalez.

The promise of jobs to be created by the garages was never that grand to begin with — 12 full-time and 70 part-time positions, with an average wage of $11 an hour. But Bronx Parking LLC is so desperate for cash, writes Gonzalez, that “the company plans to slash the salaries of a handful of full-time garage employees and to reduce the number of game-day parking attendants from 76 to 57.”

“The people who continue to pay the price for this thing are the kids who lost their park space, and now the handful of people who got jobs and are going to lose them,” says Bettina Damiani, project director of Good Jobs New York, an NGO that has tracked the stadium project from its inception.

On top of that, a proposal to lure a hotel to complement or replace the garages has apparently cratered after four developers who expressed interest in the deal wanted “major city subsidies.” Gonzalez reports that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who inherited the stadium parking disaster from his predecessor Adolfo Carrion, “has been pressing City Hall to come up with an emergency plan to restructure the bonds, tear down some of the garages, and replace them with low-income housing.”

How bad is it for Bronx Parking LLC? According to Gonzalez its garages are 38 percent full on Yankee game days. When the stadium is idle, they have a total of 70 regular customers for 9,000 spaces.

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Take a Tour of the Sheridan Expressway (While You Still Can)

When taking a tour of the Sheridan Expressway, the first thing you realize is that you’re also taking a tour of the Bronx River Greenway. The two pieces of infrastructure — one a 1.25-mile stub of highway, the other a still-piecemeal bike and pedestrian path reconnecting Bronx neighborhoods to the water — both run through the low river valley. The greenway and the cleaned-up river, products of decades of community activism, are signs of the incredible revitalization of the South Bronx.

The transformations visible from the side of the highway also include shuttered factories that would be redeveloped as 1,200 units of new housing under a proposal by former City Council Speaker Gifford Miller. On a tour I took of the Sheridan and Hunts Point areas last night, the scent of hot dogs still hung over one former frankfurter factory that would be replaced with apartments and a new school.

The tour was part of the public process for a federally funded study currently being undertaken by the Department of City Planning. The study is meant to augment the state Department of Transportation’s analysis of a Sheridan teardown by comprehensively and holistically imagining the potential redevelopment, parkland, and street improvements should the highway be torn down. The City Planning officials leading the tour were clearly already immersed in those possibilities, pointing out the properties and intersections that would be most affected by a highway removal, usually highlighting the positive.

Below are some photos I took on the tour, running roughly from the northern end of the Sheridan to the southern end.

At the very northern end of the Sheridan, the highway turns into East 177th Street, a local road. Behind the chain link fence immediately to the left of the highway is a future entrance to the Bronx River Greenway, due to open in May. As long as the highway remains, pedestrians and cyclists using the greenway will have to navigate across the exiting traffic.

One block further north, the ongoing construction of the greenway is visible through a fence.

The Bronx River itself, seen here from East Tremont Street, is lush and green at this point in the summer. This location marks the southernmost sighting of José the Beaver, the first of his species seen in New York City in 200 years and a sign of the environmental rehabilitation of the river.

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To Study Sheridan Teardown, City Pulls Back the Lens

New York City agencies will study a much broader area when evaluating the potential removal of the Sheridan Expressway. The city's study will also go far beyond a transportation analysis to include a more holistic look at the benefits of new development for the area. Image: NYC DCP

When the state Department of Transportation studied removing the lightly-used Sheridan Expressway, it considered two scenarios. One predicted conditions with the Sheridan kept as is. The other imagined closing the highway to traffic without making any other changes — simply fencing off the 1.25 mile structure.

Making a decision about the Sheridan’s future by comparing a traffic-carrying highway to an empty-but-still-standing highway was clearly inadequate, so with the help of a federal TIGER grant, New York City has launched a comprehensive and holistic study of the area. The new study includes not only an expanded transportation analysis looking at the area’s broader highway system, but also issues like access to the Bronx River, which is cut off from neighborhoods by the Sheridan, and the development of housing and jobs. That study is now well underway, and after some initial bumps, advocates for replacing the highway with new development are feeling encouraged.

So far, the city has already hosted an introductory meeting of the large working group set up to bring together stakeholders like elected officials, local activists and residents, businesses and city agencies. Walking tours of the neighborhood are being next Thursday and on August 20 (you can register by e-mailing sheridan_hp@planning.nyc.gov). The Department of City Planning has also set up a website to provide updates on the study and put information about the project in one location.

Ashwin Balakrishnan, the coordinator of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, acknowledged the broad scope of the study so far. “If you’re just looking at it from a transportation perspective, as the state DOT was, you’re not going to have any benchmarks or expertise for how it’s going to be benefited by other land uses,” he said. Including agencies like the Department of Parks and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which are both now part of the working group, provides “more expertise and more breadth,” he said.

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Construction Industry Objections to Sheridan Teardown Don’t Stand Up

Is it really more important to keep this empty highway -- shown at rush hour -- than to build much-needed housing and parks? Photo: TSTC

The fight over the future of the Sheridan Expressway, a stub of a highway that Robert Moses built but never finished, heated up this week. The construction industry announced its opposition to any Sheridan teardown in a Crain’s op-ed this Sunday, days before experts at a Municipal Art Society panel forcefully made the case for replacing the underused roadway with housing and park space.

“I don’t think that grade-separated highways really have a place in the city,” said John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee and president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, at the MAS panel.

Norquist pointed to the revitalization of his city when it tore down the 0.8 mile Park East Freeway — Fortune 500 company now has its headquarters one block from the former elevated highway — and recounted how the predicted traffic woes never materialized. In neighboring Madison, he noted, the major job centers of the state capital and the University of Wisconsin both sit on a narrow isthmus. “There’s no freeway there, and somehow they get home,” said Norquist. “They make it.”

Joan Byron, who has worked with the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance on its plans for the Sheridan for years, offered some local context. Right now, the Sheridan is so lightly used that you can safely stand in its middle lane during the evening rush hour. State DOT plans to build new ramps connecting the Bruckner Expressway directly to the busy Hunts Point market — which has 11,000 truck trips in and out each day — will happen regardless of whether the Sheridan is torn down or remains, she pointed out, making the Sheridan that much more superfluous.

Instead of searching for ways to get more value out of the land that the little-used highway occupies, those who are fighting to keep it in place “are determined to make the Sheridan useful, come what may,” Byron said.

The opposition to the teardown added to their ranks this week, however, as Denise Richardson, the head of the powerful General Contractors Association, took to the pages of Crain’s to press her case for keeping the Sheridan. Richardson’s column assumed that the Sheridan is essential the keeping Hunts Point market, an important job center, in New York City. “The Bronx and the city cannot afford to lose more blue-collar jobs,” she wrote. “Instead of spending limited capital dollars to tear down the Sheridan, let’s allocate adequate resources to maintain the state’s transportation network and the jobs it supports.”

Curiously, Richardson did not mention construction spending or construction jobs — the top issues for her members — in either her column or in an interview with Streetsblog.

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Road Diet for Macombs Road Wins Unanimous Bronx Community Board Vote

A plan to put the Bronx's Macombs Road on a road diet won unanimous support from CB 4 last night. Image: NYCDOT

DOT’s plans to improve pedestrian safety along the length of the Bronx’s Macombs Road [PDF] received a unanimous vote of support from Bronx Community Board 4 last night, according to District Manager José Rodriguez. The plan puts Macombs on a road diet and reconfigures dangerous diagonal intersections that lead to drivers taking fast turns across the crosswalk.

Currently, Macombs is a wide road with low traffic volumes, a recipe for high speeds. To make matters worse, the curvy road is characterized by irregular intersections that allow turning drivers to remain at high speeds; at some, the gentle angle makes turns more like full-speed forks in the road.

The redesign will slow cars turning from Macombs onto Cromwell Avenue. Image: NYCDOT

As a result, 102 people were injured in traffic crashes along Macombs’ roughly ten blocks between 2005 and 2009: 69 motor vehicle occupants, 26 pedestrians, and 7 cyclists. One person was killed in 2008 at the intersection of Macombs and Goble Place.

DOT’s proposal would remove one lane of traffic from Macombs in each direction. That extra space would go toward a new median (sometimes a physical island, sometimes painted stripes), as well as wider parking lanes.

At certain intersections, DOT will add additional features. At Cromwell Avenue, for example, DOT will install a new pedestrian triangle to slow turning cars and shorten crossing distances. A neckdown will also force drivers traveling southbound on Macombs to actually make a turn onto Cromwell, rather than simply heading straight onto it at speed as Macombs turns left.

A new triangle will also be added at Featherbed Lane, where drivers have a similarly free right turn.

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Replacement For Yankee Stadium Parking Will Still Have to Pay The Bills

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz is hoping that a new hotel can replace excess parking near Yankee Stadium. Photo: Crain's.

As the operator of the taxpayer-financed Yankee Stadium parking garages heads toward default, there’s no longer any question that providing so much parking in such a transit-rich location was a mistake on the scale of Carl Pavano’s contract. The decision to give up $2.5 million in city taxes and $5 million in state revenue has proven a poor investment indeed. The question, at this point, is what comes next.

One idea, from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., is to convert one of the garages into a hotel. “One of the older garages is perfect for hotel development,” said John DeSio, a spokesperson for Diaz. Diaz advocated for a new Bronx hotel in his State of the Borough address two weeks ago, saying that “a new hotel would create hundreds of good-paying jobs offering health benefits, pension plans, and a chance for its workers to have a better life.”

While the garages were built on what used to be public parks, the South Bronx is unlikely to see that parkland return. “We have to come up with a plan that not only benefits the neighborhood but is palatable for the bondholders,” explained DeSio. The bondholders will have to okay any new use for the garages, so it will have to be a revenue-generator.

In terms of parking policy more broadly, DeSio said that while there aren’t any major developments where parking is an issue currently being considered by the borough president’s office, “I’m sure that we’d have to take to heart what happened here in the future.” (Plans for a new East Bronx mall anchored by a Target are too preliminary to comment on for now, he said.) DeSio also suggested that the private sector will notice this high-profile case of wasting resources on providing an excessive supply of parking.

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NYCEDC’s Yankee Stadium Parking Debacle: Who Woulda Thought?

In news that should surprise no one, the taxpayer-financed Yankee Stadium parking garages have been declared an unmitigated disaster.

Photo: Crain's

Anyone could have seen the deal was a loser from the start — that a sports stadium served by subways, buses and a new commuter rail station, a stadium that would have fewer seats for fans, would have no need to increase parking stock by 55 percent. Then there was the dirty business of seizing public parks, and counting on the fact that the garages would attract drivers year-round — drivers who would be willing to pay more to park at the stadium than at the nearby Gateway Center mega-mall — to an area that neither wanted nor needed more car traffic. It was a scheme so predictably wrong that no private developer wanted any part of it.

Among those privy to the nuts and bolts of the deal, it seemed the only ones oblivious to the fact of its eminent failure were former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and the folks at the New York City Industrial Development Agency, the financing arm of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. In an act of blind faith or incestuous backroom dealing — take your pick — the IDA issued well over $200 million in triple tax-exempt bonds to the non-profit (ha ha) Bronx Parking Development Corporation to build and operate the garages.

Four years later, as Crain’s reports, the garages are a bust — with “more competition than any party involved anticipated,” they “were never more than 60 [percent] full on game days.” Bronx Parking is expected to default on the bonds, and the neighborhood has thousands of unused parking spaces where there was once public parkland.

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