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Posts from the "South Bronx" Category

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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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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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