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Posts from the "The Bronx" Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Bronx Advocates Push for New Pedestrian Plaza in Soundview

Today, Harrod Place separates a green triangle from a busy park. A local group hopes to convert it to a plaza. Photo: Google Maps

Harrod Place separates an underutilized green triangle (left) from a park. A local group hopes to convert it to a plaza. Photo: Google Maps

Near the intersection of Morrison and Westchester Avenues in Soundview, just a block from the Bronx River Parkway, one block separates a forlorn green triangle from Parque de Los Niños and its well-used benches and baseball diamonds. Now, a local group is hoping to phase in public space upgrades to the area through DOT’s plaza program. The first step received support from Community Board 9 last month.

Last fall, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice applied to the plaza program, hoping to eventually convert a section of Harrod Place into a plaza linking the commercial area along Westchester Avenue with the park. In May, DOT hosted a workshop at the public library on Morrison Avenue to present concepts and gather feedback.

The plan would start with curb extensions and plaza upgrades. The local group behind the plan hopes for a full plaza eventually. Image: DOT

Improvements would start with curb extensions and public space upgrades. The local group behind the plan hopes to eventually pedestrianize one block of Harrod Place  – the side street in this plan. Image: DOT

DOT came back with a plan to add painted curb extensions, planters, benches, tables and chairs [PDF]. It would remove three parking spaces while DOT says four spaces could be added elsewhere on Harrod by adjusting regulations. YMPJ, advised by the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, has promised to maintain the space and aims to program it with public art, a farmers market, and exercise groups. The plan gained the support of CB 9 on June 19.

“It’s a pretty underutilized street in many ways,” YMPJ executive director David Shuffler said. His group has spoken with many of the adjacent businesses, which he said do most of their loading through front doors on Westchester Avenue.

While DOT’s proposal doesn’t make Harrod car-free, Shuffler hopes the project can evolve into a fully pedestrianized plaza. “My understanding is that this would be the first phase, and they would be looking for funds for the second phase, which is the complete plaza,” he said. ““We talked to the local businesses, and they said it was okay.”

DOT says its crews have patched potholes and addressed other road conditions in preparation for the first round of changes, which Shuffler hopes to see implemented within a month.

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One of the Most Dangerous Streets in the Bronx Is Getting a Road Diet

White Plains Road, running 2.8 miles between East Tremont and Birchall Avenues, is one of the Bronx’s most dangerous streets, with more traffic deaths and severe injuries than 90 percent of the other streets in the borough. Most of this wide, overbuilt road is set to receive a road diet by September, converting two lanes to one lane in each direction while adding a striped center median and turn lane. The plan has already gained the unanimous support of both community boards along the street.

It's a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

It’s a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

Since 2007, there have been eight fatalities on this section of White Plains Road, with an average of 230 injuries each year. The intersection with Morris Park Avenue ranks as one of the top 20 pedestrian crash locations in the city, according to DOT, with five pedestrians killed or seriously injured from 2007 to 2011 [PDF]. DOT brought radar guns out to the street and found that between 48 and 68 percent of drivers were speeding, which is the leading cause of fatal crashes in NYC.

The road diet should cut down on speeding, but there is one section of White Plains Road that won’t be getting a lane reduction. The half-mile section between the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Expressways will retain a layout that squeezes as many car lanes as possible into the street’s 60-foot width. DOT said that it is proposing more modest tweaks to intersections on this stretch because of congestion in this area, which carries more cars than the rest of the street.

On this stretch, DOT is proposing turn restrictions where White Plains Road crosses the Cross Bronx Expressway and Westchester Avenue. The plan would ban left turns from eastbound Westchester Avenue to northbound White Plains Road and from the westbound Cross Bronx service road to southbound White Plains Road. It also adds high-visibility zebra crosswalks to White Plains Road and Westchester Avenue, where markings have worn away.

Areas receiving a road diet will see parking lanes widened to 14 feet. That’s enough space for bike lanes, but there are none in the plan. Similar extra-wide parking lanes have been installed on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, among other locations.

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Bronx Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Abigail Lino Gets Six Months in Jail

A hit-and-run driver who killed a woman in the Bronx in 2013 will serve six months in jail.

Harlem resident Abigail Lino, 24, was crossing Bruckner Avenue near a Longwood club at around 3 a.m. last August 31 when Leroy Forest hit her with “a speeding silver SUV,” according to the Daily News:

Abigail Lino. Photo via DNAinfo

Witnesses said Lino’s body was thrown in the air by the callous driver before she came to rest in the center of the street. The driver sped off into the early morning darkness, police said.

“It’s hard to think about … we had just been inside having a good time. It’s really hard to believe,” said Ayalla Ingram, 24, who was walking with Lino moments before the accident.

“The car didn’t even slow down,” Taylor added. “It actually looked like it sped up (after it hit her).”

Lino worked for UPS and was a caregiver for her then-20-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome. She was also raising the young child of an ex, reports said.

Forest, of the Bronx, was arrested the day after the crash. According to court records, Forest pled guilty in May to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, and which also allows for no jail time, or probation.

Leaving the scene was the top charge against Forest. Last week he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. It is not known how the sentence will affect his driving privileges.

New York State law gives some drivers an incentive to leave the scene of a serious crash. The penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk driving, and cases hinge on the courts’ ability to divine driver intent, which makes “I didn’t see her” a viable defense. Reforming the laws is one of the goals of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan, but Albany lawmakers have for years failed to pass legislation that would toughen hit-and-run penalties.

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New Bronx River Greenway Link Would Remake Asphalt Expanse

Caption. Image: DDC

This plan to redesign a complex pair of intersections and expand the Bronx River Greenway is a huge step up from the expanse of asphalt on the street today, but it’s still missing a key crosswalk. Image: DDC

After years of inter-agency wrangling, a wide-open intersection in the Bronx is set for a complete redesign that will include a new link in the Bronx River Greenway. The city presented a preliminary design [PDF] to Community Board 6′s transportation committee last Thursday. While the plan is a big step forward, it lacks a crosswalk that would make it better for pedestrians.

Update: “We are working with DDC to have the crosswalk added to the design,” DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail.

Today, the multi-leg intersection of East Tremont Avenue, 177th Street, and Devoe Avenue is a difficult place to walk. Extra-wide car lanes ring two tiny concrete islands marooned in a sea of white-striped asphalt. Crosswalks are fading away, and sidewalks on the west side of Devoe Avenue are crumbling.

In March, advocates and neighborhood residents, organized in part by the Bronx River Alliance and artists Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín of Boogie Down Rides, created a video to show how difficult it is to walk across the intersection.

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Current conditions. Image: DDC

The southern end of the project, which includes two spans across the Bronx River, handles cars going to and from the Cross Bronx Expressway, the Bronx River Parkway, and the Sheridan Expressway. On the northern end, East Tremont Avenue is a major crosstown street and bus hub. The plan, designed by consultant The RBA Group for the Department of Design and Construction, requires coordination between NYC DOT, the state DOT, the Parks Department, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the MTA.

“This project has been going on for years,” said Bronx River Alliance greenway coordinator Claudia Ibaven. “Since there are a lot of agencies involved, it was taking more time.”

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Driver Who Killed Bronx Pedestrian Pleads to Leaving Scene

A hit-and-run motorist who killed a Bronx pedestrian in a 2013 crash pled guilty last week to leaving the scene, but could be sentenced to as little as probation.

Abigail Lino. Photo via DNAinfo

Harlem resident Abigail Lino, 24, was outside a Bruckner Avenue club in Longwood at around 3 a.m. last August 31, reports said, when a security guard warned that someone had a gun and she and others went running.

She was hit in the street by Leroy Forest, who was driving “a speeding silver SUV,” according to the Daily News:

Witnesses said Lino’s body was thrown in the air by the callous driver before she came to rest in the center of the street. The driver sped off into the early morning darkness, police said.

“It’s hard to think about … we had just been inside having a good time. It’s really hard to believe,” said Ayalla Ingram, 24, who was walking with Lino moments before the accident.

“The car didn’t even slow down,” Taylor added. “It actually looked like it sped up (after it hit her).”

Lino worked for UPS and was a caregiver for her then-20-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome. She was also raising the young child of an ex, according to reports.

Forest, of the Bronx, was arrested the day after the crash. According to court records, Forest pled guilty on May 1 to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, and which also allows for no jail time, or probation.

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Grand Concourse Will Be the Next Arterial With 25 MPH Limit

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city's second "arterial slow zone" this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD this morning to unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where speed limits will be dropped to 25 mph and traffic signals will be retimed to discourage speeding.

The lower speed limit will apply to 5.2 miles of the Grand Concourse from East 140th Street in Mott Haven to Moshulu Parkway in Bedford Park. Along this stretch of the Grand Concourse, there were 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2012, including seven pedestrians, according to DOT. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City.

“This is not the Daytona 500,” said Assembly Member José Rivera at this morning’s event. “We should consider placing speed cameras all along the Grand Concourse.”

That’s unlikely to happen immediately. State law limits speed cameras to streets with school entrances within a quarter-mile, prevents them from operating overnight and on weekends, and caps the number at 20 cameras. (DOT has five cameras running and hopes to bring the remainder online this spring.)

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Full House at First Bronx Vision Zero Town Hall


Over a hundred people turned out for a Vision Zero town hall in the Bronx on Tuesday, Bronx News 12 reports. The event was hosted by freshman City Council Member Ritchie Torres at the Bronx Library Center on East Kingsbridge Road. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, DOT Borough Commissioner Constance Moran, and representatives from NYPD were also on hand.

Norwood resident Jay Shuffield, who helped lead the push for pedestrian safety measures at Williamsbridge Oval, described the forum as “generally productive.”

“There was widespread appreciation for the physical improvements that DOT has been installing, but recurring complaints about NYPD efforts,” Shuffield wrote in a recap for Streetsblog.

Shuffield said Rich Gans, chair of Transportation Alternatives’ Bronx committee, asked NYPD for more failure to yield enforcement, “noting that anytime a driver honks at a pedestrian crossing with the signal they should automatically be cited.” Gans pointed to the need for safer bus stops underneath elevated train tracks throughout the borough, as passengers currently are forced to wait between lanes of auto traffic. Moran replied that DOT is making improvements at some stops, Shuffield said. “There [was] a good [number] of specific intersections that people brought up, and Commissioner Moran was able to provide updates on some of them and DOT took note to look into some others.”

“NYPD did not seem as receptive to taking notes,” wrote Shuffield. “They had good news to share in response to some comments, but it was clear they were there to tell us what they were doing, not to listen to our ideas. One lady described the value of officers on bicycles and asked if the NYPD could do that. They basically just responded that is not something they plan to do.”

When DOT reps were asked if street safety would be component of major development projects in the Bronx, such as Kingsbridge Armory, Shuffield said, “it sounded like there hadn’t been much thought yet in terms of coordinating new development with Vision Zero, but this struck me as another case where [DOT was] listening.”

Laura Solis of Bike New York, shown in the above video, offered to bring bike safety programs to local schools. She likened biking through the intersection of Devoe and East Tremont Avenues in the West Farms area as “a game of chicken,” and advocated for adding bike lanes on arterials to slow drivers. Others brought up dangerous conditions on Grand Concourse and near Co-Op City, according to the Bronx Chronicle.

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Bronx DWI Pedestrian Killer Gets 90 Days and Six-Month License Suspension

A judge sentenced a convicted drunk driver to just 90 days in jail and a six-month license suspension for killing a pedestrian in the Bronx.

Thomas Riley, 23, was crossing East Fordham Road near Bathgate Avenue at around 4:20 a.m. on March 20, 2011, when 48-year-old Seth Johnson struck and killed him with a minivan, according to a Post story published the day after the crash.

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Riley worked as a barber and had a young son. “My family is now torn apart because a drunk driver took his life away,” Riley’s sister told the Post.

Johnson was charged by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson with manslaughter, homicide, speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene, and separate counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Last December a jury acquitted Johnson of manslaughter, homicide, and leaving the scene, finding him guilty on one count of driving drunk and one count of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“As a prosecutor, I accept the verdict of the jury,” Bronx vehicular crime chief Joe McCormack told Streetsblog after the trial. “We brought what we felt were appropriate charges, and we did the best we could trying the case.”

Johnson faced a year in jail, but on March 28, Judge Nicholas J. Iacovetta sentenced him to 90 days, three years probation, and $870 in fines, according to court records. His license was suspended for six months. So unless the New York State DMV takes action to keep him off the road, Johnson could driving again before long.

From the Daily News:

“He will be in jail for less than three months and I have to live with a life sentence,” the victim’s mother, Aurea Rivera, said after Bronx Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Iacovetta read the decision. “I want the laws changed so that no one else has to suffer like us.”

Rivera, joined in the courtroom by nearly a dozen friends and relatives, read a statement before the court and called on Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to toughen vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving laws.

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