One More Reason to Tear Down the Sheridan Expressway

sheridan.jpgThe Post reported last week that the Cross-Bronx Expressway — perhaps the most infamous urban freeway on the planet — has earned the title "America’s worst highway." According to traffic analysis firm INRIX, several of the nation’s top bottlenecks are located on the Cross-Bronx:

Westbound exits at the Sheridan Expressway rank third worst, White Plains Road, fourth, and Westchester Avenue, 11th among all the awful choke points in America.

Decommissioning the Sheridan happens to be one of two options being considered by New York State DOT to improve truck access to Hunts Point and its huge wholesale food markets (currently, trucks exit the Sheridan and make the last leg of their trips on local streets). Without the Sheridan, trucks would get to the markets via a new exit off the Bruckner Expressway. The other option also entails constructing the Bruckner exit, but would preserve the Sheridan as a truck route.

NYSDOT is in the traffic analysis phase of evaluating each alternative. If traffic flow is the name of the game, then chalk up another reason to tear down the Sheridan: It would ease congestion on the country’s most clogged-up highway. Of course, there’s also the 28 acres of land for riverfront public space, housing, and commercial development that a teardown would free up.

The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance is the leading advocate for the teardown option, called the "New Community on the Sheridan Plan." Getting NYSDOT to consider highway removal in its EIS has taken some serious advocacy, said SBRWA’s Melanie Bin Jung, and there’s more to come. NYSDOT is expected to release its final EIS for the project next year, and select the final option by 2012.

  • The Sheridan could be a textbook example of a highway to multiway boulevard project, one that would celebrate it riverfront condition, not blight it. All you have to do is look locally to the Ocean and Eastern Parkways for examples of how boulevards satisfy a high volume of people, while incidentally moving a substantial volume of vehicular traffic.

  • Michael1

    Right, and to further commend decommission, the Sheridan is no where near the traffic volumes, or importance rather, of the Cross-Bronx, Bruckner or even the Bronx River Parkway. Tear it down! One less highway to worry about for the DOT.

  • Joan

    Tearing the Sheridan down is a win / win / win; it will help the flow of traffic on important and chronically congested regional highways – the Cross-Bronx and the Bruckner; NYSDOT has come up with a plan for a direct connection between Hunts Point and the elevated Bruckner Expressway that makes the Sheridan obsolete – AND the Sheridan’s 28-acre footprint can be built out with 1200 units of housing, 500,000 square feet of commercial and community space, 10 acres of new open space. There’s no reason to consider a ‘boulevard’ solution – we’re in New York, where the ‘highest and best use’ of space is definitely NOT a multi-lane playground for vehicles – especially in a neighborhood where fewer than 20% of households own cars!

  • Boulevards are not “playgrounds for vehicles.” If designed correctly, a boulevard is the most elegant way to move higher volumes of people (note, not traffic). Indeed, it’s a tremendously resilient street type capable of meeting the needs of all in the public realm–pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders alike, as many boulevards have transit ways within their center lane medians, which adds another needed service for the area. The open space would not only occur in the presumed riverside park, but along the wide tree-lined sidewalks inherent to a true boulevard, in front of activated ground floor retail space. Please don’t forget that the majority of public space in any city are the streets, so they deserved to be grand once in a while.

    However, all of the above is appropriate only if the NYDOT, and more importantly the residents of the area, decide that moving a large volume of people through the corridor is remains a priority. The boulevard simply offers a third solution.

    The solution of de-emphasizing the use of the automobile as much as possible by breaking the site into small blocks, narrow streets, and mixed-use urban buildings that provide access to needed transit and commercial services is every bit as worthy, if not more so.

  • I think Joan’s point is that the Sheridan currently doesn’t move a large volume of anything, so a boulevard is not justified. But to your larger point, can you give us examples of boulevards that meet the needs of all? Because right now I can’t think of a boulevard that I’ve ever actually enjoyed spending time on – as a pedestrian, cyclist or transit user.

    The Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris is a possibility, but it’s only four lanes wide, so I don’t think it’s the kind of boulevard you’re talking about. The Boulevard Saint-Germain is only five lanes wide, and already unpleasant.

  • Fair enough, and I stated that indeed, a boulevard may not be the primary solution for the Sheridan. The point I was trying to express is that boulevards, designed in our current context, present real opportunity to meet the needs of all. If appropriate, the use of a Sheridan Boulevard could become primary example in America. Please know, however, that I am not fixated on using Boulevards. They have their place in the hierarchy of street types. As far as I am concerned, Boulevards should replace highways and arterial roads as America’s dominant street type. Thanks to functional classification, this is a remarkably difficult thing to restore.

    As you mentioned, many multiway Parisian Boulevards aren’t always the best example because their original design was greatly compromised over the course of the 20th century, although some reclamation has taken place. Many feature Metro stops, bus lines, and wide tree-lined sidewalks, which certainly help, and provide a foil to the cranky, medieval pattern of the arrondisement neighborhooods. I agree that San Michel is a good one, albeit not a multi-way.

    I enjoyed walking both the Paseig de Gracia in Barcelona, as well as the Avinguda Diagonal far more than some of the signature boulevards in Paris. Both could ne traffic-calmed more, but they serve an expressed purpose of being the dominant street type for their city. They accomodate pedestrians and bicyclists either in the medians, or along the slow-flow local lanes. Again, time has eroded these a bit too. That is not to say, however, that they couldn’t be restored or retrofitted in the future. Indeed, they should.

    Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco is likely the most salient American equivalent to what may, or may not be appropriate in the Sheridan situation. It too was a freeway tear down. Its section is comprised of four lanes of thru-traffic, and two single lanes of north-south (I believe) local traffic, which feature sharrows for continuity in the bicycle network. Octavia added more urban housing, and tree-lined sidewalks that feature better pedestrian crossings. When those trees mature, the public realm will be further enhanced. I offer this example because it was a chance to right-size the section from the beginning, unlike the continuous meddling that has gone on to meet the needs of automobiles in some of Europe’s better cities. Moreover, it provides a gracious transition from the Central Freeway (it would be nice to remove more of it) to the more residential, and narrow Octavia Street.

    Not being a San Fran resident, perhaps SB San Francisco could give us a more in depth perspective.

    Staying in California, The Esplanade is another multi-way Boulevard that is quite pleasant, according to Allan Jacobs. It’s more residential in character, and surely less urban, but it does the job of moving people quite well. It also provides a signature element for what is otherwise a fairly unremarkable place.

    Speaking of Allan Jacobs, I saw him speak last year where he mentioned that he was very proud of Boulevard he designed in Vancouver. I need to research that one some more.

    Not a multi-way, but Commonwealth Avenue in Boston is great example,and a *few multi-ways work in DC.

    Cap ‘n Transit, how do you feel along Ocean and Eastern Parkways? Those would be your most local examples. I am not as familiar with those as I should be.

  • I’m not all that familiar with Ocean and Eastern Parkways, but they’re definitely better than some of the boulevards I know. Large numbers of people like to come out and sit on the malls, and the bike paths are well-used. One thing they’re missing is street-level retail.

    They’re a bit more inviting than Mosholu and Pelham Parkways and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, and have more green space than the Grand Concourse. They’re a lot better than the lousy excuses for boulevards we have here in Queens, like Queens, Northern and Astoria Boulevards. They’re a damn sight better than any of the limited-access highways.

    Of course, the northern and western ends of those streets suck, but that’s not your point.

    I don’t know the boulevards in Barcelona and San Francisco that you’re referring to, but I’ve heard about the car-bike conflicts on Octavia Boulevard.

  • Thanks for the quick reply, Cap’n.

    The heart of your frustration seems to be in the pillaging of traditional street types, both in name and function. For example, is Queens Boulevard really a Boulevard by type? No. Conventional traffic engineers have wielded the blunt tool of functional classification to reduce our formerly rich network of various street types into just three or four, regardless of context, detailing, and intent. It is indeed frustrating to see what was probably once a real boulevard retain the name, but be reduced to a “arterial” in detailing and function. We all know where the emphasis lies there.

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