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.”

South Bronx community groups have been calling for years to tear down the Sheridan — a Robert Moses-era, 1.25-mile highway segment connecting the Bruckner and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Under the umbrella of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, their vision of reclaiming the waterfront by replacing highway infrastructure with housing and parks gradually gained momentum until it was rejected by the state DOT in 2010.

At the time, advocates pointed out that the state DOT’s analysis was woefully incomplete: It approached the teardown as though nothing of value would replace the highway — the Sheridan would just sit there, fenced-off and unused.

The teardown option was revived later that year when the U.S. DOT awarded New York City a $1.5 million TIGER grant to assess what could be done with the Sheridan and the land it occupies. The project application from the city was titled “Revitalizing the Sheridan Corridor, Hunts Point and the Bronx River.”

In the early phases of the TIGER project, the city seemed to be on track to conduct the kind of multi-faceted analysis the state DOT had failed to provide. Geographically, it promised to look at a much broader area than the Sheridan itself. And thematically, the project was about more than traffic counts. Two of the four major components of the study, still listed on the DCP website, are:

  • Land use analysis of the surrounding area and the options identified during the community visioning process
  • A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of different options incorporating traditional and sustainable measures.

In other words, this project is supposed to look at many different ways the Sheridan teardown might affect the neighborhoods near the highway: The potential benefits of housing, jobs, park access, and street safety should all have factored into the ultimate decision.

Instead, in a virtual repeat of the state DOT’s 2010 fiasco, the city seems to have ruled out the teardown prematurely, based on little more than a highly simplified traffic analysis.

At the May 10 meeting between the city and the community groups working on the Sheridan project, officials gave a brief presentation outlining the effects of a highway teardown on traffic and truck routing, focusing on a few specific intersections. They then concluded that truck traffic on residential streets was a “fatal flaw” in the removal scenario, and announced the teardown would no longer be considered, according to advocates in attendance. And that was that. No mention of housing, parks, or economic development.

Community groups who support the teardown called the city’s analysis shallow, flawed, and opaque, lacking a clear explanation of its underlying assumptions. “The fatal flaw here is how we’re being forced to live, and the least we deserve from the city is a full and honest analysis of all the options in front of us, including the community plan, in order to truly correct these long term issues, not only for us but for future generations to come,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The POINT CDC.

Local elected officials including U.S. Representative José Serrano and City Council Member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo are also castigating the city for dropping the teardown option on such a threadbare pretext.

“I stand with the community in saying that taking any option off the table at this time is premature,” Serrano said in a statement. “When we helped secure the grant for this study, we envisioned a full study of all the options, not one where a challenging option like the removal is quickly discounted. We know that there are difficulties with removing the Sheridan, but we are interested in knowing how that could be accomplished, not hearing that it is too difficult to even continue studying. I urge the city to reconsider and resume studying all options for the Sheridan Expressway.”

“When the study began, we had high hopes that the South Bronx would finally be getting the attention it has long been deprived from the city with a thorough analysis and inclusive process that was fairly done and appropriately communicated,” Arroyo said in a statement. “Instead, with no discussion and no notice, the city announces it wants to remove the linchpin of the study from consideration. This is grossly premature and unjustified, and I’m calling on the city to continue studying the Sheridan removal options.”

The Department of City Planning has not responded to Streetsblog’s inquiries about the reasons behind its decision, why other factors besides traffic were apparently not considered, and whether the Hunts Point market negotiations influenced the city’s rejection of the teardown.

  • Bolwerk

    For all this crap about a legacy, Bloomberg seems to have done little or nothing to curb the car-craving excesses of NYCDCP and NYCDOT. 

  • @Bolwerk I think you mean NYCEDC instead of DOT. EDC’s in charge of the Hunts Point Market negotiations.

  • Bolwerk

    @BenFried:disqus : Fair point, but I was making a general comment about who is in charge of planning and transportation. Frankly, you can add EDC to the list. They’re atrocious.

  • J

    Community planning is a fucking joke in this city. If you’re not in the back room, you have ZERO voice.

  • vnm

    If its primary concern were transportation and highways, the Hunts Point Food Market would never, ever move to New Jersey. Between Manhattan and the Bronx, there are 60 lanes for motor vehicle traffic, most of them toll free. Between Manhattan and New Jersey, there are just 24 lanes.  All of them are traffic clogged for large parts of the day. And all of them require tolls of upwards of $22.50 (3-axles, overnight, with truck E-ZPass) to $78 (cash, 6 axles), and beyond. The City should have the leverage to call such a obvious bluff.

  • Ben Kintisch

    So many community stakeholders working so hard for so long….let’s not give up now!
    Call, write, email, and get the word out to friends and neighbors. I’m guessing hundreds of Bronx residents worked together to get the process this far…now we need to get them back in action!

  • Eric McClure

    The Hunts Point Market is going to move to New Jersey like the Yankees are going to move to New Jersey.  And the City has played this one about as well as they did the Yankee Stadium debacle.

  • Guest

    No matter how many studies demonstrate that removing this particular highway will result in worse conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods, people with an ideological dogma against highways and little functional understanding of the real site-specific issues of this case will continue to mislead the local communities.  The money for this study could have been used on so many other things that would have actually improved neighborhood conditions in the South Bronx, instead of demonstrating yet once again that diverting traffic through neighborhoods is a bad idea.

    What’s worse, some of those activists really should actually know better.

    Their dogmatic approach does more than most other problems to undermine community planning.  They destroy faith in government integrity (at times when it actually isn’t a problem…), and make community residents feel powerless when their false hopes are betrayed.  The whole thing is sad.  

    At the end of the day, all I can say is shame on Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

  • Guest

    How could anybody (@3a9cb377ae68ba7b489d30e5eb859747:disqus ?) look at the progressive record of NYCDOT under JSK and think they had seen “car-craving excesses”? 

  • Tallycyclist

    The “concern” about the Hunts Point Food Market moving is just a cheap, cop-out excuse that is all too commonly used.  It’s twin counterpart which also gets used all the time would be the threat of food price hikes due to mandate of x, y or z.  The beauty of this (for those who like to use it) are that it gets people’s attentions and emotions roused up whether it’s true or not.  Increasing costs of fuel, of tolls, of food, what have you.  Perfect arguments that effectively throw rationality out of the equation.  

    One of the main problems IMHO is the large and powerful (and often wealthier) middle/upper-class  suburban base that wants quick and cheap access into/out of cities.  They have absolutely no incentive to make the urban landscape better especially at the expense of their convenient way to travel places-or what they perceive as quick, because we all know gridlock is the exact opposite.  I doubt any suburbanite would be okay with an 8-lane highway being built 40 meters from their house and cutting the neighbor into 2.  

  • Guest

    @bebbbee600e2c8453d4deafbadcc390a:disqus  says: “I doubt any suburbanite would be okay with an 8-lane highway being built 40 meters from their house and cutting the neighbor into 2.”
    Unfortunately, more ideologically-based rhetoric that has nothing to do with the locality.  How many houses are really located within 40 meters of the Sheridan?  (Bonus points if you note that of the few houses located that close, several are used for businesses rather than residences!)

    As for cutting the neighborhood in two, please at least take the time to look at the map…  The local communities are separated by the Bronx River, the railroad, and light-industrial land uses.  Removing the Sheridan could never magically knit together the two separate communities on each side.

  • Tallycyclist

    Guest  I was making a more general comment about our urban development issues, and not necessary this particular situation.  So it’s not that irrelevant.  Freeways and large roads that cut into cities don’t just affect communities immediately adjacent to them.  The point I was trying to make about development in cities that favor suburbanites concerns more than just highways; it also includes things like better pedestrian/bike infrastructure, restrictions of access for cars through certain parts of the cities, tolls on roads, and more recently on the global arena, congestion charges.  

    The argument as stated in the article against removal of the Sheridon was that it was going to cut off direct access of trucks to the Hunts Point Food Market.  Trucks would obviously still have access to the actual market, but presumably less direct and slow.  I suppose one can argue that had the Sheridon never existed in the first place, the food market wouldn’t be where it is today.  Alternatively it would still be there, and the trucks would have found another route/way to deliver the goods.  

  • Guest

    @bebbbee600e2c8453d4deafbadcc390a:disqus another route for trucks is to travel on neighborhood streets with housing instead of a grade-separated highway that bypasses the adjacent neighborhoods.  Hardly an improvement.

  • “and make community residents feel powerless when their false hopes are betrayed”

    It doesn’t seem to be a matter of “feeling” powerless. When elites-who-know-better swoop in at the last minute and crush your plans, that’s just what you are.

  • Guest

    @n8han:disqus I suppose people are powerless when they try to defy reality.  
    For example, I am powerless at resisting the force of gravity.  And the know-nothing style of your response bothers me.  Typically it is the Tea Partiers who resort to calling people “elites” when they can’t muster a real argument against analytical findings.

    The facts are simple, and every analysis is going to find the same thing: removing the Sheridan would dump an unacceptable amount of traffic, including a lot of trucks, onto local, residential intersections, in neighborhoods that already suffer from a high environmental burden. 

    The planners who studied this and reported their findings did the job they were charged to do.  They did their task honestly, and it is unfair for you to attack them because you prefer a little wishful thinking to their findings.  I wish you would consider extending them an apology.

  • So you admit they are powerless.

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  • Guest

    Powerless to deny reality, sure, have it your way.

  • Guest

    Are you prepared to admit that misleading them was wrong?

  • Guest

    And just to be clear, communities do have the power to foment real, productive change.  The South Bronx Greenway is a good example.  But you can destroy community-based planning when it’s taken over by ideological zealots who represent themselves as experts, but base their agenda on unachievable wishful thinking. 

    It becomes a vicious cycle when the failures of these zealots are represented as oppression, renewing the cycle of fighting for things you can’t get.  Sometimes things get so bad, that individuals lock in their power withing a disenfranchised community by keeping them down in endless losing battles.  It maintains the leader’s standing as the hero confronting the powers holding the community down (when in reality it is largely the battles designed to fail, taking the place of productive efforts, that deprives the community of resources).

    The promise that traffic would just magically disappear wasn’t possible, and the examples of successful highway removals elsewhere inapplicable to this location.  Sometimes traffic does redistribute… and sometimes it doesn’t.  Wishes cannot replace real analysis, and the advocates should know better.

  • Dorathycho

    I wonder if NYC will be returning the TIGER grant funds to FTA.

  • Bolwerk

    @afe39426ed830fa3a54e7065a43a60e1:disqus : JSK may be well and good, but she didn’t replace the entire bureaucracy’s 1950s-style road-loving ideologues. Much as cretins like Cuozzi gnash their teeth, JSK has scarcely touched automobile usage.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think we can all see that the anonymous commenter who calls himself “guest” is the one with an ideological dogma. 

    Here, we are talking about thoroughly studying the removal to see if it will work, and “guest” is against the study.  He has made up his mind, regardless of the facts.

    Note: People who make the largest number of repetitive comments do not actually convince anyone, but they do show that they are narrowly dogmatic.

  • Guest

    Nice try, Charles. 
    Yawn.

    I am against denigrating studies when you don’t like the findings.

    This is two studies in a row that have found that the concept is fatally flawed because it would force too much traffic with a lot of trucks through residential neighborhood streets.  Those are the facts.  The person denying the facts, Charles, is apparently you. 

    Asking for more and more studies will not change this fatal flaw.  It would only divert more time and money from finding real solutions to improve our communties.

    But maybe you don’t actually care about getting results for our communities, since it doesn’t affect you?  Who do you think are you kidding about beating your ideological drum?  At least be honest!

    Yes, I have seen your regular misleading comments on this site and others in support of this boondoggle, and any other similar idea anywhere around the country.  It seems pretty clear you push this because it fits your agenda; you don’t have any stake in the outcome.  Say, how is the weather out in California today?

    You posted nothing of substance.  If you would like, you can try challenging my discussion about why the transportation network is not robust enough for the trips to “disappear.”  I suspect you did not because you thought you could score some quick points with some handwaving, to divert from the basic truth that the facts are not on your side.

    Like I said, yawn.

  • Charles_Siegel

    You have an ideological agenda as much as I do, “Guest.”  The difference is that my ideology calls for more livable cities and a cleaner environment, while yours calls for blighted cities and dirty air.

    The weather is beautiful in the SF Bay Area, but I hear that there is an extreme hot spell in New York.  Maybe the unusual weather you are experiencing will wake you up to the fact that your ideology is helping to cause global warming.

  • Guest

    As usual, you make up untrue statements instead of speaking to the facts of The Bronx.I am fighting for clean air for the residents.That is why I oppose your poorly conceived efforts to put idling trucks below bedroom windows.I oppose blight.  That is why I do not want our residential neighborhoods turned into truck routes, or used as queuing areas when they can’t get onto the highway.Global warming?  What?  You’re not serious, right?It is your scheme that would increase truck VMT, VHT, and idling.  Those negative effects are clearly the very thing I am opposing here.  Please, try to get some basic understanding before making such outlandish statements.Instead of simplistic thinking about highway removal, which refuses to consider the local conditions, I look at what the people in our community need.  And they certainly do not need to have tractor trailers rerouted from a highway a half mile from their homes onto the streets where they walk with their children.I promote no ideological agenda.  I am not trying to advance some national campaign with a one-size-fits-all solution.  I certainly would never have the audacity to tell somebody else that their neighborhood would be more “livable” if I could just create a photo op with a nice little new park by moving a bunch of idling trucks in front of their home.I am simply speaking up for the best interests of The Bronx based on the realities on the ground and some very basic common sense.The biggest source of blight just might be the outside activists like yourself, who agitate for bad ideas to promote your own national ambitions, keeping us in a perpetual state of uncertainty and preventing us from actually moving forward with other real improvements that could put good resources in the ground.

  • Guest

    And I do not have to deny the findings of professional planners who have studied the issue to support my points.

  • douglasawillinger

    Why no discussion of building a deck over the Sheridan between 172 and 173th Streets, if not a bit longer, perhaps an additional block north to 174th Streets, and south to Jennings Street? That would truly open up local waterfront access, while keeping heavy vehicular traffic shielded and away from neighborhoods, as opposed to the simplistic freeway removal dogma that ignores general and local conditions. Note how the topography to the west rises, and visualize different designs that would increase parkland and facilitate some new development.

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