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: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/sheridan_hunt/presentation_051012.shtml##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.

In this map of the local highway system, the Sheridan is the bold black line running north-south to the west of the Bronx River, connecting two other highways. The red line indicates a truck route from the George Washington Bridge to the Hunts Point Produce Market, via the Major Deegan and the Bruckner Expressway, which would avoid local streets in the event that the Sheridan is taken down.

Currently, trucks accessing the Hunts Point market from the George Washington Bridge can either take the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the Sheridan, or take the Major Deegan to the Bruckner (as identified in this study prepared by STV, Inc. for DOT [PDF]). In the Sheridan teardown scenario, a critical component of the highway system is the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which carries I-95 across the Harlem River. Trucks have only 750 feet to travel between ramps from the upper level of the George Washington Bridge, which are on the inside of the highway on the west side of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, to the ramps to the Major Deegan, which are on the outside of the highway on the bridge’s east side.

Instead of having truckers perform this merging maneuver in the teardown scenario, DOT told advocates at the May 10 meeting that trucks would continue to use the Cross-Bronx and then exit onto neighborhood streets on the way to Hunts Point. Not surprisingly, the study found that this truck routing would have negative consequences, including low clearances at railroad crossings, a heavy impact on local streets and increased trip time and distance for trucks. So DOT declared that there were “fatal flaws” in the removal option and eliminated it from further consideration.

But DOT failed to mention some straightforward ways to address these flaws, according to advocates who have studied the Sheridan project. For instance, Hunts Point-bound truckers would not have to make a quick merge to get to the Major Deegan if they were allowed to use the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, as was permitted before September 11, 2001. Restore that access, and trucks could more easily take the Deegan to the Bruckner, which would take them straight to the new Hunts Point ramps at Oak Point Avenue. “That conversation has been happening for some years,” said TSTC’s Vanterpool about reopening the lower level. “It’s not a new request of the Port Authority.”

Another option to mitigate truck traffic on local streets would be to add a ramp from the Cross-Bronx to West Farms Road, a truck route that runs parallel to the Sheridan. Instead, DOT’s analysis assumed trucks heading from the Cross Bronx to Hunts Point would have to use other local streets. In two of DOT’s routing options, trucks would exit the Cross Bronx more than a mile west of West Farms Road, at Webster Avenue, then follow existing truck routes through Bronx neighborhoods. Another scenario involved creating a new truck route on Bronx River Avenue. If the city factored in a new ramp connecting the Cross-Bronx to West Farms Road, the impact on local streets would not be so great.

Members of the teardown coalition also called the city’s traffic modeling unrealistic, and noted the absence of well-defined criteria for rejecting the highway removal. “There’s never been a cohesive explanation” of this decision, said Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “DOT did not do any kind of choice model. You always see traffic dissipate to some extent. They used a one-to-one replacement.” In addition, Conte explained, “there’s not even a definition of what they consider to be a fatal flaw.”

Overall, say advocates, what was supposed to be a comprehensive look at options for the Sheridan Expressway has turned into an oversimplified justification to avoid tearing down the highway. According to the city’s explanation, the South Bronx can either remove a highway or keep lots of truck traffic off local streets, but not both. “It’s absolutely a false choice,” said Conte.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about how they’ve removed this option from the table,” Vanterpool said. “We would have liked this to have been a dialogue, as opposed to being presented with, ‘We’re dropping this option.'”

As the city moves to eliminate the teardown option from further study, other options remain undefined. The two other scenarios for the Sheridan are “modify” and “retain,” but the specifics of the “modify” scenario still seem to be up in the air. At the May 10 meeting, city officials described this alternative as the Sheridan being “retained for local and pass-through traffic with some modifications.” It’s not yet clear exactly how significant those modifications might be.

The next meeting between project staff and the Community Working Group is scheduled for later today. It looks like the Department of City Planning is ready to move the study forward without the removal option, since the agenda up for discussion is land use, not transportation. But advocates will continue to press for the removal option, and local elected officials including Representative Jose Serrano and City Council Member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo are on their side.

“If there is the political will, funds can be found to move many things forward,” Vanterpool said. “So I don’t see this as a done deal.”

  • J

    No one believes the traffic arguments from the City. Clearly this was an order from higher up, and part of the Hunts Point Food Market negotiations. The poor attempt to hide the real reasons behind this decision is ridiculous. It’s no wonder people have such little trust in government.

    I would rather the City just come right out and tell the truth, which I imagine might sound something like, “look, the Hunts Point Food Market wanted us to kill the highway removal study or else they’d leave the city and take a bunch of jobs with them. We value those jobs more than the highway removal so we killed the study.” 

    That would be honest and open government, and we could then assess the merits of that decision. Instead, we have this ridiculous argument about truck routing assumptions which had almost no bearing on this decision.

  • Driver

    There seems to be a major problem with the alternatives presented here. 
    Allowing trucks on the lower level of the GWB is not a decision that can be made by any group other than the PA.  The banning of trucks from the lower level is a preventative measure to mitigate any attempted attack on the bridge. 

  • Driver

    Damn disqus.
    The other alternative of constructing a ramp to W. Farms Rd still puts many large tractor trailers onto local streets. 
    I’m not sure how familiar the editors and commentors are with the traffic at the Hunts Point Market, but I can tell you from first hand experience that it is a tremendous volume of large and slow trucks entering and exiting the market daily.  This type of traffic is likely to clog neighborhood streets with ease, even if only a fraction of the trucks use the local streets. 

    I remember seeing pictures here on SB of people standing on the Sheridan as an example of the light traffic.  While the Sheridan is no jam packed highway, I have taken it many times and have never been alone.  I am curious, are the any unscientific (or scientific) studies done that show exactly how many trucks, and in particular tractor trailers, use this Expressway during an average workday? 

  • Teamster

    Go figure that an amazingly beneficial public policy idea like the removal of the Sheridan Expressway and the redevelopment of the Harlem River waterfront in the Bronx would get stymied by post-9/11 security bullshit and a handful of mobbed up, politically connected produce truckers. It’s NYC policy-making in a nutshell. Sounds like a great opportunity for a Democratic mayoral candidate, if any of them have the testicles to get behind it.

  • Guest

    Um… connecting the Cross Bronx to West Farms Road and routing trucks that way really is a modify alternative.

    So… they’re really ok with the City pursuing that option instead, right?

  • Guest

    Besides, I find the lack of basic coherence among the activists frustrating.  Routing trucks on the Bruckner guarantees increasing VMT and slowing operating speeds – which would increase emissions.  So why do they keep representing their demands as an improvement for air quality?

    And why won’t they provide any response about what happens to the residents in Hunts Point whenever there is an incident on the Bruckner (i.e. all the time…), and all the trucks are trapped there?

  • Bronxite

    Anyone read the Cap Transit alternative? Knock down the BX River Parkway instead, replaced with new urban transit oriented development and a greenway?

  • guest

    The Bx River Parkway is mostly surrounded by parks and is in the flood plain of the Bx river.  If there is a teardown, it will likely remain a park.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Routing trucks on the Bruckner guarantees increasing VMT and slowing operating speeds – which would increase emissions.”

    The claim that you reduce emissions by increasing speed was familiar in the 1950s and the 1960s but is thoroughly debunked by now.  Maybe the ghost of Robert Moses is commenting here.

  • Guest

    @0c6a1ba3c059e75968ce271f4ea79d78:disqus , can you please provide a single reference that even suggests that trucks produce less emissions when operated at slow speeds?  Anything at all that is accepted by anybody for air quality modeling?

    If, as you assert, this has been “thoroughly debunked,” you must have ample evidence you can point to without difficulty or delay.

    But even if your claim is true… what can you possibly say about VMT??? 

  • Guest

    The Cap’n Transit proposal is creative and provocative:
    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2012/06/that-doesnt-mean-other-options-cant.html

    Kudos for some more productive and thoughtful ideas!

    I haven’t looked it over closely, but on quick glance, it seems far more achievable.  Sometimes some of the express buses use this section of the Bronx River Parkway instead of the Sheridan, depending on current congestion conditions, so it does serve some a small degree of transit redundancy.  Still, that’s a detail, and by identifying that sort of transit need up front as part of the criteria, a workable program around the Bronx River Parkway could actually emerge.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Guest,” you have convinced me that building more freeways reduces VMT and improves air quality.  Why didn’t I think of that before?

    All of those blamed environmentalists never think about air quality.  

  • Guest

    Apparently you had no evidence to support your misstatement or inaccurate challenge of my factually-correct statement.

    So now you misconstrue, misrepresent, and misapply what I said in a blatant attempt to deflect attention from your incorrect position.

    (This is not an issue of building a new highway.  In this discussion of truck traffic, the factor of induced demand, which is relevant for new construction, is not relevant.)

    But perhaps you aren’t really trying to be dishonest and slip out of statements you now recognize to be wrong?  If that’s the case, please, just support your statements now and we might have a reasonable conversation.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Guest,” you claim that care about air quality, while the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Sustainable South Bronx, and the Sustainability & Environmental Justice Initiative do not care about air quality. Then you say you want to have a “reasonable conversation”????

  • Guest

    The point I made was that increasing the VMT and VHT for truck trips will have a negative effect with air pollution.

    You claimed those factors have been “thoroughly debunked.”  What, specifically, do you think is incorrect about that statement?

    (To ensure a “reasonable conversation,” allow me to debunk your mischaracterization.  I believe they care about air quality, but I believe they lost sight of the issue with this particular campaign and have not adequately assessed the relevant facts. That was the point of stating the source of their error.)

  • Mogfy

    You could simply remove the Sheridan expressway by making a better connection for trucks coming from the GWB to the Major Deegan then connecting to the Bruckner and exiting at the new ramps proposed for Oak Point Avenue. The trucks from New England don’t even have to bother using the Cross Bronx because they could merge into the Bruckner coming from I95 North and using the same ramps at Oak Point to exit. Trucks leaving Hunts Point could use the same ramps at Oak Point to go south to Manhattan and NJ or north to New England using the Bruckner without the need of the Sheridan and if for some reason the Hunts Point wholesale food produce market ask for a connection to the Cross Bronx from the Brucker then use the Bronx River that’s has a better ramp and is not far from the Sheridan neither.

  • douglasawillinger

    The “Cap’n Transit” proposal neglects the full matter of the interchanges, notably the lack of a ramp from the southbound Sheridan to the eastbound Bruckner. Such a new flyover would probably be costlier and definitely more blighting than simply requiring any new apartment buildings on the lower BRP have support to allow maintaining that road underneath.