City Close to Recommending Surface Road Replacement for Sheridan

The city is close to recommending that the Sheridan Expressway, a short, sparsely-used interstate that community activists have targeted for removal for years, be transformed into a street-level roadway that opens land for new development and improves neighborhood access to parks along the Bronx River.

Today, trucks going to Hunts Point follow the solid red line on the highway, but follow the dashed line on local streets. The plan to convert a section of the Sheridan Expressway to a surface road would also add direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway at the blue circle. Image: ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/SEHP_CWG_Meeting-Presentation_7March13_FINAL.pdf##DCP##

The news came Tuesday night at a public meeting attended by about 60 people, where staff from the Department of City Planning, the Department of Transportation, and the Economic Development Corporation fielded questions after unveiling the draft recommendations, which would narrow the road width from 210 feet to an estimated 115 feet, create three signalized intersections along a section of the Sheridan, and open up new sites for development.

The next morning, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance held a press conference on an overpass above the Sheridan. “That is a good start,” Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice Executive Director David Shuffler said of the surface road proposal. “But we still feel that they have a lot more ways to go.”

The plan’s two major components come with cost estimates: DOT says that new ramps connecting Oak Point Avenue with the Bruckner Expressway would cost $72 million, while transforming a section of the Sheridan into a surface road would require $45 million. These cost estimates don’t include other recommendations, such as pedestrian access improvements and decking over a portion of the highway.

“Closing things is always cheaper than opening them,” DOT federal programs advisor Linda Bailey said, adding that the project team was trying to keep costs down in order to improve the likelihood of the project’s most important components becoming reality.

The Oak Point ramps, in combination with the closure of a ramp from the southbound Sheridan to Westchester Avenue, would re-route trucks accessing the Hunts Point Produce Market off local streets and directly to the industrial area. Advocates want ramps to and from the west, as well, but DOT only studied east-side ramps, which would serve traffic using the Sheridan and reduce the overall project cost by tens of millions of dollars. Another DOT cost-saving measure was to redesign the off-ramp from the westbound Bruckner; instead of flying over the expressway, it would connect directly to street level at Leggett Avenue.

In addition to calling for a study of all four Oak Point ramps, SBRWA is asking the city to study the impact of closing the northbound ramp from the Sheridan to Westchester Avenue. The closure would allow for decking over the expressway across the southern side of Westchester Avenue and improving access to Concrete Plant Park. The plan already calls for decking over the expressway on the north side of Westchester Avenue for new retail development.

Even without decking, the project would create big new development sites. Julie Stein, assistant vice president for development at EDC, provided job creation projections showing that by 2035, the area could gain anywhere from 9,600 to 18,200 construction and 3,000 to 4,700 permanent jobs if the Sheridan were redesigned to create new development lots. Some meeting attendees were skeptical that those jobs would be held by people who live in the neighborhood, and asked that local employment and procurement requirements be included in the final recommendations, a suggestion the city team was open to at the meeting.

Attendees at Tuesday's public meeting view a model of the Sheridan Expressway from the Department of City Planning. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT also presented the results of an air quality analysis requested by advocates at a community working group meeting in March. Federal fuel economy and engine specification regulations are expected to drive most of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter, but the study found that converting the Sheridan to a surface street would have a negligible impact on pollution levels.

The draft plan also included some recommendations beyond the confines of the Sheridan Expressway, including potential zoning changes along Southern Boulevard and an improved pedestrian environment along Bronx River Avenue and West Farms Road.

The study team, funded by a $1.5 million federal grant, will release its final recommendations next month. Some recommendations can be implemented relatively quickly.

DOT has already put forward a proposal to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety on the surrounding streets, including a two-way protected bike lane, painted curb extensions, and plaza space along Westchester Avenue, Bruckner Boulevard, and Edgewater Road. The plan, which aims to improve access to parks along the Bronx River, was slightly modified earlier this month to add parking and shared lane markings along Edgewater Road instead of bike lanes [PDF]. Community Board 9 public services committee chair William Rivera told Streetsblog via e-mail that he is “very optimistic” that the modified plan will pass at the committee’s next meeting on June 3.

Meanwhile, the Bronx River Alliance continues its efforts to get the city, state, and Amtrak to come to an agreement that would allow for construction of the Bronx River Greenway connection between Starlight Park and Concrete Plant Park.

The Sheridan’s transformation, however, will have to involve the city’s next mayor and the New York State DOT.

“This advocacy needs to go beyond the next five months into the next administration,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Veronica Vanterpool.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Improves access to the Bronx River, increases green space in an industrialized South Bronx, redirects truck traffic to minimize travel in local streets, and returns this space back to the pedestrian level, with the study covered by a federal grant…no complaints here. It’s an alright start.

  • Bronxite

    Really hoping for a Blvd. As mentioned it would make the riverfront more accessible and create more opportunities for development, all while keeping truck traffic off local streets. A victory for the communities of the Bronx River.

    BTW, does anyone know a timeline for the Bronx River area bicycle infrastructure improvements? That protected lane and crosswalk along Bruckner Blvd would be a major benefit to Manhattan bound cyclist from the Southeast Bronx or alternatively.

  • James Reefer

    Good news on Friday!

  • Daphna

    115 feet wide is still a very wide street, but better than 210 feet. I can understand the city needing to do this in a way that is economical. I hope it moves forward. It is an improvement over the existing situation.

    However, it is discouraging that Bronx Community Board 9 pushed the DOT to water down the street improvements on the surrounding streets. I am sad that the Public Services Committee of Bronx CB9 is rejected bike lanes on Edgewater Road preferring parking instead and leaving cyclists only with sharrows.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    My guess, this year at the latest for those connections. It’s on the DOT’s 2013 to-do list, and Starlight Park is partially open to the public.

  • Bronxite

    I agree, the more narrow the better. Please implement some type of aggressive traffic calming DOT! At least wide pedestrian islands with bollards (and beautification).

    Hopefully speed cameras will eventually be implemented to catch lead feet coming off the Bruckner. I could see that being an issue. Considering how popular the Bronx River is becoming I would hate to see some kids get run down by a truck.

    I didn’t hear about Edgewater Rd in Hunts Point. Pretty sure that is CB2 as well. A lot of trucks down that way (and speeders) but light traffic. I think Sharrows could work there.

    Also, considering the Bruckner Expressway divides Concrete Plant Park from Hunts Point Riverside Park further south, how are you supposed to make that connection? Are you supposed to bike across the bridge East into Soundview, crossing under the Bruckner at BX River Ave to pop back up on the other side. Finally continuing down Edgewater Rd in Hunts Point? Or are you supposed to bike West Bruckner Blvd and cross over at the very hectic (dangerous) Hunts Point Ave? I know if I were making the connection I would prefer BX River Ave.

    I know in the greater plan for the BX River Greenway there was a proposed Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge over the Bronx River at Lafayette Ave (Connecting Soundview and Riverside Parks). Would be great. Same goes for the other Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridges proposed along the Bronx River.

  • Bronxite

    Thanks for the info. I really hoped so, I frequently ride this route. The whole Bruckner/Bronx River Avenue/Westchester/Whitlock area can be dicey as far southwest as Hunts Point Ave (heavy traffic). I like the idea of a protected lane, but I feel it should extend to Hunts Point Ave at least, which provides a direct connection to E 163rd St/Southern Blvd. Personally, that’s one of the most dangerous areas for me to pass on my Manhattan bound commute.

  • Joe R.

    There’s a rail yard not far from Hunts Point. Has anyone studied the viability of laying track from the yard to Hunts Point, and shifting the deliveries from truck to train? That would massively curtail the emissions problems from hundreds of trucks passing through the region each day, not to mention the congestion they add.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, the nature of food distribution makes it difficult to shift to rail. Part of the truck traffic to HP is taking food to stores and bodegas dispersed all over the city — rail couldn’t make those door-to-door deliveries. On the producer side there might be more potential due to certain larger point-to-point loads involving large agro-businesses; however, freshness concerns would prevent produce from taking the slower rail route. Smaller producers in general wouldn’t be able to use rail because their loads wouldn’t be large enough.

  • Joe R.

    I was thinking mostly of shifting to rail on the producer side here. The distributor side is problematic, although I wonder if we could make use of the underutilized subway capacity for that (i.e. run subway trains late nights which are loaded with cargo and personnel to wheel it the last few blocks on hand trucks to its final destination).

  • Joe R.

    I was thinking mostly of shifting to rail on the producer side here. The distributor side is problematic, although I wonder if we could make use of the underutilized subway capacity for that (i.e. run subway trains late nights which are loaded with cargo and personnel to wheel it the last few blocks on hand trucks to its final destination).

  • Driver

    Joe, there are so many logistical problems with that idea I don’t even want to list them. I do get a chuckle that someone who gets leg cramps from stopping too many times while cycling would think that that delivering any significant amount of cargo manually from down in the subways and blocks away is a feasible idea.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not suggesting we use the subways to deliver everything, but certainly the idea might merit examining for some types of cargo. We have tons of underutilized capacity during off peak hours and the subway goes within a few blocks of virtually every location in Manhattan. As for the leg cramps, it’s because of my generally worsening physical condition (it started with carpal tunnel syndrome in my late 20s and now it’s affecting other areas). I doubt anyone delivering goods using the subways would be in my condition.

    If the city got involved in things like vertical farming we could be virtually self-sufficient as far as food production goes. And there are tons of other ways of distributing goods besides trucks. The city is still operating like it’s 1950. I’ve heard of novel idea like using pneumatic tubes, for example. That system was actually used to distribute documents in office buildings (and of course rendered obsolete for that purpose with electronic distribution). An updated version of it could deliver small or medium sized goods citiwide for far lower cost than trucking. The larger point is let’s start thinking outside the box a bit more. Even if most of the ideas are found unfeasible, you might hit upon one which changes everything. You see logistical problems whereas I see opportunities to make things better.

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