The East Bronx Doubles Down on Traffic-Oriented Development

This suburban development is coming within walking distance of a new Metro-North station planned for the East Bronx. Image: Simone Development
This suburban office park will be built within walking distance of a new Metro-North station planned for the East Bronx. Image: Simone Development

The East Bronx is on track to get new Metro-North service, but developers are building unwalkable, traffic-generating projects near the stations, fueled by state and city funding for highway ramps and expansions. Unless things change, the new rail service will be marooned in a sea of car-centric sprawl and traffic congestion.

The biggest development site, sandwiched between an Amtrak line and the Hutchinson River Parkway, is just east of Jacobi Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It was originally a 76-acre campus for the Bronx Psychiatric Center, a state facility that’s downsizing and selling off land for development.

Simone Development has already built the first phase of the Hutchinson Metro Center, a complex featuring office space, retail, and a hotel. Earlier this year, Empire State Development, the same state agency behind the Atlantic Yards mega-project in Brooklyn, awarded Simone the second phase, with even more office space.

While there’s a shuttle to the nearby 6 train, the project is designed to generate lots of car trips. “We do have an abundance of parking. One of the things that’s very attractive about the Hutchinson Metro Center is that people can come here and actually find a parking spot,” said Simone Development President Joseph Kelleher. “Having parking is very important.”

“The best of the city and the suburbs,” croons the project’s promotional website, which features a video with tenants raving about the plentiful free parking. “When you come into the Hutchinson Metro Center, you don’t believe you’re in the borough of the Bronx,” a tenant says in the video. “You don’t even believe you’re in New York City.”

More car infrastructure is on the way: The Department of City Planning is undertaking a broad review of traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway, and State Senator Jeff Klein secured $1 million for NYC DOT to study adding a new ramp directly from the parkway to the Hutchinson Metro Center, to make driving even more convenient.

At the same time, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $250 million toward plans for new Metro-North service in the East Bronx, including a train station right next to the development site. In anticipation of the station, the Department of City Planning released a plan for transit-oriented development in the area. The report includes renderings of what walkable development could look like next to the station on Eastchester Road.

Kelleher said his development, across the tracks from Eastchester Road, is already a walkable, transit-oriented project that will benefit from train access. But the acres of parking lots around Simone’s office buildings are hardly a welcoming place to walk. It’s clear that transit was an afterthought.

Morris Park is a big and growing job center within walking distance of a planned Metro-North station, but new development in the area remains auto-centric. Map: Department of City Planning
Morris Park is a big and growing job center within walking distance of a planned Metro-North station, but new development in the area remains car-centric. Map: Department of City Planning

“It’s literally steps away from that train station,” Kelleher said. “I don’t think in the beginning that we anticipated the MTA was going to bring train stations into the Bronx, but we’re really pleased that they are doing that.”

“It’s not built for access to transit,” said John DeSio, spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “It’s not really the development’s fault. What was on that property beforehand was the Bronx Psychiatric Center and some baseball fields… Those are problems that can be figured out as we get the stations built.”

Diaz backs the study for a new highway ramp directly to the development, as well as additional highway expansion projects in the area. Just up the Hutchinson River Parkway, an indoor shopping mall opened at Bay Plaza last year, adding a lane to the off-ramp from Interstate 95 to Bartow Avenue at a cost of $3.4 million.

The New York State DOT is also planning to add a fourth lane to more than a half-mile of northbound Interstate 95, widening the Bruckner Expressway between Wilkinson Avenue and the Hutchinson River Parkway. The project includes a new ramp from the northbound parkway to Bartow Avenue. Total cost: $30.2 million.

“There’s already a lot of traffic, and some of these ideas are to alleviate existing traffic,” DeSio said. “If you go to the mall right now, there’s a jam on Bartow Avenue.”

Advocates are asking the state and city to think about more than just cars. “Adding new roadway capacity should not be the default traffic mitigation measure,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. “It would be great to see a transportation design study that studies how employees can access emerging business and retail hubs on transit, bike and foot and not just in their vehicles.”

“By studying how to improve the overall transportation network for all users of the roadway, car trips will shift to other modes, reducing overall vehicular traffic in the community,” Vanterpool said. “It’s a key opportunity for transit-oriented development that shouldn’t be squandered.”

  • Daphna

    Depressing news but great article and effective headline. If just makes me think, “when will government employees and those in power ever learn?”

  • Joe R.

    The area within walking distance of a railway station is prime real estate and should be treated as such, particularly in a major urban center like NYC. Wasting the space on parking lots which make anything worth walking to further away is about as dumb as it gets. That’s especially true when much of the population in the Bronx doesn’t own a car or drive. You would still think it’s the 1960s with what we’re building. Same thing in my borough. So many car-oriented projects in Queens which look like they’re straight from Long Island or upstate NY.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, since we have all that room for “free” parking, I guess our perennial housing problems have been solved.

  • urbanresidue

    Hutchinson Metro Center connects through to Pelham Parkway, and could also be served by the Bx12 SBS, providing good transit access to a lot of The Bronx.

  • Bronxite

    It seems this is being marketing to people driving from Westchester, rather than those coming from the city it is located in.

  • Bolwerk

    Stuff like this is what turds like Cuomo and de Blasio get to point out how there isn’t any money to improve transit. It’s because they let their developer friends steal it before it can even be realized.

    You might get a shot of schadenfreude in a few years. These types of developments don’t even seem very viable in places where they arguably make sense, and I don’t see how the fuck they make sense in the East Bronx. I mean, Westchester suburbanites weren’t exactly lured to The Bronx to shop. Why the hell would they want to put up with that kind of traffic during rush hours to get to work when they have land-raping office parks nearer by?

  • wklis

    All pay homage to Robert Moses.

  • BBnet3000

    Its long been my opinion that late 20th century-present New Yorkers inherited a city that we couldn’t build ourselves. So many other major cities and metro areas are really stepping up their game and improving both on the land use and the transpo side while New York either rests on its laurels, makes itself worse, or issues PR releases about what its doing while doing less than anyone else.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to feel the same. The original IRT was built at a cost of $35 million (less than $1 billion in today’s dollars) and took about 4 years. If the same thing were attempted now, even assuming you could somehow get past the NIMBYism of local CBs, it would probably take 50 years and cost $500 billion. We lost our ability to build large infrastructure projects quickly and cost effectively I’d say about 30 years ago. It’s gotten a lot worse since. The $10 billion estimate for a new PABT is particularly mind blowing. Then we have the 2nd Avenue stubway which cost more and took longer to build than the original IRT.

    Don’t even get me started on the glacial pace and generally low quality of our bike infrastructure.

  • AnoNYC

    Disastrous. This kind of development should be banned in NYC through zoning.

  • AnoNYC

    That’s absolutely the case.

  • HamTech87

    Why is the MTA not setting guidelines for development around its new train station? Shouldn’t they be leveraging this investment?

  • 1soReal

    I wish it was more walkable but to be fair the site was a campus like open lot before the Hutch metro Center was developed. They simply built to fit the space. Also there is no subway within walking distance. The area around there doesn’t have much to walk to begin with. Besides Einstein there not a lot on Eastchester Rd for a pedestrian. Williamsbridge Rd is more walkable with stores and such but its a little ways off if your on foot. Same goes for Westchester Sq. I think that area would develop with more urban characteristics if the transit options in the area supported it. Not a lot of ppl are willing to take a long subway ride followed by a bus. Its hard enough to get people to go to the Bronx even under ideal circumstances. It may be in the BX but that area is more characteristic of some eastern Queens neighborhoods than the stereotypical image of the Bronx.

    I think some sort of short of bus route that runs as a loop btwn Pelham Pkwy 5 train and Westchester Sq 6 train stations via Eastchester Rd (Or Willamsbridge Rd) and Hutch Metro Center would be a good idea.

    As for the Metro North station, don’t hold your breath. Maybe in our kids lifetime. None of that can even be a possibility until East Side Access is complete for LIRR into Grand Central. That would free up room for Metro North to run this potential new route into Penn Station. For now its a pipe dream like how the 2nd Ave subway was for many years.

  • Bolwerk

    It’s at best still wasteful, and at worst probably makes traffic worse around The Bronx if not the city.

    I don’t know what that last bit about ESA is about. ESA might be a decade away, 15 years if you’re a cynic. The time to plan for that sort of stuff is definitely now, not after the fact.

  • neroden

    Even cities which have been quite a mess, like Chicago and Boston, are doing better than New York these days.

    Even cities which grew up in the Suburban Sprawl period (Houston, Dallas) seem more able to get improvements done…

  • Alexander Vucelic

    fascinating question re: why would a Developer waste so much Land for cars when he could significantly more rentable square footage by Developing a straightforward traditional street Grid ? What perverse incentives Drive developers to reduce Their Potential profits ?

  • Joe R.

    I’d say the vast majority of developers are in their 60s to 80s. As a product of the driving age, they probably think nobody would come to their developments without huge parking lots in place. It’s hard to get people to see things differently, particularly people who have been doing things for one way for the last 40 or 50 years. It’s kind of like why 9 to 5 and the lack of telecommuting are so entrenched. People are afraid of change. They don’t want to try anything different for fear of failure.

    On another note, I’m not a big fan of “traditional” street grids either if it means pedestrians have to cross a street with cars every 250 feet. That adds absolutely nothing positive to the urban experience, plus there’s no justification for it from a transportation or any other standpoint. We should have “superblocks” (i.e. 3 or 4 streets per mile) as far as motor vehicles are concerned but have a finer grid which is porous to pedestrians and cyclists only. In fact, lack of a finer ped/cyclist grid is really the only reason the superblock concept failed. Wide swaths without motor vehicles are otherwise a great thing to have in cities.

  • Jonathan R

    Because commercial realtors have lots of leads on renters who are looking for modern office space with parking, close to mass transit. Building for quick occupancy is not a perversion.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Jon,

    Sure in the short term, but easy enough to create a street Grid with Parking on empty blocks Which get developed Over time.

    Long Term value is perhaps 100x

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