An artist’s rendering depicts a radically revamped Bronx Sheridan Expressway, reimagined into a wide, tree-lined boulevard that will enable safe pedestrian crossings. Access ramps will keep truck traffic off of local streets, linking directly to the Hunts Point Cooperative Market. New York City Department of City Planning
A plan for the New York City borough of the Bronx suggests shunting truck traffic from a highway directly to industrial areas while turning the freeway into a more community-friendly boulevard.
August 27, 2013—For more than half a century, dating back to the Eisenhower administration, America has been building bigger roads—roads that can be safely traveled at higher speeds. Now comes a plan in New York City that essentially takes the “express” out of the expressway in an effort to maintain a South Bronx highway as a transportation artery while strengthening neighborhoods and improving access to parks and a major industrial area.
The plan is an outgrowth of a multiagency study of the area in the South Bronx encompassing the Sheridan Expressway and Hunts Point that began in 2010, when New York City was awarded a $1.5-million planning grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation. At one time the national poster child for urban blight, the South Bronx has undergone significant revitalization. Hunts Point remains a significant industrial center, containing the massive Hunts Point Cooperative Market, a distribution center that is a magnet for truck traffic.
Carving its way through this area is the Sheridan Expressway, a high-speed thoroughfare that evokes the era of Robert Moses, the master planner from the mid-20th century who made huge infrastructure improvements but was criticized for building high-speed roads that divided communities and diminished neighborhoods.
The study seeks to turn back the clock. Among its recommendations are direct access ramps to the industrial area of Hunts Point that would steer trucks away from local streets so that the northern half of the 1.2 mi expressway could be transformed into a local boulevard that would feature crosswalks and traffic signals. The recommended changes would reduce the expressway’s effect on local neighborhoods and significantly enhance pedestrian access to the Starlight and Concrete Plant waterfront parks and to the Bronx River Greenway.
“The most innovative aspect of the [Sheridan Expressway–Hunts Point] planning process was the reconsideration of existing highway infrastructure to meet local needs. The neighborhoods and local needs have changed since the highway was first constructed. . . . The plan recommends narrowing the Sheridan Expressway right-of-way into a narrower boulevard,” said Carol Samol, the director of the Bronx office of the New York City Department of City Planning, one of the key agencies involved in the study. Samol responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.
“Another innovative aspect of the planning process is the reconsideration of the land uses along the Bronx River waterfront,” Samol said. “The community and the city have worked hard to help this narrow river make a tremendous comeback over the past decade. By helping the land adjacent to the river redevelop from open auto-related uses to allow for housing, jobs, and a continuation of the greenway, the plan will further support the river’s health and the community’s access to open space and recreation.”
Janette Sadik-Kahn, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, also responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. She said that “by transforming a divisive highway into an accessible neighborhood boulevard, opening the Bronx River waterfront to pedestrians, and steering truck traffic off of residential streets, these recommendations will make our city’s streets safer and our transportation network work better for all those who live and work along the Sheridan.”
Samol explained that the recommendations likely to have the most profound effects are the ramps connecting the Bruckner Expressway to the Hunts Point peninsula, which would benefit both businesses and residential neighborhoods by removing truck traffic from local streets while providing direct highway access to industrial areas; converting the at-grade section of the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard between 174th Street and Westchester Avenue that would feature three new signalized intersections to provide east–west access while increasing traffic safety; and strategic support of development along the Bronx River waterfront in accordance with sound design principles and community priorities. Such development, she stressed, would be key to transforming the area.
The proposed access ramps would encourage truck drivers to stay on the highway instead of taking routes through residential streets to reach their destinations, Samol explained. This would have the added benefit of improving air quality and making the crossings safer for workers at Hunts Point.
Apart from establishing crosswalks controlled by traffic signals at Jennings, 172nd, and 173rd streets, the plan calls for the removal of fences, guardrails, and median barriers to join the northern section of the Sheridan Expressway with existing service roads.
The implementation cost of the entire plan has not yet been determined. Samol said the cost of new ramps and crossings on the Sheridan Expressway alone is estimated at $72 million. The next steps include working with New York State to produce an environmental impact statement and garnering support from the administration that will succeed that of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), whose term expires this year.
In addition to the city’s Department of Transportation and Department of City Planning, the study involved New York City’s Economic Development Corporation and Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.