[EDITOR'S NOTE: THE JULY 23RD TOUR HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED TO SATURDAY, AUGUST 20TH DUE TO THE SEVERE HEAT ADVISORY. ]
Prospects for removing the little-used Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx and replacing it with new development and open space took a big step forward last year when NYC won a federal grant to study what could be built in the highway footprint. That study, the TIGER II Sheridan Expressway-Hunts Point Land Use and Transportation Study, is well underway with two key milestones checked off the City’s list: the establishment of a Community Working Group (which had its first meeting June 28) and a website dedicated to the study. Both milestones are part of the City’s larger public participation process, which also includes accepting public comments, leading public site tours (the first one is scheduled for Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm; another will be held Thursday, July 28, from 4-6 pm) and public charettes.
The South Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA) – an alliance of community and planning groups advocating for the removal of the Sheridan and of which Tri-State is a member – is one of the Community Working Group members. Though the Alliance is supportive of the study, it is working to ensure the City’s outreach fairly and accurately depicts the existence of the Sheridan Expressway in Hunts Point for all community stakeholders.
In its initial outreach, the City downplayed the transportation improvements being considered for major traffic bottlenecks in the Bronx highway network. These include an additional interchange on the Bruckner Expressway that provides direct access to Hunts Point Peninsula, improvements to existing interchanges in the Bronx highway network, the removal of the Sheridan Expressway, and land use changes that could be made in the South Bronx if the Sheridan were removed. But early on, many business representatives told the Alliance they thought the study was focused only on removing the expressway. When informed that the study also included broader highway changes, their receptivity and interest in the removal option changed, and the effort was no longer perceived as a threat to business activity.
Additionally, some language on the website overstates the importance of the Sheridan Expressway as a transportation conduit. Initially, the city inflated the number of vehicles that use the Sheridan on its newly created website by over 300% (the average daily vehicle count is approximately 35,000. The city said the count was 160,000). The Alliance immediately sent a letter to the city calling for the change, which was promptly made.
Also, the website’s “Context“ page contains statements such as the following: “In addition to automobile traffic, the Sheridan’s most critical use is the circulation of trucks between the nation’s major agricultural regions in the western and southern parts of the country and Hunts Point Food Distribution Center” and “The Hunts Point Food Distribution Center is a major user of the Sheridan Expressway and the entire highway network in the South Bronx.” Statements such as these convey the idea that the Sheridan is a necessary artery for traffic, though traffic counts are low compared to nearby highways, and could potentially slant public opinion of the land use study.
In its letter, SBRWA requested that the City be more explicit when explaining to businesses the various improvements being studied and there is much more to the study than merely analyzing the removal of the Sheridan. And, the city did just that. During the kick-off Community Working Group meeting, each of the six city agencies gave a more balanced description of the study context and goals.
Overall, NYC has been receptive and responsive to community feedback since the launch of the Community Working Group, even adding a second Sheridan tour on July 28th to showcase existing traffic conditions during different times of day. It is only through such collaboration that a winning proposal will be successfully received by the community.
Image: NYC Department of City Planning.