Fall 2004, p.19
Key figures in the removal of highways from waterfronts in Milwaukee and San Francisco presented their experiences this fall at a symposium in the Bronx organized by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and proponents of decommissioning the Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx.
NY State DOT has proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize the Bruckner-Sheridan interchange and upgrade truck access to Hunts Point industries. Transportation reformers and community organizations say truck access can be improved at the same time that the little-used Sheridan gives way to better city land uses, such as housing, commercial development and parkland.
Symposium attendees heard from former Mayor John Norquist who led Milwaukee to tear down the Park East Freeway, providing 26 acres for new development downtown as well as architect Boris Dramov who designed San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront district that was restored after a decision to eliminate rather than rebuild an earthquake-damaged freeway.
Norquist emphasized the resilience and capacity of street grid systems that disperse and distribute traffic, as opposed to limited-access systems that concentrate it and are easily disrupted by systemic or occasional bottlenecks.
Both Norquist and Dramov spoke of the difficulties of building consensus and allaying fears that removal of a highway would lead to increase traffic on local streets. For both it was the business community that needed the most convincing.
Bronx elected officials took in the Milwaukee and San Francisco cases with interest. Borough President Adolfo Carrion said that he hoped that removing the Sheridan could work. However, he also mentioned the “compromise” of closing the highway on weekends so that recreational users could use it. That is an interim step that might be welcome if put into practice immediately, but is a very far cry from the revitalization that could take place along the lower Bronx River if the land the Sheridan occupies is retaken for other uses.
State Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. said he eagerly awaited results of the current State DOT study of the issue, which has included the possibility of removing the Sheridan. Diaz too said he remained open to all possibilities. He heavily emphasized the South Bronx’ asthma problem and took heart from San Francisco’s ability to forge consensus for the Embarcadero Freeway tear-down. He challenged all parties to forge a win-win plan for the area.
Unfortunately, that challenge was discarded almost immediately by Myra Gordon of the NYC Terminal Produce Cooperative Market, who issued a harshly intransigent statement against Sheridan de-mapping. She ignored the community plan’s emphasis on the Leggett interchange or the fact that most trucks reaching the market now use Bruckner Boulevard rather than the Sheridan. In this venue her remarks were especially striking, and constituted for many veterans of transportation project debates and battles among the most polarizing public statements they had ever witnessed. Fortunately individual business owners may have their own opinions about the project.
A NY State DOT official said
results from the Bruckner-Sheridan interchange Environmental Impact Statement
may begin to be released this winter.
NY State will have to approve a new five-year highway spending program this winter. While a clear picture of financing issues facing the NY State DOT has yet to publicly emerge, 2004 executive budget documents indicate that present arrangements will lead by next year to over $1 billion in state debt service payments per year for bonds from the Local Highway Improvement and Dedicated Highway and Bridge trust funds, with steadily growing debt for the foreseeable future.
Will New York be able to find the money to maintain its infrastructure? Recent incidents seem to compel the question. This fall, “basketball-size” pieces of concrete fell from an overpass onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. This summer, a three by five foot concrete chunk fell from the underside of the Gowanus Expressway, and later, still more concrete fell from a Hudson span at Troy.
Indeed, more than half (55.5%) of the city’s 2,097 bridges (including highway overpasses) are in deficient condition, compared to a statewide average of 35.9%. Deficient bridges are those found to be deteriorated and no longer functioning as designed.
Work to improve New York’s
bridges has been slow going. The number of deficient bridges in New York City
has dropped by just under 11% since 1999, but this is faster than progress in
the state as a whole, where the rate for the same period is a 7.5% reduction.
According to state records, only eight of NYC’s 1,164 deficient bridges are now
being replaced or rehabilitated.
From the B.J.’s in the Bronx
just approved by Bronx Community Board 10, to the Ikea just approved by the City
Council in Brooklyn, to the Home Depot that opened its doors in Manhattan this
fall, the big box boom has arrived in New York City. Though these stores stick
to a uniform format in the suburban setting, all usually occupy big warehouses
and are surrounded by a sea of parking, some of them are trying new strategies
for their new urban locations. The Home Depot on 23rd Street in Manhattan, for
instance, has large window displays designed to draw in people walking by; there
is no parking lot, instead the store offers same-day home delivery and a doorman
who will hail customers a cab. It remains to be seen how BJ’s and Ikea will
adapt to the challenges and opportunities of a New York City location.
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