The Death of the Urban Freeway? Not Yet

The long-sought after demolition of Bronx's Sheridan Expressway hits obstacles as the City of New York now looks to save and retrofit it.

Tearing down urban freeways and expressways is a strategy that has been growing in popularity around the world. Most famously implemented in San Francisco after the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway, the project's success gave other cities the impetus to tear down antiquated and little-used stretches of highway.

As Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities writes, the Bronx's Sheridan Expressway "...was number two on the Congress for the New Urbanism's list of "Freeways Without Futures," and it made the Urban Land Institute's short list of potential teardown projects as well..."

But, the City of New York recently reversed the decision to demolish the road, citing "concerns about truck traffic headed for the nearby Hunts Point Produce Market, the city's main wholesale outlet for fruits and vegetables, as well as other potential traffic problems." The city, instead, is looking to retrofit the aging highway.

Residents are fighting back, stating that preserving the Expressway is only going to be used as an incentive for a grocery delivery service to the Bronx over concerns of the citizens, inciting a fight between the needs of industry and those of the citizens.

Article author Sarah Goodyear also points out that "[o]nce a freeway is in place, it takes on a life of its own, an aura of inevitability...antiquated roads like this one still have brute staying power."

Full Story: Freeway Removal Hits a Roadblock in the Bronx

Comments

Comments

Correction about the Sheridan

The City did not "recently reverse[] the decision to demolish the road".

There was never any decision to remove the Sheridan. The City undertook a study for improvements of the area, which included review of the concept to remove the Sheridan. That concept was eliminated from further consideration after fatal flaws were identified due to the negative impacts it would impose on surrounding residential neighborhoods by rerouting truck traffic onto local streets.

New York's Decision About the Sheridan

It is correct that "The City did not 'recently reverse[] the decision to demolish the road." because it had never made the decision to demolish the road.

The city decided not to do a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of removing the Sheridan, including the benefits of providing more parks, development and jobs.

Instead, it rejected the removal purely on the basis of a traffic study, without looking at the economic and environmental benefits of the removal. The city claimed that increased truck traffic on residential streets was a “fatal flaw” in the removal plan, without considering at all whether the removal might have benefits that outweigh this cost.

Jose Serrano, the US Representative of the district where the Sheridan is located, commented:

“I stand with the community in saying that taking any option off the table at this time is premature When we helped secure the grant for this study, we envisioned a full study of all the options, not one where a challenging option like the removal is quickly discounted. We know that there are difficulties with removing the Sheridan, but we are interested in knowing how that could be accomplished, not hearing that it is too difficult to even continue studying. I urge the city to reconsider and resume studying all options for the Sheridan Expressway.”
http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/06/08/city-abruptly-rejects-sheridan-tea...

Charles Siegel

Residential neighborhoods should not be truck routes

Any normal planning approach will screen out schemes when untenable defects have been identified in order to focus resources on the remaining alternatives that can actually provide benefits.

Continuing to study something after it becomes clear that it is not a viable solution would be a waste of limited public funds, and would only create more delays before real improvements can be implemented.

It should seem clear to anybody that it would be unacceptable to divert a lot of large trucks onto residential streets on a daily basis, through a community that already has more than its share of environmental burdens. By taking away the Sheridan as an alternate route, the entire residential community in Hunts Point would also be turned into an idling truck parking lot whenever there is the slightest hiccup on the Bruckner (which is not exactly the most reliable, with its extreme congestion and lack of shoulders).

Without any additional study, it should already be clear that even the best-case claims about potential benefits from modest increases in parkland, affordable housing, and supposedly job creation would not balance out the impact to safety, health, and quality of life. (Note that the financial viability of the housing has never been sketched out, let alone demonstrated. The claim about "jobs" is even more dubious, since the plans invariably include removing all the existing M-zone businesses adjacent to the Sheridan that are already employing workers...). Moreover, whatever benefits might theoretically be possible (if the fatal flaw could be ignored) would be located far to the north of the residents in Hunts Point who would feel the impacts.

Unless there is some valid argument against the traffic findings (which has not yet been made by any of the opponents), the City is doing the right thing by looking at the other options to improve this area, non-specific statements by an elected official notwithstanding.

Highway removal can be an amazing tool for planners to improve communities. But like every tool, it is not suitable for every job. Unlike other urban highways with a lot of personal vehicle trips that can shift to transit or redistribute among many other routes, this is a truck route for big rigs that would otherwise be forced onto neighborhood streets.

Sheridan Removal Without Trucks On Neighborhood Streets

The South Bronx River Watershed Alliance has found flaws in the city's perfunctory traffic analysis, and it has suggested two possible ways to tear down the Sheridan and still give trucks a convenient way to get to Hunts Point market without using neighborhood streets:

-- Allow trucks to use the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, so they could easily take the Major Deegan and Bruckner to the market.

-- Add a ramp from the Cross-Bronx to West Farms Road, a truck route that runs parallel to the Sheridan.

For more details, see http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/06/28/you-can-drive-a-truck-through-the-...

These flaws in the city's traffic study underline the need for the thorough study of the Sheridan tear-down that the city is refusing to do.

Charles Siegel

You're putting trucks on local streets

Charles,

Could you please visit the area and familiarize yourself with its layout and issues... or at the very least look at a map before posting this stuff?

Adding a ramp connecting the Cross-Bronx to West Farms Road would be putting trucks on local streets. West Farms Road is a local street.

Putting trucks on West Farms Road has obvious defects, and that suggestion in no way serves any interests of the local community.

Please check the map now and try to follow along:

Diverting trucks from the Sheridan onto Westchester Avenue would make children cross that traffic between the school on one side and the playground on the other. (And, unlike Starlight Park, there would be no safe, grade separated access.)

Late at night, trucks would be driving below the windows of residents on Boone Avenue, who currently have some distance and grade separation to filter some of the noise.

You would put all the trucks in conflict with local traffic, cyclists, pedestrians, etc. when it all crossed another local street at Westchester Avenue. (We should be improving conditions by redesigning the existing ramps to become a safer and more attractive pedestrian environment, not dumping more trucks into the intersection!)

Your suggestion would put the truck traffic onto a street that subway passengers from the 6 subway station have to cross if they are going west (most of them do).

As for diversion to the Bruckner - you still haven't answered the two very basic, and absolutely necessary question about what happens when there's an incident on the Bruckner.

1) How can you propose to increase the travel distance and decreasing travel speeds for trucks if you care about air quality?

2) Are you really ok trapping all the trucks to idle in Hunts Point whenever there is an incident on the Bruckner, because you've removed the alternate route?

Please, can you try to engage in a meaningful discussion that actually addresses how this scheme could address the fatal flaw with air quality and lack of alternate routes? I suppose not, since you consistently choose not to address this real world roadblock to your poorly planned scheme.

When you advance yet another argument that has absolutely no regard for the actual living conditions of the people in the neighborhood, you demonstrate that your only true interest is an abstract idea of "highway removal."

Moreover, your attempts to discredit the work of professional planners will need to find arguments that rely on less obvious defects.

Where Should Questions About Sheridan Be Resolved

I think these questions should be resolved by a thorough study of all alternatives done by professional planners, allowing input from all concerned parties.

You seem to be suggesting that these questions should be resolved by a discussion between two people in the comments section of planetizen.

Charles Siegel

Questions Were Already Resolved - Time for a Real Plan!

The question has ALREADY been resolved through a planning study, Charles. The professional planners clearly identified the fatal flaws.

For some reason, you refuse to accept the study's findings. Yet you are unable to provide any meaningful argument to discredit the study. The transparent attempt to cast doubt was easily dismissed with a few, really basic facts.

This is now the second study to reach the same conclusion.
What do you want, a study to study the study?

When something doesn't work, at some point you move on and use your resources to craft a plan that provides real benefits.

Study the Alternatives

I want a full study of the Sheridan removal, including a study of the two alternatives proposed by the public that I mentioned above.

Those two alternatives were never studied.

Those alternatives have been proposed by local people who have a stake in the outcome, who have followed the planning process closely, and who very familiar with local conditions, and who are very familiar with the traffic issues involved.

I don't think those proposals should be dismissed on the say-so of one anonymous internet commenter who is obviously biased.

If we have a full study of Sheridan removal, you will be able to state your objections to those proposals, local people who support removal will be able to answer your objections, and professional planners will be able to make a decision after having heard all the information.

For example: You claim there would be an unsafe school crossing. Is there any way to mitigate that problem? We won't know unless there is a planning process where you can make that objection, and the supporters of Sheridan removal can respond to it.

Charles Siegel

Decisions Based on Facts, Not Make-Believe

Until you can produce ANY fact or remotely reasonable argument to challenge the findings of either study, you are baselessly disparaging the hard work of the professional planners who have invested their time and effort to improving this community.

The issues has been carefully studied not once, but twice.
Your scheme has clear fatal flaws.
And nobody has been able to provide ANY meaningful objection to those findings.

As clearly stated before, more study on a scheme that has proven itself unfeasible is only a waste of money and time. Once you are willing to suspend reality, potential benefits become infinite, so further study of the impossible is meaningless. It only delays a REAL plan for improvements that will provide REAL benefits.

These two "new alternatives" are a fiction. But even if they weren't, no planning process can ever be successful if it always admits new, poorly defined "alternatives" instead of proceeding.

There is nothing new about the Bruckner routing, nor is it an "alternative." Relying on the Bruckner without the Sheridan has a clear fatal flaw due to the lack of alternate routing in the event of incidents. That remains true, Charles, no matter how many times you choose to ignore that basic fact.

The other "alternative" of West Farms Road as a truck route is disingenuous at best! A few years ago, Columbia planning studio put together a thoughtful proposal for a boulevard to replace the Sheridan (what would be a "Modified" scenario), which might actually be workable. These same activists rejected that option because they had decided to accept nothing short of a full removal of the Sheridan.

The full removal, no-compromise, don't confuse me with the facts campaign is precisely the problem.
It has substituted the means for the end.
In their campaign to "remove the Sheridan," certain activists have lost sight of the real goals of improving the community. As this last "alternative" shows, some of them are now willing to sacrifice the needs of the community to achieve the highway removal. Seriously - why are we even having a discussion about forcing everybody who gets off the subway cross a truck route?!

To be clear: a West Farm Road-only option for a truck route was never identified earlier through ANY of the community-based planning that continued of the course of many years. That's because it's a bad idea that wouldn't work. It was ONLY thrown out now in a desperate effort to try discrediting the planning work, by suggesting they were less than comprehensive by leaving something, anything, out. This is transparent and dishonest obstructionism, and should be recognized for what it is.

I am not asking anybody to make any decisions based on my comments here. I am merely providing some clarity on this issue in hopes that other outsiders, who may not be sufficiently familiarity with the area and the issues, will not continue interjecting themselves into the process. It is harmful to real planning and community building when outsiders put their campaigns for generic ideas ahead of real improvements that address the actual conditions in our locale.

Could be worth the formality so we can move on

To be honest, though, to cut through the obstructionism, I wouldn't object to a study of the West Farms "alternative."

The fatal flaws can be thoroughly documented quite quickly by the planners working on this project. If providing the documentation to demonstrate how catastrophically bad it would can save time so we can move on toward implementing some improvements, I'm all for it!

This Is Progress

I think it is progress that you say at least one alternative (West Farms Road) should be studied.

I myself think both alternatives should be studied: 1: Allow trucks to use the lower level of the George Washington Bridge, so they could easily take the Major Deegan and Bruckner to the market and 2: Add a ramp from the Cross-Bronx to West Farms Road, a truck route that runs parallel to the Sheridan. Your only objection to #1 is that we need two freeways, so we have a spare in case there is an incident on one of them. I don't find this convincing, and it would lead to ludicrous results if it were applied generally; eg, by your reasoning, we would need a second freeway parallel to I-80 in west Berkeley, so we have a spare freeway just in case there is an incident on I-80, though everyone here would agree that the environmental costs of having a second freeway would far outweigh the benefits of having a spare freeway when there is an incident.

I am not an expert on the Bronx or on this project, so I cannot judge of my own knowledge how valuable these two alternatives are.

I think the two alternatives should be studied based on the following facts that I do know:

-- These alternatives were not considered in the city study which said there is a "fatal flaw" in the project, because it diverts truck traffic onto neighborhood streets. There has never been a thorough study of Sheridan removal that looks at these alternatives and at other possible measures to eliminate or mitigate the impact of truck traffic on local streets, and that looks at both the costs and benefits of this freeway removal.

-- These two alternatives were proposed by the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of several environmental groups that is supported by many neighborhood residents. The elected Representative of the neighborhood also supports continuing the study of Sheridan removal.

-- These alternatives have been opposed by two anonymous internet commenters ("urbanresidue" on planetizen and "guest" on streetsblog.com) who say they are so obviously unworkable that they should not even be studied.

As someone who does not know all the details of the local situation, I have to give more credence to local environmental groups with many members than to two anonymous commenters. Both sides have their obvious bias, and I cannot say for certain which one is right.

Therefore, it seems to me that the study of all the costs and benefits of Sheridan removal should continue, so the public can suggest mitigations such as these two alternatives and can comment on proposed mitigations, the planners can decide whether these mitigations are workable after weighing the public comments, and the planners and public can ultimately decide whether the costs outweigh the benefits.

I would add that there have been predictions that every past freeway removal would lead to disaster, but the disaster never happened. Before Harbor Drive was removed, Portland Traffic Engineer Don Bergstrom was saying that closing Harbor Drive would back traffic up all the way to Lake Oswego. An editorial in the Oregonian newspaper said that it was impossible to close Harbor Drive, because the traffic engineers in Salem and Portland said it would not work. The freeway was removed because Governor Tom McCall overruled the professional planners. On the day the freeway was closed, Traffic Engineer Bergstrom admitted, "They closed Harbor Drive today and there wasn’t a ripple.”

The "professional planners" were wrong about this one, and you can find similar stories about virtually every American freeway removal in my website http://www.preservenet.com/freeways/
Charles Siegel

Can't Avoid the Facts - Trucks Just Don't Belong in Neighborhood

I keep asking, and you still have not answered...
WHAT HAPPENS TO HUNTS POINT AND ITS RESIDENTS WHEN TRAFFIC BACKS UP ON THE BRUCKNER?

That is an obvious fatal flaw with removing the Sheridan, and it does not go away just because you choose to ignore it.

Removing the alternate route, and forcing all those trucks to rely on a single, chronically-congested, incident-prone, unreliable highway with no shoulders would GUARANTEE that Hunts Point would become a parking lot for idling trucks on a routine basis. Can you point to any single physical possibility for those necessary truck trips to actually get out of the peninsula under these conditions? Obviously not, since it does not exist. And blaming planners for not identifying some "mitigation" where none is possible is just inappropriate.

You apparently know your scheme has no solution, since you have avoided this question each and every time. But wishful thinking, attempting to suspend reality when it disagrees with your pre-formed conclusions, does not lay any foundation for planning. It only creates campaigns that thwart the best efforts of planners and concerned citizens.

Rerouting truck traffic onto West Farms Road IS putting them onto local streets, no matter what incorrect statements you continue to make. A review of any map will make that perfectly clear. I walked you through some of it... did you even look at Google Maps yet???

There are more people than you claim who have posted comments (not just over the past months and years, but in the past few days), who have pointed out real problems with the whole notion of removing the Sheridan, including specific defects with your so-called "alternative" of using West Farms Road. Perhaps you should spend more time reading the comments on streetsblog.com and trying to familiarize yourself with the local transportation network until you understand the issues more thoroughly. It appears, for example, that you either missed or deliberately ignored the points raised by "Driver" on streetsblog.com. You might actually discover that your generic concepts don't apply to the local conditions if you spent more time looking into the facts, instead of spending so much time trying to tell people that they don't understand their own communities.

What is clear is that after somebody challenged you for posting a whole series of factually inaccurate statements and disparaging the hard work of professional planners without any basis, you did not make any effort to validate or retract those statements. Instead, you have retreated to hiding behind others. Even if you got bad information from somebody else, you should still make an effort to participate in an accurate and meaningful discussion.

Let's be crystal clear, since you continue to misunderstand or misrepresent this:
NOBODY IS ASKING YOU TO TAKE THEIR WORD FOR ANYTHING.
I AM MAKING ARGUMENTS BASED ON FACTS AND LOGIC.
You can either accept them or refute them based on other facts and logical arguments.

Citing a group with a clearly-stated agenda and strong motive to avoid embarrassment (unfortunately, they made promises to the community that they can't keep because their concept doesn't actually work...) does nothing to address clear explanations of obvious defects. A fact-based argument can be debated with facts, not an appeal to authority (especially where none actually exists). For example, I not only reference the findings of the professional planners, I provide ample facts and examples that support their findings.

Also, making very loose references to other projects with very different conditions is not a substitute for addressing local conditions. In fact, it is deliberately dishonest on your part after you have refused to engage on every effort to discuss the lack of flexibility in the transportation network here that limits changes in trip generation, mode choice, and route selection. Truck deliveries and pickups at the food markets in Hunts Point will still require trucks to travel to Hunts Point - the alternatives (especially when the Bruckner breaks down) would force trucks onto local streets. Those are the facts. The trucks cannot magically disappear, no matter how hard you wish. And nothing mitigates truck trips better than getting them out of the neighborhood where people cross the street - exactly what the Sheridan does.

No amount of analysis is necessary to show that routing a bunch of 18-wheelers through dense urban neighborhoods is a bad idea! And to think that you pretend to talk about "livability" in The Bronx?!

Sure, you TALK about connecting the neighborhoods on each side of the Sheridan. Removing it doesn't really do that (the Bronx River, the railroad, and for a portion the subway will continue to separate them). But if you actually cared about this at all, you would NEVER suggest putting the truck traffic onto West Farms Road! Westchester Avenue is, and will remain with or without the Sheridan, one of only two connections between these neighborhoods. Forcing everybody to cross a truck route that is currently separated from them would only further divide the neighborhoods. You TALK about access to parks, but you would be forcing everyone from the west to cross a truck route they currently avoid to get to the wonderful Concrete Plant Park that they worked so hard to get.

SO WHAT IS YOUR REAL GOAL?
Do you want to connect these neighborhoods? Do you want to improve park access?
Or do you just want to get rid of a highway at any cost?

What is really confusing, though, is your current effort to hide behind the very planners whose work you have consistently denigrated. Apparently their findings will be perfectly valid for you... but ONLY when those findings validate your own preconceptions?

And please do not put words in my mouth. I did not say that this so-called "alternative" of routing trucks on West Farms Road (through local streets and intersections, dividing communities and making it harder to get to playgrounds, parks, and a subway station) should be studied. What I said is that it wouldn't hurt much to waste the time documenting its many deficiencies, since it could be done so quickly and might help put an end to the obstructionism. Let me be clear: it IS a waste of time and resources. It's just the lesser of two evils, given the state of confusion created by people who will not accept answers that don't fit their preconceptions.

Your own admission that you don't know about this area and citing your own website seems to indicate what you really care about. For you, this doesn't seem to be about making improvements in quality of life in The Bronx; it's a self-agrandizing exercise to promote your one-size-fits-all solutions.

Absurdities

"I AM MAKING ARGUMENTS BASED ON FACTS AND LOGIC.
You can either accept them or refute them based on other facts and logical arguments."

As I have said before, I would like a planning process that lets everyone make points based on fact and logic and refute others' points. You seem to think that the issue should be resolved, once and for all, by a discussion between two people in the comments section of planetizen.

"WHAT HAPPENS TO HUNTS POINT AND ITS RESIDENTS WHEN TRAFFIC BACKS UP ON THE BRUCKNER?"

To make the same point I made last time, you should try coming to Berkeley and telling us that we need a second freeway through West Berkeley paralleling I-80, so trucks have a spare freeway to use when traffic backs up on I-80 (which happens almost every day).

You would be laughed out of town.

If you responded to the laughter with your usual overheated rhetoric:

-- it is deliberately dishonest on your part
-- WHAT IS YOUR REAL GOAL?
-- it's a self-agrandizing exercise
-- I AM MAKING ARGUMENTS BASED ON FACTS AND LOGIC.

everyone would see immediately that you are actually engaged in name calling rather than in fact-based arguments, and that you are an angry, irrational guy who deserves to be ignored.

Charles Siegel

Facts speak for themselves, goodbye

Apparently you refuse to actually explain how your scheme would not significantly worsen conditions in a neighborhood that already suffers from environmental burdens.

The question was clear.
The conditions are clear.

Yet you cannot provide any possible solution.

That is because no solution is possible. The scheme itself has a fatal flaw because it would have very real, very negative effects that are impossible to mitigate. If there were even a far-fetched form of mitigation, you surely would have cited it by now.

Referring yet again to another location with different network characteristics, in a hypothetical that is not even remotely similar, is a transparent sleight-of-hand. As we have discussed at length, your example that involves induced traffic has nothing to do with a scheme to reroute heavy truck traffic onto local streets.

The only absurdity is your notion that neighborhoods would somehow become more walkable by adding heavy truck traffic that is not currently there.

And no, planners cannot keep a process open for years and years revisiting the same issue every time there is a minor permutation of the scheme that has a basic fatal flaw. The community deserves to move on.

Since these facts speak so clearly for themselves, this discussion is over.

.

.

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