By Kimberly Devi Milner
As Hunts Point waits for the city’s renovation plans on the Sheridan Expressway– which passed its forecasted winter release — activists hope an interactive display traveling through the Bronx can re-engage communities with the decade-long controversy.
In 2010, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation awarded a $1.5 million TIGER II grant to joint city agencies to study the highway and surrounding areas, and address issues such as access to Hunts Point Markets, road congestion and quality of life.
Named the Sheridan Expressway-Hunts Point Land Use and Transportation Study, the group commissioned the display that was installed at The Point on Feb. 10th. It will remain there temporarily before relocating to other parts of the Bronx, said The Point’s executive director, Kellie Terry-Sepulveda.
At approximately seven feet wide, the model follows the Bruckner from Oak Point Avenue to the Cross Bronx Expressway, seamlessly flowing through the Sheridan. White unmarked buildings stretch a couple of inches off the display table on either side of the expressway.
Children at the community center can get up close and get a different perspective on their neighborhood through the model, said Terry-Sepulveda. “It’s different from a map.”
But adults gathered around the display also, as it was first exhibited last October at a community meeting, or charrette, hosted at a Soundview high school where almost 80 residents and stakeholders met with city representatives to discuss the future of the Sheridan.
After the charrette, the display was returned to the Dept. of City Planning’s office in downtown Manhattan. But both the city agency and community activist groups felt the display would be better utilized if it was closer to the affected locations, said Ashwin Balakrishnan, Coordinator of the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance, which wants to replace the Sheridan with park space and affordable housing. As the display travels through the Bronx, activists hope the new angle of the Bronx’s expansive highways will help revitalize support for the Sheridan’s removal.
Community organizing brought the controversial highway to the city’s radar about a decade ago, and the group’s vision to remove the Sheridan was incorporated into the city’s potential of redevelopment designs.
The state Dept. of Transportation’s claims the current state of the highway induces bottle necks and traffic congestion on the roads leading to the interchange between Bruckner and Sheridan.
Many local activists want the removal of the 1.25 mile long expressway, which they claim is underused, while supporters of the Sheridan argue removing it would force truckers onto other roads and cause congestion elsewhere.
“We don’t see [the Sheridan] as an efficient way to get to the markets. We don’t want trucks going so close to residential places,” said Balakrishnan.
According to statistics released by the city group, 64% of the studied area commuted via public transportation, while just less than a quarter drove.
High School senior Chenson Carrasco II, who lives in Hunts Point and is among a small number of residents who bike, thinks removing the highway “that’s an eyesore” would allow more people to utilize Concrete Plant Park, currently located beside the Sheridan. “You figure there’s a highway–how would anyone expect a park,” said Carrasco, referring to the waterside park that opened in 2009 with canoe launch and bike paths.
A.C.T.I.O.N, The Point’s teen activist organization, made posters advocating removal of the Sheridan last Halloween. Program Director Sharon De La Cruz thinks the display model will continue to generate local response. “We don’t want a boulevard there–we literally want that road off,” she said. “When we talk about green space and affordable housing, it’s not just name-dropping. These kids are from Hunts Point–they understand what the lack of park space means.”
Residents aware of the proposal are wary of the empty waterfront property being gentrified. The battle to improve the quality of life for Bronx residents doesn’t stop with the favorable results from the city’s study, added De La Cruz. What’s great about the model, she noted, is that “kids don’t usually see their neighborhood like this. The expressway stretches all the way down– so you can see it’s not just your neighborhood being affected.”