Sheridan plan draws mixed reviews

Some residents are worried that the $97 million plan for the Sheridan Expressway does not go far enough to make a difference for the neighborhood.

Local residents engage with the DOT on the new Sheridan design

Some residents are worried that the $97 million plan for the Sheridan Expressway does not go far enough to make a difference for the neighborhood.

The city showcased its proposed design for a boulevard to replace the expressway, in hopes of providing better accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists, and make driving safer. At a meeting on Oct. 18 at PS 811 on Longfellow Avenue, residents invested in the project praised the effort on some levels, but felt that without decreasing the number of traffic lanes, and increasing the number of places where pedestrians can cross, the plan does not live up to expectations.

“I think it’s a good step towards reclaiming space – city streets – from the vehicles to make them more accessible to pedestrians,” said Brennan Ortiz, the Greenway coordinator at the Bronx River Alliance.

Titled the “Sheridan Project,” the reconstruction of the highway aims to connect the residential areas of the neighborhood to the Bronx River and waterfront parks by introducing three new intersections for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as a one-way southbound lane between 173rd Street and Jennings Street.

The new design includes better access to Starlight Park, street parking along the northbound lane of the expressway, and general improvements in traffic signals, paving and lighting. To cap it off, the city plans to build a pedestrian bridge from Starlight Park over the Bronx River to Soundview.

“The whole idea of decommissioning the Sheridan is something that I think was long-needed,” said Royi Via Ferguson. Ferguson cites the limited accessibility of travelling across from one side of the expressway to the other as a leading factor of this project. “It’s going to really beautify the neighborhood,” she said.

However, many residents say the plan does not go far enough to reduce traffic and make the waterfront accessible. According to the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, the “community endorsed” design for the Sheridan includes a sharp reduction in traffic lanes from 11 to five, changing the expressway entirely into a pedestrian-accessible street, a new public waterfront, and developable land for affordable housing. None of these amenities are included in the city’s new plan. In fact, the city’s plans include keeping all 11 traffic lanes.

“We thought that was going to be something that was going to be taken into consideration,” said Ely Diaz, program coordinator of Nos Quedamos, on reducing the amount of traffic lanes. “We’re going to do our best to have our voices heard…. in the next few months, weeks, whatever it takes for the city to come on board with the community!”

Funding to demolish the Sheridan Expressway was announced by Gov. Cuomo in March – the state plans to invest a total of $1.8 billion in transportation and highway improvements in the South Bronx. Plans for the reconstruction were finalized in 2013.

Local residents have criticized the city for leaving the community out of the process especially after a meeting in June had few residents in attendance due to insufficient outreach and notification.

Inadequate community outreach was brought up by some residents who attended the October meeting yet again.

“If I didn’t follow them [Bronx River Alliance on Twitter], I wouldn’t have known that this event was happening,” said Ferguson.

Those who did attend the meeting got a high-tech presentation: it featured a virtual reality simulation, where residents were able to view a 3D model of the new boulevard through goggles attached to a smartphone.

“It was great. I think was the first time I saw a rendering in that way,” said Ortiz, adding that it was beneficial to “experience it in a way that you would, once it is completed.”

An attendee at the October meeting views the Sheridan plan on VR.

According to the DOT, the design will be completed by next spring, while construction will commence in fall of 2018, with “substantial construction” to be completed the following fall, in 2019.

“This project gives us an opportunity to reconnect these neighborhoods,” said Harold Fink, deputy chief engineer for the project, saying that the plan will transform the Sheridan Expressway into “an urban boulevard instead of an interstate highway. It’ll look a lot better.”

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