Monday, May 4, 2009

Ready for the Reconstructions

Here in New York we've had our share of highway revolts. We've stopped a slew of ill-conceived expressways that would have made the fate of our city much more like present-day Detroit. But we still got stuck with some horrible highways like the Cross-Bronx, Bruckner, Sheridan and Major Deegan in the Bronx, the Gowanus and Belt in Brooklyn, and the BQE and LIE in Queens.

Recently, around the country, people have been talking about tearing down some of those blighted infrastructure. From the Sheridan in the Bronx to I-81 in Syracuse, there are campaigns in the area to convert these highways to boulevards and greenways.

It's important to note that these things don't just fill the surrounding areas with noise and pollution. They don't just cost a lot when they're first built. They're incredibly inefficient transportation systems that require huge reinforced concrete structures that are constantly pounded by multi-ton vehicles. They have to be rebuilt again and again, and each time we have to pay more as transportation budgets shrink.

The best time to suggest tearing down a highway is when it's scheduled for reconstruction. Then we can offer other taxpayers a choice: pay mega-millions to reconstruct the road as is, pay millions more for the inevitable widening proposal, or pay significantly less for an at-grade structure with "reduced capacity" for vehicles - but ideally with additional transit improvements so that it moves the same number of people.

That requires transit and environmental advocates to get ahead of the game. Every time you hear the phrase "scheduled for reconstruction," your ears should perk up. An alternative plan and organized community opposition should be ready to go at the first meeting - or better yet, the alternative should be proposed before. Don't wait for the DOT to set up their alternatives analysis for you.

And that brings us back to the South Bronx, and a question that's puzzling me. Sustainable South Bronx has a lovely page on their greenway plan - and Streetfilms has created a stirring short about it. But the greenway plan critically relies on a substantial segment along Bruckner Boulevard under the expressway. And in the Sustainable South Bronx's Summary 2 PDF, there's this quote:
In the future, the Bruckner Expressway is scheduled to be reconstructed. As part of this undertaking NYS DOT is planning a permanent at-grade bikeway along Bruckner Boulevard. However, this project is many years off, so the Master Plan recommends an interim, low-cost bikeway along Bruckner Boulevard between Hunts Point Avenue and 138th Street.

According to Steve Anderson's NYCRoads page on the Bruckner, it was already reconstructed, ending in 2002. How many years is "many years off"? How often do these things have to be rebuilt? When is the NYS DOT planning to reconstruct the Bruckner? How far in advance do they do planning without public outreach?

No comments: