Pratt Center Planner Sydney Céspedes spoke at the 2019 Vision Zero Cities conference about our decades of work as part of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance to transform the Sheridan Expressway and implement a land use and transportation plan informed by the vision of the local environmental justice community. The panel titled "Tear It Down: Transforming Urban Highways" was moderated by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institue, and also included Aaron W. Gordon of Jalopnik, and Gary Toth of Project for Public Spaces. Panelists discussed the need to reckon with the legacy of racist planning in our transportation systems, and find ways to repurpose rather than replace crumbling highways.
Using the Sheridan as a case study, Sydney summarized the following lessons from the campaign:
The State DOT's "take down" or "boulevardization" of the Sheridan does not embody the vision or plans from decades of community organizing, engagement and partnership with local government that sustained the campaign to this point. Though crosswalks – a key component of community demands that local groups fought tirelessly to get included - will be installed on the Boulevard, the overall footprint of the Sheridan will remain virtually the same, maintaining an unnecessary barrier to access adjacent waterfront parks and limiting opportunities to create community-serving uses in the area. Moreover, building new ramps directly connecting to the Boulevard will encourage truck traffic near the residential community precisely where pedestrians will now be attempting to access parks and the waterfront..
The length of the project (view our project timeline) has resulted in loss of institutional memory both at the government level and among businesses and community groups.
The government's failure to connect transportation planning with land use planning means that most of the community's concerns over open space, health and affordable housing will go unaddressed by the highway project.
Lack of plan alignment: although local plans for removing and then boulevardizing the Sheridan were crafted with deep community engagement and consensus, there is no requirement for state capital projects to align with local plans.