New York State Department of Transportation
Environmental Impact Study: Hunts Point Interstate Access Improvement Project
October 18, 2017
Lynn Kelly, Executive Director
New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P) is the city’s independent research-based advocacy organization championing quality parks for all New Yorkers. We write to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) today with regard to the Environmental Impact Study of the Hunts Point Interstate Access Improvement Plan.
As an organization, NY4P is guided by the principle that every New Yorker should live within a walk to a park, and that that walk to a park should be safe for a wide array of users. We are deeply concerned that the NYSDOT proposal to create a new exit ramp from the Bruckner Expressway via Edgewater Road will have the unintended consequence of restricting access to some of the waterfront parks that have only been created in recent years. While we are encouraged to see the State looking at plans to rethink the Sheridan Expressway, we believe that the current State proposal will exacerbate longstanding health issues in the Hunts Point community, and will create additional barriers to access to open space.
The Hunts Point neighborhood is one that already lacks meaningful access to open space for its residents. Additionally, the 2015 New York City Department of Health Community Health Profile for Bronx Community District 2 included troubling findings as they relate to community health outcomes. Public health experts are now acknowledging the role that parks and open space have to play in increasing community health outcomes, and many of the issues that are most pressing and prevalent in Hunts Point residents could be proactively reduced through investments in open space access and programming. In 2015, only 70% of Hunts Point residents reported engaging in any kind of physical activity in the prior month, a percentage that leaves the neighborhood ranked 56th out of 59 districts in NYC. Obesity and diabetes rates for the neighborhood rank in the top 10 of districts citywide. With the highest proportion of neighborhood residents aged 17 or younger (relative to other residents of the community), Hunts Point ranked 3rd in the city for childhood asthma hospitalizations, with adult rates not far behind. All of these factors paint a troubling picture of a community that has long suffered from an acute lack of access to public health benefits, such as quality parks and open spaces.
In recent years, community-led advocacy has led to investments in the creation of new public open spaces, such as Hunts Point Riverside Park and Concrete Plant Park. These two spaces not only benefit from their proximity to the Bronx River, but also reclaim formerly industrial spaces along the waterfront as places for community gathering and programming. Despite these investments in new parkland, however, access remains an issue for both locations, as trucks heading toward the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center make their way along the local streets that allow pedestrians to reach the waterfront. The State proposal to create a ramp that begins alongside Concrete Plant Park, and extends directly near the entrance of Hunts Point Riverside Park, will exacerbate access issues to these precious neighborhood spaces. We are also concerned that the placement of a ramp for truck traffic will lead to a decline in the overall air quality that park users will experience when using these spaces, which is a critical issue in a community that suffers from such high rates of asthma across all age groups.
We encourage the State to work closely with the community partners who comprise the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA), who have worked for years to explore options to decommission the Sheridan Expressway while accomplishing the goals of: allowing truck traffic to safely reach the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center; increasing access to, and encouraging the creation of open space along the Bronx River; and improving pedestrian safety and access through the neighborhood and to local spaces, among other environmental justice goals. The SBRWA community coalition endorsed a 2013 study by the City of New York that explored the issue of decommissioning the Sheridan while protecting pedestrians, access to open space, and air quality. NY4P believes the proposed solutions of that plan would balance community needs with the economic interests of the neighborhood, and are worth the State’s consideration.
We formally request that the NYSDOT not place truck ramps on Edgewater Road and instead pursue the alternative proposed plan to locate ramps at Oak Point Ave and Leggett Ave. This would minimize impacts on the community by routing trucks to industrial areas away from where people live and play. Pursuing ramps at Oak Point and Leggett Avenue would support previous recommendations developed from an extensive public process that had the support of residents, advocacy groups and the Hunts Point businesses.
Thank you for your consideration of our public comment.