THE COMMUTE: Sheepshead Bay has been the victim of over-development.
Development itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is good for the economy. However, when development occurs, the infrastructure must also be improved.
Block after block, the neighborhood has seen one-family homes replaced by six-family condos. Several new mid-rise developments have also appeared on or near Sheepshead Bay Road and more are planned. This has placed a strain on traffic, especially along the narrow 18th Century Sheepshead Bay Road, formerly known as Shore Road.
In the 19th Century, our city forefathers planned a numbered street grid system that revolutionized our roads. Sheepshead Bay Road, however, predated that grid. The surface Manhattan Beach Railway, which operated passenger service until 1922, ran along East 17th Street south of Avenue X, (which is why that portion of the street is wider than the rest) and along the western fork near Jerome Avenue cutting through the super block soon to be developed with a luxury high-rise. The railway extended along the Brighton line and between what is now West End Avenue and Corbin Place to Manhattan Beach, serving the area’s two luxury (Manhattan Beach and Oriental) hotels.
That is the reason East 16th Street dead-ends at Sheepshead Bay Road and does not continue until the other side of Voorhies Avenue.
Normally, when superblocks are created, the adjacent streets are widened to accommodate the displaced traffic from eliminated streets. In this case, no street was eliminated, only some railroad tracks. In 1922, automobile traffic was still sparse and the word “superblock” did not even exist until large housing projects made them commonplace decades later. Sheepshead Bay Road, a street lined mostly with small hotels, was never widened, as traffic increased and those hotels were demolished or as residences were converted to storefronts.
Currently, there are a half dozen vacant storefronts on the northeast corner of Sheepshead Bay Road and Voorhies Avenue, suggesting more development in the near future, increasing traffic even more. Traffic on Voorhies Avenue is already a nightmare every Monday through Friday after 3pm, with a dozen cars lined up on East 18th Street waiting to make a right turn onto Voorhies Avenue. (A left turn is all but impossible.)
Changes are needed.
When I proposed the rerouting of the B49 in 1978 from Ocean Avenue to replace the B1 along Sheepshead Bay Road, I suggested it operate on the circuitous northbound route it currently uses, including Shore Parkway and East 14th Street, because it was three or four minutes quicker than Sheepshead Bay Road. It was tabled for 30 years, and by that point the time saved had been diminished. The roundabout route is just as dreadful as along Sheepshead Bay Road. Instead it was implemented recently due to cars constantly standing in the no standing zone on Sheepshead Bay Road, and, with the lack of traffic enforcement, it became more difficult for two buses to pass simultaneously.
My proposed routing no longer saves three or four minutes. The rerouting from Ocean Avenue, instead of merely adding five minutes to the B49 as it did in 1978, now can add as much as 15 minutes for through riders when compared to the pre-1978 route. Therefore, I now believe we need some special buses during school hours or an additional bus route bypassing the subway station as it did prior to 1978. However, that is a subject for another article.
The point is that with each new development, traffic gets worse. What if the city decides to sell both municipal parking lots and add still more commercial development as they have done on Kings Highway and are doing in Flushing? What if the El Greco site is developed with another high-rise as has been long rumored (with no substantiation)? We will find out about it when it is too late. What will happen to traffic after five new high-rises are constructed near Sheepshead Bay Road? We could have gridlock.
Let’s Not Lose an Opportunity
Right now, with the proposed luxury condos at 1501 Voorhies Avenue, near Sheepshead Bay Road, we have the opportunity to extend East 16th Street to Voorhies Avenue and the north Shore Parkway service road. (A traffic reversal on the service road between East 16th Street and Sheepshead Bay Road would also be required. A redesign of the highway exit would also help.)
We do not need a private pedestrian walkway as currently proposed. A new street could be accomplished even with a gated entrance (though it would be a little more difficult) and should be a requirement before any development takes place there. Our local elected officials must insist on it. (Are you listening, Councilman Chaim Deutsch, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and State Senator Marty Golden?)
A continuation of southbound East 16th Street would enable a conversion of Sheepshead Bay Road to northbound only between the Shore Parkway North service road and Jerome Avenue. It would also permit a simplified B49 bus routing with northbound service returning to Sheepshead Bay Road and southbound service able to use the new East 16th Street. The northbound B4 would be able to use Sheepshead Bay Road as well, with the southbound route also using East 16th Street.
The possibility also exists to widen Sheepshead Bay Road between the Shore Parkway north service road and Emmons Avenue since the Belt Parkway Bridge is slated for reconstruction. All that is required is a slight modification of existing design plans and a few more dollars. No demolition would be required. Note that Nostrand Avenue will be widened when that bridge is reconstructed. Why not widen Sheepshead Bay Road under the Belt Parkway? Extending East 16th Street would have occurred when the Manhattan Beach Railway tracks were ripped up if the city had any foresight. Let us not condemn future generations to saying we had no foresight back in 2014.
In Other News
Last month saw the passing of transit and community activist (and my friend) Dr. John Rozankowski at age 61. If that name is at all familiar, it is because John substituted for me on The Commute on three occasions when I was on vacation. He also wrote for the blog Welcome to the Bronx for the past eight months and for Suite 101 prior to that. He received his PHD in history and was also very active in the successful campaign of Letitia James for Public Advocate, who attended the wake, spoke and stayed until it was over. Obituaries for John appeared in Welcome to the Bronx and the NY Daily News.
His wake was a tribute to race and age relations, an old white Polish gentleman with so many young black and Latino friends. At least 25 people spoke about the man, many with tears in their eyes. At least 50 attended. It was a very moving experience. He was a selfless Republican Conservative who did not let politics get in the way of what he believed in. His only interest was in making the world a better place. That is something we could all learn from.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.