Economy / Food

Food Center Drive slated to become one-way

NYC Economic Development Corp.

An aerial shot of the Hunts Point waterfront.

But critics worry problems outweigh benefits

The busy two-way thoroughfare that connects the country’s biggest food distribution markets with the rest of the Hunts Point peninsula is about to get converted to a one-way road, but some local businesses and advocates say the city is out of its mind for messing with a good thing.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation says it will begin construction on Food Center Drive in the fall, with the goal of making the area safe for pedestrians looking to access the area’s gleaming riverfront parks. The plan is an integral part of the South Bronx Greenway, a creation of the Hunts Point Vision Plan as it was drawn up a decade ago by open space advocates, environmental groups and city planners. A one-way Food Center Drive would also mean more room for the creation of a new bike lane along the Greenway.

But a number of food businesses and business advocates say the conversion will worsen truck traffic while inconveniencing the area’s many food wholesale distributors and hurting their bottom line. What’s worse, they say, the plan could create as many public safety problems as it resolves.

At a meeting of Community Board 2 on June 24, the board’s Economic Development committee chair, Maria Torres, said the plan is good for the neighborhood.

“Food Center Drive is a major artery for residents and employees of the market to get to our waterfront parks,” said Torres. “If this remains a two-way, it’s going to be very unsafe to get there.”

But at the same meeting, Josephine Infante, longtime president of the nonprofit Hunts Point Economic Development Corp., said the plan—-which she was instrumental in designing nearly 20 years ago—-is sensible, but that it is much too soon to implement it. Putting the blueprint into effect so soon would throw the area into chaos, she said, because companies and their trucking fleets are unprepared for such a major traffic change.

“Are we ready for this?” said Infante, insisting that the plan is based on outdated information. “That business model no longer applies.”

The explosive growth of online food shopping over the last decade has led to a proportionate increase in truck traffic to and from the meat, fish and produce markets, along with the nearby businesses that depend on them, she said. The city should devote at least one more year of educating businesses and installing signage before it starts construction, she added.

The impact of Hunts Point’s truck traffic on other parts of the city is so extensive, she said, that tie-ups in and around the markets caused by the conversion would result in traffic jams around the city. In addition, emergency vehicles trying to get patients in need of medical care out quickly would be delayed, she said.

But a representative for the city’s Economic Development Corp., Charlie Samboy, tried to reassure the board that businesses were made aware of the city’s plans a long time ago.

NYC Economic Development Corp.

A rendering of a proposed bike lane along the South Bronx Greenway.

“We have been informing the businesses of the impending changes to the roadway,” said Samboy. The new one-way loop will benefit the overall traffic flow for businesses, he said, and the elimination of left turns will cut down significantly on the risk to pedestrians and bikers.

But businesses are worried the change will cause their fuel costs to rise and will force them to spend more time making deliveries to contend with added traffic.

“I think the whole study did not consider strategies for the truck drivers,” said Danny Aguirre, head of Human Resources at Dairyland. With about 130 trucks, company officials say they fear an increase of $200,000 a year in additional fuel costs alone.

“This study is incomplete,” said Aguirre.

Although representatives from other nearby businesses have complained to the community board about the plan in recent months and have said they are nervous about its implementation, none of their representatives attended the meeting to speak out. Those businesses lease their land along Food Center Drive from the Economic Development Corporation.

Longwood resident Damian Griffin, a former board member and avid cyclist, said that although he supports the plan, more should be done to raise the waterfront’s profile so it appeals to residents.

“You don’t see a lot of people just going out there,” said Griffin. “It’s not on people’s minds.”

The only residents who appear to be using the parks or spend time on the waterfront, he said, are fishermen who cast their lines from the piers.

“Unless there is something else to do besides the parks, they’re going to need to let people know,” Griffin said.

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