MTA, DOT Brainstorm Ways to Speed Bus Trip to LaGuardia Airport

By Jeff Mays on December 4, 2012 9:37am 

HARLEM — Only 10 percent of people who board the M60 on 125th Street are actually going to LaGuardia Airport. The overwhelming majority, 51 percent are just traveling along 125th Street, city officials told area stakeholders gathered to brainstorm ways to improve the plodding bus service Monday night.

"Only 10 percent of the people use it to go to the airport because it is too crowded," said Community Board 11 member Brodie Enoch. "People are finding other ways."

More than 32,000 people per day board the M100, M101, BX15 and M60, the four major bus lines on 125th Street, easily Harlem's main thoroughfare. The M60 bus has 9,600 daily passengers, the most among the group. But the trip to the airport is not an easy one.

The M60 bus is stopped 60 percent of the time along 125th Street  and travels at an average speed of 2.7 miles per hour. The average speed of city buses is 7.7 miles per hour.

"Your average pedestrian walks 2.7 miles per hour so this bus is particularly slow," said Taylor Reiss, a project manager for the New York City Department of Transportation.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority announced plans last month to turn the M60 into Select Bus Service which means passengers would pay at terminals on the street before boarding the bus, dedicated bus lanes and traffic-light changing technology that would speed the trip.

The bus could make as few as six stops on 125th Street opposed to the nine stops made by other buses on the route. The speed on select bus routes usually jumps 15 to 20 percent and ridership jumps 5 to 10 percent in the first year, said Reiss.

"People who need to get on that bus can barely get on," said CB 11 Vice Chair Diane Collier. 

Among other possible changes coming to 125th Street are offset bus lanes where the parking lane is left in place and the bus lane is painted next to it. The idea makes sense given the commercial nature of 125th Street, said Reiss.

New parking regulations that would add meters to some strips where there is now only alternate side parking, such as the stretch between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.

In one survey, the DOT placed a camera to capture the action on 125th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues. The camera took a picture once a minute between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The camera captured that cars were double parked 41 percent of the time, illegally parked 82 percent of the time and the same cars remained in their parking space for 90 percent of the time.

A survey of the 200 businesses owners from Second Avenue to Amsterdam Avenue found that most drivers going to their stores park for 30 minutes or less. About 59 percent of patrons walk to the stores and another 20 percent take the bus. Deliveries also take 30 minutes or less.

Concerns raised by Harlem residents include the bunching of buses in areas such as Lexington Avenue and between Amsterdam and Morningside avenues, unreliable and unpredictable service, chronic double parking, difficulty crossing the street and sidewalks congested by vendors.

Enoch said some of the concerns, such as the loitering at Lexington Avenue and double parking all along 125th Street are enforcement issues that the DOT needs to take up with police.

Shirley Jones, a representative of Harlem Street Entrepreneurs, a group that represents Harlem's sidewalk vendors, said she was concerned about talk of vendors causing problems in relation to bus service.

"This is part of the plan to ease us out. Nobody talks to us because we are invisible out there," said Jones.

"Either way it's going to affect us. With some of these proposals, sidewalk space will be limited," she added.

Reiss said the DOT would be happy to do a survey with the vendors to take their concerns into consideration.

Other remaining tasks include a complete traffic and parking analysis, a survey of shoppers on 125th street and the start of the design process with public input.

After another planning meeting in the spring of next year, the project should be implemented in 2013 or 2014 at the latest, officials said.

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