Controversial Select Bus Service Coming to 125th Street, DOT Says
HARLEM — After abandoning a plan to bring Select Bus Service to 125th Street, the Department of Transportation and State Sen. Bill Perkins announced Friday that the service will begin in April 2014 on the M60 LaGuardia Airport bus.
The news comes after negotiations over the project between the DOT and community leaders broke down in finger-pointing in July after the agency, along with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, spent a year planning for the new service.
“With new businesses and historic destinations drawing record numbers of visitors to the heart of Harlem, 125th Street has never been more dynamic, yet congestion has kept buses at a standstill,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.
“By bringing dedicated bus lanes and speeding up boarding times, SBS will provide a lifeline to thousands of residents and visitors...," she added.
Perkins, along with Harlem's community boards and other community groups, objected to the M60 launching SBS service because they say the DOT and MTA tried to impose their wills on the community instead of working with them to address concerns such as adding SBS service to other bus lines on 125th Street, extending SBS service the length of 125th Street and a problematic bus stop in East Harlem that carries passengers to homeless shelters on Ward's Island.
The agencies countered that they had conducted numerous community meetings, walking tours and planning sessions over the course of a year. After initial opposition, the DOT and MTA drastically altered the plan, limiting dedicated bus lanes and left turn prohibitions along with altering planned parking restrictions.
But even with those changes, the agencies said it became clear that there was too much opposition to the plan.
Perkins, who provided the strongest and loudest opposition to the plan, said in a statement Friday that a "thorough community task force vetting which included the residents, businesses, disabled communities and the local community boards,” approved of the plan.
"Every time you halt something it does not mean you are against it," said Perkins in an interview.
But the plan unveiled Friday seemed remarkably similar to the stripped down version the MTA and DOT unveiled after community opposition.
Instead of a dedicated bus lane along the length of 125th Street starting at Morningside Avenue and going east, the dedicated lanes will only exist from Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue. In addition, only the M60 will become SBS with six stops along 125th Street.
"In the end was there a dramatic earth-shaking change? No. But, more importantly, there was a community engagement about the concerns. There was a vetting," said Perkins.
Not everyone agrees with Perkins' statement.
"Community Board 10 was not asked to approve this. We were told it was happening," said Community Board 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle.
"I don't have any position on this right now except that DOT is doing what they planned to do all along. It's not about getting support from the community," Lyle added.
Lyle said she was not even made aware that the announcement would be made Friday.
Around Harlem, some wondered if it was pressure from the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which has supported Perkins in the past, or Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, who wants to add 20 more SBS lines, that changed Perkins' position on the plan.
Perkins said that he was aware of TWU Local 100's support of the project but that is not why he stepped out of the project's way.
"Having heard from my constituency, the question was is there something compelling about the project that is anti-community? I haven't seen that," said Perkins.
The molasses-like M60 is the most-used bus line on 125th Street. More than 9,600 of the 32,000 passengers who use the four bus lines on 125th Street board the M60, according to MTA data.
The majority of riders use the bus for cross-town travel, and just 10 percent use it to get to LaGuardia. SBS buses have limited stops and riders pay before boarding the bus to speed passenger loading.
The MTA said Friday that the changes will reduce travel times on 125th Street by 18 percent.
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat issued a joint statement calling the announcement an "exciting breakthrough."
Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director for WE ACT For Environmental Justice, said he was pleased that SBS was coming to 125th Street even if it was imperfect.
WE ACT For Environmental Justice advocates for SBS bus service along the length of 125th Street.
"Sometimes you have to take baby steps after you've had hiccups," said Corbin-Mark. "As people get improved movement on 125th Street they will want it all along the street."
Other changes include 62 new energy-efficient new LED street lights from Morningside Avenue to Fifth Avenue paid for with $500,000 in public money allocated by the office of Assembly Member Keith Wright.
New pedestrian maps, real-time bus arrival information and new parking spaces along parts of 124th and 126th street will also be added.