MANHATTAN — Two bus stops along 34th Street — one at Madison Avenue and another at Lexington — are on the chopping block as part of the 34th Street Select Bus Service plan, which is aiming to speed up bus routes across one of Manhattan busiest thoroughfares.
Residents have mounted a fervent push to keep the stops, which they claim are crucial to elderly and infirm residents in the area, but the city has yet to say if the stops will be allowed to stay where they are, or if they will be sacrificed to save time for bus commuters heading across town.
The Department of Transportation and the MTA provided updates on the roll-out of the 34th Street SBS plan this week in a presentation before the Community Board 6 transportation committee.
Off-board fare collection has already begun across 34th Street, which officials said has sped up service by about 10 percent.
The construction portion of the project, which will create two dedicated bus lanes while adding curbside loading zones on 34th Street, will not begin until next summer. Underground work will need to be performed first, to build a new portion of a water main under 34th Street and to renovate existing sewer lines.
Once those projects are completed, the bus construction is expected to take about a year and should be finished in 2014, officials said.
The DOT has enlisted community input at several points throughout the design process and has since agreed to allow left turns onto Third Avenue from 34th Street heading east — an option that was originally scheduled to be axed as part of the plan.
But the fate of the bus stops remains to be determined.
“It’s common for us to remove bus stops [in implementing select bus service],” an MTA representative told members of Community Board 6 this week.
“Less stops will speed up the bus.”
Will Carry, a project manager at the DOT, said the desire to keep those bus stops needed to be balanced against a collective neighborhood need for loading areas.
“We’ve heard a lot, consistently from the community, [about] the need to bring loading spaces at all times back to the corridor, and one of the things that removing the stops at Madison and Lexington has enabled us to do is add that loading,” Carry said.
“There’s a tradeoff," he added. "And if you were to put [the stops] back in, a lot of that loading would not be possible."
But residents have consistently argued that those stops are crucial for those in the neighborhood who have difficulty getting around. The extra walking distance is one thing, they say, but the stretch between the bus stops at Third and Park Avenue is also uphill, making a longer walk even more difficult.
Both community boards 5 and 6 have issued resolutions in support of keeping the bus stops where they are, and several members of Community Board 6 have spoken at MTA hearings as part of the fight.
Larry Scheyer, a member of Community Board 6, said a 10 percent time saving and added loading zones were not worth the cost to residents in the area.
“From what I’ve been hearing over the past few months, there’s far less demand for those individual loading areas ... as compared to the number of individuals boarding the local buses who have been clamoring to have their bus stops returned," he said.
“We have balanced the benefits and the costs and deemed it better to return those bus stops.”
Bob Cohen, another Community Board 6 member who has been fighting fiercely to keep the bus stops, agreed.
“Every step you’re making these people take … is more pain and more tiredness and more everything else,” Cohen said. “The neighborhood has to come first.”