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Dedicated Lane For LaGuardia Bus Prompts Fears of 125th Street Nightmare

By Jeff Mays | April 10, 2013 11:52am | Updated on April 10, 2013 2:07pm

HARLEM — A plan to create a dedicated bus lane on 125th Street to speed new M60 Select Bus Service to LaGuardia Airport has some worried that the proposal may actually slow traffic even further on Harlem's main thoroughfare.

Under the plan from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation, there would be one lane for parking, a dedicated bus lane and one lane for traffic. The dedicated bus lane would be enforced by video cameras.

While motorists on 125th Street won't see much improvement in the time it takes them to cross the thoroughfare, the DOT and the MTA believe the changes will help speed the trip of the super-slow airport bus by at least 10 minutes.

 A DOT employee explains plans for the M60 Select Bus Service on 125th Street during an open house on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
A DOT employee explains plans for the M60 Select Bus Service on 125th Street during an open house on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
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"We think the street will flow a lot more smoothly," said Eric Beaton, director of transit development for the DOT said at an open house to unveil the plans to the public Tuesday night.

"You won't have to deal with double parking. Even though general traffic is the same the bus will be moving faster," he added.

Under the current proposal, the M60 would stop at every intersection near a subway for a total of six stops. Under Select Bus Service, riders pay at kiosks on the street and then board the bus when it arrives.

Left turn restrictions will be put in place at several of the intersections on 125th Street to reduce the backup caused by vehicles waiting to turn.

To deal with the rampant double parking issue along the street, the DOT will extend metered parking west of Morningside Avenue and east of Fifth Avenue. The DOT is also considering extending metered parking until 10 p.m. from St. Nicholas Avenue to Lenox Avenue and adding commercial loading zones from 8 a.m. until noon in some locations.

More than 9,600 of the 32,000 passengers who use the four bus lines on 125th Street board the M60. However, only 10 percent of the people who board the M60 on 125th Street are headed to the airport. About 51 percent are using the bus for cross-town travel.

The bus is at a standstill 60 percent of the time that it's on 125th Street. At an average speed of  2.7 miles per hour, the M60 travels 5 miles slower than the average city bus along the stretch.

At previous areas where Select Bus Service has been implemented, the service can increase speed 15 to 20 percent and ridership jumps by 5 to 10 percent, according to the MTA.

Users of the buses along 125th Street were happy just happy someone was addressing the pokey buses.

"I'd like to see anything happen at this point because I ride the M101 and it's just slow," said Austin Lomax, 17 of Brooklyn, a student at the High School for Math Science and Engineering at City College. "Select bus service will make a difference on the M60 just because it takes so long to board."

Not everyone is on board with the changes.

State Sen. Bill Perkins wrote to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan asking her to delay any changes because some felt the process of DOT hearings and workshops about changes to 125th Street served only "to inform not to gain consensus," Perkins wrote. He said the MTA and DOT had "backed into a plan that DOT desires and are ignoring many of the concerns that must be addressed before moving on."

Street vendors along 125th Street have also expressed concern that the changes to the streetscape will force them off 125th Street.

Sarah Martin, president of the General Grant Houses Residents Assocaition, which has nine high-rise buildings between West 123rd and West 125th Streets to Morningside Avenue and Broadway, said extending the metered parking on 125th Street will only make things more difficult for area residents.

"What are they trying to do, tax the people into the poorhouse?" said Martin. "We do not need more metered parking over here because this is a residential area. It will be devastating to the residents."

Nicole Garcia, a spokeswoman for the DOT, said the agency has gone to great lengths to allow the public to help shape the plan.

"To date, DOT has presented to all of the community boards in Harlem, participated in three Community Advisory Committee meetings, co-hosted three public workshops and attended more than 30 stakeholder meetings about this SBS proposal," she said.

Beaton agreed, saying officials began looking at the changes based on the concerns gathered from community residents and bus users during those initial meetings.

Thomas Lunke, director of planning and development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation, has participated in the public planning advisory process.

"Some of the plans seem counterintuitive," said Lunke after reviewing the plans with a DOT employee. "By reducing a lane they believe you can improve traffic flow. It'll be interesting to see how that functions."

H. Jacob Carlson, an environmental policy and advocacy coordinator with WE ACT for Environmental Justice, has also heard the concerns regarding the loss of a lane of traffic.

"Whatever plan is approved no one will be 100 percent happy," he said. "But as Los Angeles has shown, adding more lanes doesn't mean less traffic."

Other changes to 125th Street include bus bulbs, or extended sidewalks at Lexington Avenue to make bus boarding easier. There will also be daylighting at some intersections where parking spaces are removed to improve traffic safety for pedestrians.

The M100 bus would also be slightly rerouted. Instead of turning left at Third Avenue, which has been identified as a major cause of traffic delays, the bus would continue on to First Avenue before looping around to restart the route. The move will provide more frequent crosstown bus service to First Avenue. Signal timing will also be improved to speed the traffic flow.

The DOT says it plans to bring the proposal to the community once again before implementing the changes in the fall.

Nearly everyone agrees something needed to be done to address traffic flow on 125th Street.

"I can almost walk across 125th Street as fast as the bus. It would be nice to utilize the bus when in a hurry," said Lunke whose office is on 125th Street.

Craig Allen, 46, a chemistry instructor, said he's willing to try just about anything at this point.

"Trying these solutions can't hurt," he said. "Even if they work only partially that will mean a big improvement."