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Plan for Select Bus Service Along 125th Street Canceled by MTA and DOT

By Jeff Mays | July 17, 2013 9:24am
 After an almost year-long process where the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Department of Transportation announced plans to bring  Select Bus Service  to 125th Street to speed the molasses-like M60 LaGuardia Airport bus, both agencies said Tuesday that the plan was being scrapped due to  community opposition .
MTA Cancels 125th Street Select Bus Service
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HARLEM — A plan to speed up the molasses-like M60 bus service along 125th Street has been scrapped.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Department of Transportation spent nearly a year studying whether to bring Select Bus Service to the crowded thoroughfare on the bus line that runs to LaGuardia Airport. But they've abandoned the idea due to community opposition.

"There are still a number of concerns about the project from the local Community Boards and elected officials that we have not been able to resolve to date," the agencies said in a joint statement. "As a result, NYCDOT and MTA New York City Transit have decided not to proceed with the M60 Select Bus Service project at this time."

The move comes after the MTA and DOT drastically cut plans for SBS service along 125th Street in May.

Instead of stretching a dedicated bus lane from Morningside Avenue to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the exclusive bus lane was to only travel from Lenox Avenue to Third Avenue. It also eased a plan to limit left turns on 125th Street and to change parking regulations.

The notoriously slow 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 earlier proposals would speed the M60's trip by 10 minutes, but it wouldn't have done much to speed up other traffic. 

That's where members of local community boards and politicians such as State Sen. Bill Perkins took issue.

Perkins wrote a letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan asking her to delay any changes because the agency's plan served  "to inform not to gain consensus."

They felt the MTA and DOT were ignoring the needs of the local community in favor of travelers to the airport.

"The key thing that has to be said is that this decision does not mean the community does not recognize there is a need for the solution to the congestion on 125th Street," said Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street Business Improvement District.

"There is a willingness of the community to work with the appropriate agency to do a comprehensive solution," she added. "We need to get it right."

The idea of a dedicated bus lane frightened some local residents who thought that it would worsen the traffic. The DOT also wanted to add metered parking west of Morningside Avenue, which would exacerbate an already difficult parking situation, residents said.

Despite extensive community outreach that included several forums, numerous workshops, meetings with the local community boards and even a couple of walking tours, some local leaders such as Henrietta Lyle, chairwoman of Community Board 9, felt that the plan was being shoved down the community's throat.

Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said her group supported the SBS proposal as beneficial for the neighborhood but the MTA and DOT failed to develop a process that adequately answered community concerns.

"We needed a stronger process and they weren't willing to develop one. They were advised to do so by many people, including us," Shepard said.

Members of the community wanted the SBS service to extend the entire length of 125th Street, from 12th Avenue to the RFK Bridge. They also wanted other 125th Street bus lines to be considered for SBS service.

The MTA said the M60 fit its profile of SBS candidates because of its high ridership and the fact that it traveled between boroughs.

The issue of increased police traffic enforcement also was never addressed, Shepard said. Local vendors who line 125th Street were also concerned about being forced to move because of the changes.

Transportation groups such as The Straphangers Campaign, part of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said they were disappointed by the decision.

Spokeswoman Cate Contino said that although the M60 would have been the only bus with SBS along 125th Street, the group has seen overall traffic flow improve in other places where SBS has launched.

"Those folks aren't going to have anything now. Access to LaGuardia is important. There are people who live in Harlem who work at the airport and these improvements would have benefited the other three bus lines," Contino said.

"We hope improving transit on 125th Street and to LaGuardia will be a priority for the next mayor," she added.

The MTA said it wants to have "continued dialogue with community stakeholders" on how to "improve bus speed and service, traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian safety along 125th Street."