UPPER WEST SIDE — A group of residents on West 81 Street is objecting to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the M79 route around the American Museum of Natural History, saying it will transform Central Park West into the "largest bus depot in Manhattan."
The MTA and New York City Department of Transportation's plan — which the MTA said will cut crosstown commute times by an average of 10 to 30 percent for the route's more than 18,000 daily passengers — calls for the creation of a bus-only lane along the southern curb of 81st Street, a daytime no-parking zone for standing deliveries on the north side, and a layover stop for school buses on the eastern side of Central Park West.
The plan, which would go into effect later this spring, was unanimously approved by Community Board 7's transportation committee last month on the condition that the DOT investigate the possibility of parking school buses on the west side of Central Park West.
That provision doesn't comfort members of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, who asked the full board not to approve the SBS proposal in its entirety at a meeting Tuesday night.
"We have chaos on our block, and more people coming with a spectacular new museum entrance opening on Columbus — more cars, more buses, and we’d better be prepared for this issue," association President Steve Anderson said at the meeting at Goddard Riverside Community Center, alluding to AMNH's forthcoming expansion.
The block association has been in touch with and would hire "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz's traffic and transportation firm to look into how to address congestion around the museum, he said.
Member worry a dedicated bus lane on 81st Street — where school buses now sometimes seek layover space in spite of museum rules — will clog the road even more. Anderson also cited a reduction in parking spots and a tough left turn from the right northbound lane of Central Park West onto 81st Street, which is the planned layover space for school buses, as other concerns.
”We do know that the congestion of buses on this block is a huge issue," DOT community outreach coordinator Julie Schipper said, pushing back. "And adding that layover space as well as the bus lane is to keep all of these buses moving."
While the AMNH already uses the north side of the block on 77th street for bus layovers, the it also supports the use of space on the east side of Central Park West, where a museum employee would dispatch buses back to the parking garage where students are dropped off and picked up — accessible from a one-way, horseshoe-shaped driveway off of 81st Street — at staggered intervals, said Dan Slippen, the institution’s vice president of government relations.
A terminal on the west side of the street is feasible, he said, "but we would not be able to control [or stagger] the buses the way we would be able to do on the East side, because they’d be going for longer distances and they would be going through more areas of the neighborhood."
Anderson was skeptical that museum employees could manage the traffic.
"You want to turn Central Park West into the largest bus depot in Manhattan, with buses coming in and out, and garage attendants are going to take control? We can’t even get a traffic enforcement officer at the corners of Central Park West and 81st and Columbus," he said.
Not all buses return to the parking garage to pick up departing museum-goers, and 40 percent of school groups visiting the museum use mass transit, an AMNH spokesman noted.
"The Museum believes that anything that can be done to improve the congestion on 81st is a positive. The idea of Select Bus Service is a great concept and we hope it will be a positive mode of transportation for our visitors," the institution said in a statement.
Twenty-seven community board members voted in favor of the MTA's SBS proposal on Tuesday, with six voting against it and six abstaining.
"The bottom line," said transportation committee co-chairman Howard Yaruss, "is that the [plan is] a work in progress."
This article has been updated to include a comment and context from the American Museum of Natural History.