DOT Trims Harlem Bus Plan; Bill Perkins’ Office: “We Are Definitely Pleased”

Congratulations are in order for State Senator Bill Perkins, who has successfully condemned more than 32,000 crosstown bus riders to travel on 125th Street at speeds that are often slower than walking. His pressure to revise a plan for dedicated bus lanes and other measures to prioritize surface transit — culminating in an “emergency” town hall meeting last Thursday — resulted in DOT watering down its proposal.

State Senator Bill Perkins' office has no position on improvements for bus service on 125th Street, but Perkins himself has called Select Bus Service a "failure." Photo: NY Senate

When asked how Thursday’s meeting went, Perkins’ office was sunny. “We are definitely pleased,” deputy chief of staff Linda Wood-Guy told Streetsblog, insisting that the senator’s office did not concern itself one way or the other with actual changes to the street — or improvements for bus riders. ”Our office was only concerned about the process,” she said.

That process began last September, when DOT and the MTA held a public workshop sponsored by local community boards and elected officials, including Perkins, that attracted nearly 100 people. A community advisory committee — comprised of community boards, elected officials, community development corporations, the 125th Street BID, NYCHA residents, and transit advocates – began meeting in November and met for a third time in March. The project team also hosted a walking tour with more than 50 people to gather feedback in January.

But when the process resulted in a plan to actually improve conditions for bus riders — by adding bus lanes and left-turn restrictions — Perkins’ office began to marshal opposition, claiming that community members were not being adequately consulted.

Despite his deputy chief of staff’s claims that Perkins does not have a position on specific changes DOT might make to the street, the state senator was full of opinions about Select Bus Service in his April letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, ignoring the speed increasesridership gainssales receipts, and high customer satisfaction reported on other SBS lines. “The feedback that we have received,” he wrote, “indicated dissatisfaction and even failure.”

The plan would have converted the M60 to a Select Bus Service route serving six stops along 125th Street with off-board fare collection and signal priority technology to hold green lights for buses. A one-mile, camera-enforced dedicated bus lane between Morningside and Third Avenues would have cut down on double parking, which currently slows buses to a crawl. Metering more parking spaces would have improved parking availability, further reducing incentives to double-park. With one general travel lane in each direction, DOT was proposing adding left-turn restrictions at most intersections to keep traffic flowing.

The new plan, presented by DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione at Perkins’ town hall, shrinks the bus lane in half, ending it at Lenox Avenue instead of Morningside. It also reduces the number of left-turn restrictions and scraps a proposal to add parking meters between Amsterdam and Morningside Avenues, according to DNAinfo. A copy of this plan is not available on the project website; Streetsblog has requested a copy from DOT but has not received a response. Update: A copy of DOT’s presentation is now available online.

The M60 has a reputation among some Harlem residents as serving only LaGuardia Airport customers. ”We don’t need the M60 bus to the airport,” town hall attendee Renee Harrison told DNAinfo. In reality, most M60 riders are using it for trips within Harlem: Only one in ten M60 riders are going to LaGuardia, and some of those trips are Harlem residents going to jobs at the airport.

The M60 is the busiest bus on the corridor, carrying 9,600 passengers per day, but the other routes on 125th Street — the Bx15, M100, and M101 — serve 22,400 riders and would have also benefitted from dedicated bus lanes and faster speeds.

WE ACT, an environmental justice organization that lobbied DOT and MTA to bring bus improvements to 125th Street, expressed disappointment at the shrunken plan. “You’re setting it up to fail because you’re implementing it halfway,” said Jake Carlson, WE ACT’s transportation equity coordinator. “So many people in Harlem use the M60.”

At the same time, Carlson was pleased that Perkins hosted the town hall meeting where cuts to the plan were unveiled. “We were really glad that there was a town hall meeting,” he said. “We’re really glad that the senator took leadership to have that kind of a forum. It’s really unfortunate that it went the way that it did.”

When asked if WE ACT would try to claw back the bus improvements that were scuttled — by hosting a town hall or starting a petition, for instance — Carlson said the organization would hold its regular monthly meeting on transit issues next Saturday.

Perkins’ office, meanwhile, will be sending more feedback to DOT. ”We have a lot of work to do to complete what we started,” Wood-Guy said. “We wanted them to broaden their outreach.” She added that the senator’s office is circulating an online survey about 125th Street to solicit feedback. Streetsblog has asked Wood-Guy for a link to the survey, but has not received a response.

Streetsblog reached out to Council Members Inez Dickens and Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose districts include 125th Street, as well as the Harlem Community Development Corporation (a state body under the aegis of the Empire State Development Corporation), Abyssinian Development Corporation, and Harlem Children’s Zone. HCZ declined comment; we have not received replies from the others.

DOT also did not respond to a request for comment. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

Update: “We value the feedback we received at the meeting and look forward to responding and working further with the community on the design of this important effort,” DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said via e-mail.