West Harlem Council Candidates Want Bike-Share, Complete 125th Street SBS

District 7 City Council candidates Brodie Enoch, Christina Gonzalez, David Sasscer-Bergos, Joyce Johnson, Mark Levine, Mark Otto, Zead Ramadan, and Ruben Dario Vargas at last night's sustainability forum, hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and WE ACT for Environmental Justice at Convent Avenue Baptist Church. Photo: Stephen Miller

Candidates for a City Council seat on the west side of Upper Manhattan expressed support for bike-share expansion and complete Select Bus Service on 125th Street at a campaign forum last night. Some candidates urged the city to restore the original SBS plan and extend the bus lane west, after DOT curtailed its proposal to the delight of State Senator Bill Perkins.

Candidates Brodie Enoch, Christina Gonzalez, Joyce Johnson, Mark Levine, Mark Otto, Zead Ramadan, David Sasscer-Burgos, and Ruben Dario Vargas attended last night’s sustainability forum, sponsored by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Enoch, who serves on Community Board 11′s transportation committee and is a former Transportation Alternatives staffer, told Streetsblog after the forum that he is afraid riders on the western end of 125th Street are never going to get a bus lane. “[The city and MTA] are going to other corridors where there’s less resistance,” he said.

Levine called the diminished plan “crazy” because it no longer features bus lanes from Lenox to Morningside Avenues. “Our community will not have, under the current plan, a bus-only lane. That deprives us of the main benefit of Select Bus Service,” he said.

Johnson said that paying her fare before boarding SBS routes confused her at first, but she quickly understood how it helped speed up and improve bus service. ”It is much quicker across town on these major thoroughfares,” she said. Otto joined her in expressing general support for SBS on 125th Street.

Ramadan joined Levine and Enoch in calling for the full bus lane proposal to be restored. One of his other ideas for bus service didn’t make as much sense: To reduce bus idling in the district, he suggested that Bronx buses should terminate on the Bronx side of the Harlem River, and that riders transfer to Manhattan via a shuttle bus every 15 minutes.

Neither Sasser-Bergos nor Gonzalez discussed SBS in response to a question about the program.

When asked to identify the greatest environmental challenge facing the district, Enoch and Levine both singled out traffic and livable streets. “To be a greener city and a safer city, we have to entirely re-vision how we use streets,” Levine told Streetsblog after the forum. He added that he supports on-street parking removal for bike lanes and loading zones, off-street parking maximums in the zoning code, and market prices for on-street parking. Levine and Ramadan both told Streetsblog after the forum that they support a car-free Central Park.

Ramadan, a former Community Board 12 chair, trumpeted his support for a public parking garage with ground floor retail built on a city-owned site at Broadway and 184th Street under an agreement with the Economic Development Corporation. “The city should develop municipal parking structures,” he told Streetsblog after the forum, adding that new residential or commercial development wouldn’t have served community needs. “What we needed to do is get cars off the street.”

The gray outline denoted the new District 7 boundary following redistricting. The yellow area is the current District 7, represented by Robert Jackson. Image: NYC Districting Commission

Sasscer-Bergos called for an expansion of the recently-approved speed camera program, and Enoch mentioned the harmful effects of MTA budget raids by Albany, adding that the city should increase its contribution to the agency.

All the candidates supported expanding bike-share to the district. Johnson expressed concerns that the $101 hold Citi Bike places on credit cards is a barrier to low-income people, and said that alternatives or subsidies must be examined to make bike-share more accessible. Enoch, echoing Johnson’s concerns about the program’s cost, again cited his experience advocating for bike-share during his time at Transportation Alternatives.

Otto, however, said that station locations were poorly planned. ”I support bike-share, but let’s look at the communities that have already instituted and learned from their mistakes. We have to involve community boards,” Otto said, even though community boards were involved in the planning process. “Where are we putting the bikes? We’ve seen lots of bikes put in front of places where they should never be.” He worried about bike-share’s impact on street safety, while also raising concerns about dirt bike racers on neighborhood streets. “You can’t just bring a whole bunch of bikes and think everything’s going to be okay,” he said.

Levine batted away Otto’s objections, calling bike-share “wildly successful” and noting that there have been only three injuries in the program’s first 500,000 rides. Gonzalez, Ramadan, and Vargas also support the program, though Ramadan said uptown’s exclusion from bike-share’s initial service area arose from the city’s bias against less affluent neighborhoods, and Gonzalez objected to Citibank’s sponsorship.

All the candidates support the East 91st Street waste transfer station. A decade ago, the facility was proposed for the Hudson River at 135th Street, in District 7, but was moved to a different district on the East Side as part of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan following pressure from environmental justice advocates. By transferring waste to barges, the station is expected to cut down on truck trips, although it would lead to a greater concentration of truck trips in the immediate area surrounding the facility.

The candidates all committed to participatory budgeting; Enoch and Johnson said they had participated in Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s budgeting process in East Harlem and found it to be very successful. Vargas also reiterated his call for complete overnight shutdowns of the subway system for maintenance, which he supported at a forum for Assembly candidates last fall.

The District 7 seat is currently held by term-limited Robert Jackson, who is running for Manhattan borough president. Jackson has not replied to questions from Streetsblog about the curtailed SBS plan on 125th Street.

The district’s boundaries have shifted southward in this election cycle, while the northern edge of the district, which once extended to the top of Inwood, now ends at 165th Street. The district includes parts of the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, Sugar Hill, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights.