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Posts from the "West Harlem" Category

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New CM Mark Levine Will Push NYC DOT for Full 125th Street SBS Route

The deal that brought 125th Street Select Bus Service back to life last fall didn’t revive the full, cross-town enhanced bus route that was originally on the table. With the current plan calling for bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue only, bus riders who travel to or from West Harlem would still get the short end of the stick. Freshman Council Member Mark Levine wants to change that.

Levine, elected this fall to an Upper Manhattan district that includes West Harlem, made full-length SBS a staple of his campaign. Now that he’s in office, he’s banging the drum for his district’s bus riders. In an interview published on DNAinfo today, reporter Jeff Mays asked Levine, “Where will residents first see your mark as a councilman?”

He responded:

Council Member Mark Levine

Council Member Mark Levine

125th Street is a vital commercial spine and transportation corridor for Upper Manhattan…But the [east-west] bus speed is approximately 3.5 miles per hour. It’s slower than walking. Mass transit is moving at a crawl. This has to change.

There’s a [DOT] proposal out there that could significantly improve transit. [With Select Bus Service], buses get a dedicated lane. Riders pay before they get on the bus and there are other enhancements of speed. Unfortunately the plan they’re implementing has an [SBS] bus only east of Lenox Avenue…the plan is crazy and it’s simply not justifiable based on public policy. I am committed to making the DOT make the bus lane the whole length of 125th Street. I think we could see impact on that early in 2014.

Beyond being a positive sign from an incoming council member, Levine’s push for a better SBS route offers a test for Mayor Bill de Blasio and incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. To make make river-to-river bus lanes happen on 125th Street, City Hall and DOT will run up against the neighborhood’s political establishment, particularly its Albany delegation, which attempted to scuttle SBS in the first place.

De Blasio’s mayoral campaign was all about the hurdles faced by working-class New Yorkers. In his transportation platform, he pledged to build at least 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit lines, and on the air he made the connection between transportation and economic opportunity.

The partial 125th Street SBS route is scheduled for implementation in April. Restoring the full route to West Harlem would be a big improvement, though the bus lanes, which will just be paint on the road, won’t qualify as great BRT. If Trottenberg’s DOT is going to pursue “world-class” BRT in the future, though, a simple first step would be standing up for a complete bus lane on 125th Street sooner rather than later.

Update: If she wants to fast-track West Harlem bus lanes, Trottenberg will have to change DOT’s status quo position when she takes over later this month: “There are no plans to alter these [plans] prior to implementation,” a department spokesperson said in an email. ”We welcome the input of Councilmember Levine and will work closely with him…holding discussions on potential for changes west of Lenox in the future.”

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Harlem CBs Dither on Pedestrian Safety While SI Board Begs for Bike Lanes

Four-lane roads in need of traffic calming: Staten Island Community Board 1 voted to support a community request for bike lanes and traffic calming on Clove Road, left, while Manhattan Community Boards 9 and 10 delayed a community-driven road diet plan for pedestrian islands on Morningside Avenue, right. Photos: Google Maps (left, right)

Last week, Staten Island Community Board 1 passed a resolution asking DOT to install bike lanes, while in Manhattan, a community-requested plan for a road diet and pedestrian islands continues to be delayed by two Harlem community boards.

After months of organizing by Transportation Alternatives — resulting in more than 260 petition signatures and 22 partners signing onto a letter in support [PDF] — as well as a supportive vote from the board’s area committee, CB 1 passed a resolution Thursday asking DOT to bring bike lanes and traffic calming to 2.5 miles of Clove Road from Richmond Terrace to the Staten Island Expressway. This section Clove Road currently has two lanes in each direction for most of its length.

The advocates’ letter recommends protected bike lanes, which would be a first for Staten Island. The text of the CB 1 resolution was not available, so it’s unclear if the community board specifically asked DOT for protected lanes.

The board also requested that DOT investigate “smart traffic lights,” which automatically adjust signal timing in real-time to respond to traffic volumes, and the district manager invited bike lane supporters to join the board for its next budget committee meeting on October 3.

Next, local advocates will try to win the support of Council Member Debi Rose and get a proposal from DOT. Update: “We have not yet received this resolution, but we will review any request we receive from the community,” DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail.

Update:  ”I am a strong proponent of safe streets and of reducing the city’s carbon footprint; this DOT study would be a good first step in seeing how we can achieve both goals,” Rose said in a statement.

While CB 1 is taking action on Staten Island, it’s a different story in Manhattan. On Thursday evening, Manhattan Community Board 9 failed to advance a resolution in support of a plan for pedestrian islands and a road diet on Morningside Avenue, which would cut down on speeding near Morningside Park.

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Tonight: Community Boards Weigh Harlem and Staten Island Traffic Calming

Last week, DOT presented a plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue in Harlem [PDF] with a road diet and pedestrian islands. Community Board 10′s transportation committee, which has a track record of dithering on and opposing livable streets projects, asked DOT for more data. Tonight, the action shifts to adjacent Community Board 9, which also covers the project area and could be poised to pass a resolution in support of the project.

Pedestrian islands and a road diet like this one on Macombs Avenue in the Bronx could come to Morningside Avenue. Photo: DOT

“I wouldn’t want to predict how the board will vote,” CB 9 member and Friends of Morningside Park president Brad Taylor said. Earlier this month, DOT presented its plan to CB 9′s transportation committee. Although the committee lacked a quorum at that meeting and could not pass a resolution in support, Taylor said the proposal was received favorably and moved forward to the executive committee, which was supportive of a full board resolution. Tonight’s CB 9 meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Fortune Society, 630 Riverside Drive.

If CB 9 passes a resolution in support of the Morningside Avenue traffic calming plan tonight, there will be greater pressure for CB 10 pass a resolution, as well. Activists have told Streetsblog that DOT is unlikely to move forward on the plan without community board support. The next CB 10 full board meeting is October 2; the next transportation committee meeting is scheduled for October 9.

On Staten Island, a proposal championed by Transportation Alternatives [PDF] to bring bike lanes, crosswalks, and other traffic calming interventions to Clove Road between Richmond Terrace and the Staten Island Expressway passed CB 1′s Silver Lake/Sunnyside/Westerleigh area committee last night. Tonight, it heads to the full board, which meets at 8:00 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 2329 Victory Boulevard.

“I am optimistic that the vote will be positive,” TA’s Meredith Sladek said, adding that CB 1 chair Leticia Remauro even suggested a protected on-street bike lane, which would be a first for Staten Island. The next step for TA activists, who have gathered a coalition of community groups in support [PDF], is getting the support of Council Member Debi Rose and DOT.

Also tonight, DOT will update the Brooklyn CB 6 transportation committee on a design for a capital project [PDF] to bring pedestrian improvements to North Flatbush Avenue. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

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Morningside Avenue Traffic Calming Awaits Support From Two Harlem CBs

The plan for Morningside Avenue would add pedestrian islands, left turn lanes, wider parking lanes, and reduce the number of through lanes from two in each direction to one. Image: DOT

From 116th Street to 126th Street, Morningside Avenue is known as a speedway between Harlem’s residential streets to the east and Morningside Park to the west. A traffic calming plan from DOT [PDF] now waits while Community Boards 9 and 10 weigh in. Transportation committees of both boards received presentations from DOT, followed by question-and-answer sessions, but so far, there have been no resolutions advanced from the boards and Council Member Inez Dickens remains supportive of traffic calming in concept but noncommittal about the proposal on the table.

The plan, developed after the North Star Neighborhood Association was unsuccessful in winning a Slow Zone for a larger section of the neighborhood, would transform the avenue from two lanes in each direction to a narrower single lane in each direction, with a center striped median that would include concrete pedestrian islands and left turn lanes. Parking lanes would be widened, creating space for cyclists and double-parked drivers. At park entrances, DOT is proposing painted curb extensions on the west side of the avenue in the parking lane.

The border between Community Boards 9 and 10 runs down the middle of Morningside Avenue from south to north until 123rd Street, at which point CB 9 jogs east by one block to St. Nicholas Avenue and continues north. Within this area covered exclusively by CB 9, the plan includes changes to Hancock Place, a diagonal that crosses Morningside between 125th and 124th Streets, with a new pedestrian signal and crosswalk, left turn lanes, and curb extensions.

Although those changes are beyond CB 10′s borders, that didn’t stop committee members and the public from debating their merits at Wednesday’s meeting. DOT noted that the block serves as many pedestrians as it does drivers (about 500 during the peak evening hour), and that pedestrians looking to continue along 125th Street deserve a safe crossing.

The plan was presented to CB 9′s transportation committee last week. Although the committee did not advance a resolution, advocates say they expect the full board to come out in support during its next meeting on September 19, and they hope to use CB 9′s resolution as a model for CB 10. The next CB 10 full board meeting is October 2; the next transportation committee meeting is scheduled for October 9.

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Will Letters From Two Uptown Electeds Get DOT to Restart 125th Street SBS?

The plan for 125th Street Select Bus Service died on the vine after a lack of support from community boards and elected officials. But now, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito [PDF] and State Senator Adriano Espaillat [PDF], along with council candidate Mark Levine, are asking Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to restart plans to bring SBS to the crosstown route.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and council candidate Mark Levine are urging DOT to restart planning for SBS on 125th Street. Photo: Benjamin Engle/Instagram

In their letters, all three note that the vast majority of area residents are car-free, that SBS would deliver significant improvements to thousands of crosstown bus riders on a notoriously slow route, and that SBS has the potential to bring more customers to businesses along 125th Street.

Shortly before DOT and the MTA pulled the plug on the SBS project last month, Community Board 11′s transportation committee voted [PDF] to reverse a supportive resolution it had passed earlier in the spring, rejecting SBS unless the M35 bus to Randalls Island — an unrelated bus line — was rerouted. Neighbors had long complained about the route’s passengers hanging out at the busy corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street.

In her letter urging DOT to restart SBS planning, Mark-Viverito backed a proposal to move this bus stop, though she did not condition her support of SBS on the stop’s relocation. “I have heard the concerns of El Barrio/East Harlem residents regarding the placement of the M35 bus stop,” she wrote. “The alternate proposal to move the stop in front of the Pathmark is one that I support.”

I asked Mark-Viverito why she had not spoken out publicly in support of SBS as the project was being attacked and scaled back earlier this year. “We had made very clear in conversations throughout the debate around the 125th Street SBS that we supported the project,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “When the DOT released a scaled back proposal for SBS, it still kept the project whole in El Barrio/East Harlem, which is the area that I represent.”

When DOT cancelled SBS, the agency said it would be implementing other bus improvements on 125th Street, but there has been no further information about what those changes might be or when they would be implemented. “We received the letters from the elected officials and will be responding,” DOT spokesperson Nicole Garcia said via e-mail. ”We still hope to work to improve bus service throughout the corridor in dialog with the community.”

This post has been corrected to note that CB 11′s transportation committee, and not the full board, voted on resolutions regarding 125th Street SBS. At no time did CB 11′s full board express an opinion on the project.

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Who Killed 125th Street SBS: A Timeline

After years of advocacy and months of meetings, 125th Street bus riders will still be stuck with bus rides that are often slower than walking. Image: DOT

Throughout the development of the 125th Street Select Bus Service project, local elected officials and community boards never came out in support of actual bus improvements. Instead, they cloaked their opposition in concerns about “process.” Following yesterday’s announcement from the MTA and NYC DOT that they will no longer pursue Select Bus Service on 125th Street, now is a good time to review that process.

Here is a timeline of events, from initial advocacy to the end of SBS on 125th Street. Which parts look broken to you?

  • Summer 2011: WE ACT for Environmental Justice launches its Transit Riders Action Committee (TRAC) in response to fare hikes. Reaching out to neighborhood riders at bus stops and subway platforms, TRAC decides to make better bus trips on 125th Street one of its priorities.
  • Spring 2012: TRAC focuses its 125th Street advocacy on bringing Select Bus Service to the corridor.
  • September 19, 2012: DOT and the MTA launch the 125th Street SBS project with a public workshop sponsored by elected officials and all three community boards to identify problems on 125th Street and solicit feedback on how SBS measures could be implemented.
  • October 11, 2012: DOT and the MTA announce that SBS routes on 125th Street and Webster Avenue in the Bronx, as well as buses in Queens, will tie into a comprehensive plan for improved access to LaGuardia Airport. (Only 10 percent of M60 riders are airport-bound.)
  • November 28, 2012: The project’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which included elected officials, business interests, transit advocates, and community boards, holds its first meeting. The project team provides updates on its parking and traffic analysis, and merchant and shopper surveys. After the meeting, WE ACT’s Jake Carlson tells Streetsblog that he is concerned about the role of community input in the planning process.

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Council Member Jackson “Pleased” With Cancellation of 125th Street SBS

Reactions have been rolling in since DOT and the MTA announced this morning that they are canceling plans for Select Bus Service on 125th Street.

Council Member Robert Jackson, whose district includes West Harlem, welcomed the news. “He’s pleased that they listened to concerns and didn’t move forward with Select Bus Service,” Jackson spokesperson Frances Escano told Streetsblog. “He hopes that they come together and move forward with a whole study to come to complete solutions.” According to the 2000 Census, 78 percent of households in Jackson’s district do not own a car [PDF].

Update: Jackson’s office contacted us after publication, seeking to clarify his position. ”DOT was only going to do Select Bus Service for the M60,” Escano said in a follow-up call. “If you’re going to do SBS, do it for all of them, don’t just do it for one.” While the M60 has a reputation as serving only LaGuardia customers, only one in ten M60 riders are going to the airport. Riders on local routes would also see faster service thanks to the bus lanes and parking management proposed in the SBS project. Scuttling the SBS project deprives all bus riders on 125th Street of faster service.

When Streetsblog asked whether Jackson believes dedicated bus lanes would benefit all 125th Street bus riders, Escano said only that the council member supports a comprehensive study. Escano would not say whether the council member supports specific improvements — such as dedicated lanes — that would improve trip times for bus riders.

At a forum last week, most candidates looking to succeed the term-limited Jackson, who is running for Manhattan borough president, said they support SBS on 125th Street. Council candidate Mark Levine e-mailed a statement to Streetsblog this afternoon calling the SBS cancellation “outrageous [and] nonsensical.”

After today’s SBS cancellation, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the local advocacy group that initially led the push for better bus service in Harlem, said it will re-evaluate its approach. After Senator Bill Perkins hosted a town hall meeting where DOT announced that it had trimmed the bus plan, WE ACT did not host a counter-event or action. “We have to have a conversation about what strategy looks like moving forward,” said Jake Carlson, WE ACT’s transportation equity coordinator.

“We knew that there had been concerns from the community about the process around this project,” he said, adding that, despite numerous community meetings, a number of residents felt that DOT and the MTA were unresponsive. “We want to work to play a better role in trying to lead those conversations,” Carlson said.

Update: Carlson e-mailed Streetsblog with a clarification: “We stand with Senator Perkins in calling for a comprehensive planning process,” he said. “We also aren’t looking to ‘lead’ the conversations and be out in front of anyone… I don’t want folks to get the impression that we’re presuming to be out in front of the community boards and elected officials.”

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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.

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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.

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Tonight: Speak Up for Better 125th St. Bus Service at Bill Perkins Town Hall

State Senator Bill Perkins is hosting an "Emergency Town Hall Meeting" tonight because DOT is proposing Select Bus Service improvements to 125th Street. Image: DOT

Spurred by transit activists demanding improvements to 125th Street buses that often crawl slower than walking speed, DOT and MTA have been moving forward with a project to improve bus service along the major crosstown corridor. But last month, State Senator Bill Perkins sent DOT a letter [PDF] in which he said Select Bus Service improvements were a “failure” and demanded that ”the agency slow down” the process of bringing better service to bus riders on 125th Street.

Tonight, Perkins is hosting an “Emergency Town Hall Meeting” about buses on 125th Street. DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione will give a presentation, followed by a rebuttal from the 125th Street Business Improvement District, Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, and members of Community Boards 9, 10, 11, and 12. In his letter to DOT, Perkins said that “issues and concerns” raised by some of these groups “are not being adequately responded to or respected.”

In the meeting flyer [PDF], Perkins says there are “major changes coming soon to 125th Street” and encourages people to “come and share your concerns, opinions, ideas and alternative proposals before it’s too late.” In his April letter to DOT, Perkins did not put forth any suggestions for changes that would provide improvements for bus riders.

The meeting is from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at United House of Prayer for All People, 2320 Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Perkins’s office is asking attendees to RSVP by calling his office at (212) 222-7315.