125th Street Buses Are Slow, But Fixes Are Moving Too Fast for Bill Perkins

State Sen. Bill Perkins wants to slow down a plan to bring dedicated bus lanes to 125th Street. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2013-03-18-sbs-125-cac3-slides.pdf##DOT##

For years, crosstown bus riders on 125th Street — more than 32,000 per day — have had to put up with a ride that’s slower than walking. After months of planning, fixes are in sight, but State Senator Bill Perkins is objecting to the city’s effort to bring faster bus service to Harlem.

During rush hour, buses on 125th Street crawl at barely more than a third of the already-slow 7.7 mph average pace of other New York City buses. Six out of every ten minutes a bus spends on 125th Street, it’s standing still. A major culprit: double-parking drivers. On the busiest blocks, double-parked cars block at least one traffic lane more than 40 percent of the day, according to a DOT study.

More than three quarters of the households in Bill Perkins's State Senate district don't own cars. Photo: ##http://www.nysenate.gov/senator/bill-perkins##NY Senate##

Last fall, after Upper Manhattan transit advocates demanded improvements, DOT began planning better bus service for riders along the corridor. The agency has surveyed merchants, held three Community Advisory Committee meetings, three public workshops, presented before three community boards, and according to DOT spokesperson Nicole Garcia, attended more than 30 private meetings as the plan moved forward.

But that isn’t enough for Perkins, who wrote a letter to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan asking her to delay the plan because of what he calls a lack of consensus [PDF]. “We believe that your proposal is being forced and implemented without our opinions, suggestions and comments taken seriously,” he wrote.

Perkins goes on to claim that the speed increasesridership gains, sales receipts, and high customer satisfaction reported on other SBS lines aren’t indicative of success. “The feedback that we have received,” he wrote, “indicated dissatisfaction and even failure.”

Perkins, who was the lone committee vote against closing a loophole in the state’s careless driving law last month, doesn’t say what types of bus improvements he and his constituents would like to see implemented. His only demands are that “the agency slow down” and present “alternative plans and proposals.”

In the meantime, outreach for the project continues. On Tuesday, DOT and MTA held a public workshop to gather feedback on the proposal [PDF].

DOT is proposing off-board fare collection to speed bus boarding, transit signal priority to hold green lights for buses, and converting the M60 to a Select Bus Service route serving six stops along 125th Street. A one-mile stretch of 125th Street between Morningside and Third Avenues would be remade with camera-enforced, offset bus lanes, located between the parking lane and the general travel lane, much like the set-up that has significantly improved bus speeds on First and Second Avenues.

Along with the reduction of general travel lanes in each direction from two to one, DOT will introduce left-turn restrictions at most intersections between Morningside and Third Avenues. Left turns would still be permitted at Madison Avenue, to allow access to the bridge across the Harlem River.

DOT also proposed adding parking meters on 125th Street west of Morningside Avenue and east of Fifth Avenue. Between St. Nicholas Avenue and Lenox Avenue, the agency is also considering extending meter hours until 10 p.m. Putting a price on the curb speeds buses because it cuts down on double-parking and cruising for open parking spots.

Sarah Martin, president of the General Grant Houses Residents Association, protested that adding parking meters would put an undue burden on residents of the public housing complex, which is bounded by 123rd Street, 125th Street, Morningside Avenue, and Broadway. “What are they trying to do, tax the people into the poorhouse?” she told DNAinfo. “We do not need more metered parking over here because this is a residential area. It will be devastating to the residents.”

More than three-quarters of all households in the two census tracts that include Grant Houses do not own private vehicles, according to 2011 5-year estimates from the Census. In addition, there are already 156 off-street reserved, discounted spaces located at Grant Houses, according to a 2005 Department of City Planning study.

Even still, it looks like DOT may be rethinking its proposed parking policy on the western end of 125th Street. “There is some double-parking there,” said Jake Carlson of Upper Manhattan environmental justice organization WE ACT, “but that’s not where the congestion is.” Based on feedback at Tuesday’s meeting, DOT said it would reconsider the addition of parking meters west of Amsterdam Avenue, Carlson said.

The next steps for the plan are to reach out to merchants this month, followed by the fourth Community Advisory Committee meeting in late spring. According to DNAinfo, the improvements could be implemented by the end of 2013.