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.”