Harlem CB Chair Complains Bus Lanes Have Slowed Her Cab Rides to Subway

Manhattan Community Board 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle thinks bus lanes have made it harder to get around Harlem. In a conversation with Streetsblog, Lyle disputed our coverage of Select Bus Service on 125th Street and waved off data from the Census and NYC DOT. She also dismissed WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which had worked with bus riders to advocate for Select Bus Service, as “not talking to the community.”

Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller
Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller

“You made some comment about people in Uptown, we don’t drive, we don’t have cars. We do drive. I have a car. Come on,” Lyle told Streetsblog after Borough President Gale Brewer’s State of the Borough address on Sunday.

“I don’t know where your facts come from,” Lyle said. “I’m concerned.” The facts Streetsblog cites about neighborhood car ownership and travel habits come from the U.S. Census, whose surveys show that more than three-quarters of Harlem households are car-free.

Lyle said bus lanes have caused problems on her trips to the Lexington Avenue subway. “I do take cabs down 125th Street, and it now costs me two dollars more, and I have not made it yet to the station, and I have to get out and walk,” she said. Meanwhile, “that bus lane is empty.”

Instead of two lanes in each direction, with one often blocked by double-parked cars, most of 125th Street east of Lenox Avenue now has one general lane and one camera-enforced bus lane. DOT says eastbound taxi trips on 125th Street are now slightly faster than they were before the bus lane was installed, and either slightly slower or unchanged in the westbound direction [PDF]. Meanwhile, more than 32,000 people ride buses each day on 125th Street.

Lyle said she was not pleased when a DOT representative cited years of advocacy from Harlem residents looking for better bus service on 125th Street. “He said they had been working with our community for two years, and I asked them who,” she said. “It turns out he was working with WE ACT. That’s not talking to the community.”

Lyle is currently embroiled in a controversy over the validity of her election to the chairmanship last year. Appointed to CB 10 by the borough president at the recommendation of Council Member Inez Dickens, Lyle is up for reappointment by Brewer this year. Brewer’s decision is due by April 1.

Lyle is not alone in her windshield perspective at CB 10. Last week, the panel bucked two neighboring community boards and voted against a years-long effort to improve safety at one of Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections.

The intersection of 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, and St. Nicholas Place is more dangerous than 99 percent of Manhattan intersections, according to DOT, with 72 traffic injuries, eight of them severe, at this single location between 2008 and 2012.

The intersection also sits on the border of three community boards. Since 2013, DOT has worked with all three boards and the public on a plan to improve safety by shortening crossing distances, banning left turns and adding pedestrian islands. The proposal cleared Community Boards 9 and 12 last year. After unanimously passing the CB 10 transportation committee last month, the proposal got stalled at the full board last Wednesday.

The vote, which followed a presentation and Q-and-A session with DOT staff, was 14 in favor and 12 against, with four abstentions. Because the resolution did not garner a clear majority of support, it did not pass. Transportation committee member Barbara Nelson led the charge against the safety plan, according to another board member in attendance. At the meeting, Nelson said a left turn restriction from 155th Street to St. Nicholas Place could lead to an increase in southbound traffic on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

“We want to hear from the people on our board who said ‘No,'” said Lyle, who voted in favor of the plan. “We want to bring DOT back to say, this is how people feel; can you make these changes?”

DOT had previously told the boards that the turn restriction is necessary to create space for a pedestrian island at St. Nicholas Place, and already asked for revised resolutions from the CB 10 committee and CB 12 [PDF] that include support for the pedestrian island and turn ban.

Update: DOT says it is discussing the results of last week’s meeting with CB 10 leadership.

The CB 10 transportation committee is scheduled to meet tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Harlem State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street.