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.

  • Hank Green

    Is it just me, or do others feel cops ticketing double parked cars (instead of acting like them) would clear this up practically overnight?

  • Anonymous

    The man may have excellent taste in ties but he doesn’t know jack about riding the bus.

  • Jeff

    He wants to see “alternative plans and proposals”? Considering that this plan is as watered-down and car-friendly as it gets, I don’t think he’d like any “alternative plans and proposals”. How about median-running LRT or bus lanes? Closing the street to private auto traffic completely and creating a transit boulevard similar to Fulton St in Brooklyn? Those are some “alternate plans and proposals” I could get around. I mean, honestly, what does he imagine these alternatives would be? Free gasoline and back massages for all motorists on 125th St?

  • Jeff

    He wants to see “alternative plans and proposals”? Considering that this plan is as watered-down and car-friendly as it gets, I don’t think he’d like any “alternative plans and proposals”. How about median-running LRT or bus lanes? Closing the street to private auto traffic completely and creating a transit boulevard similar to Fulton St in Brooklyn? Those are some “alternate plans and proposals” I could get around. I mean, honestly, what does he imagine these alternatives would be? Free gasoline and back massages for all motorists on 125th St?

  • Anonymous

    I rode the 125th Street bus a couple of month ago and it was painfulllllly slow, even without double parked cars.

  • Albert

    Perkins and other slowpokes are just angling for a “Dedicated Senator Lane.”

  • guest

    This is a point to be made here, in that the “customer satisfaction” metrics cited only refers to bus riders themselves – not “all users of the street” as Streetsblog so frequently champions. It ain’t reverse-racism, but, uh, drivers are street users too.

  • Anonymous

    Sen. Perkins’ district office is in the Harlem State Office Building (163 West 125th Street). A sidewalk picket line of just a half-dozen neighborhood activists and residents might help the senator see things differently. It certainly could be a peg for stories in the tabs calling out his obstructionism.

  • Andrew
  • Mark Walker

    Has anyone challenged Perkins in the Democratic primary over the last few years? If so, what are their names? What are their positions on livable streets issues? What do they have to say about this issue? That might make a good followup to this story. Perkins’ reactions to their reactions might be a further followup. At that point, maybe the mainstream media would take an interest in the developing story.

  • Jeff

    Please take note of the following list of streets in Manhattan which are configured to enhance the “customer satisfaction” of drivers at the expense of other users of the street:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_streets_in_Manhattan

  • Ben Kintisch

    God forbid transit, biking or pedestrian safety should come to Harlem!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Has anyone challenged Perkins in the Democratic primary over the last few years?”

    Again, talk of challenging the prior generation of politicians — under the rules they created to keep those outside the deal out. We had an “election” for state legislature last year. How many incumbents who were not under indictment faced actual competition in one party districts?

    And don’t blame it all on gerrymandering; that would help in a few districts at most.

    And if someone did challenge some of these careerists, how much coverage did the point of view of the challenger get in the local press? And how many of the challengers, if any, were under indictment too?

    Why do they do it? Because they can. They are more likely to end up swinging from lampposts when the thing finally blows than getting thrown out in an election.

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Eyes on the Street: Select Bus Lanes Appear on 125th Street

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Following the installation of off-board fare payment machines last month, Select Bus Service lanes are going in on 125th Street. Joseph Cutrufo of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign posted this pic on Twitter yesterday. SBS lanes were originally intended to be installed between Morningside and Second Avenues, but DOT chopped off the bus lanes west of Lenox […]