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: ##http://www.nysenate.gov/senator/bill-perkins##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.

The M60 has a reputation among some Harlem residents as serving only LaGuardia Airport customers. “We don’t need the M60 bus to the airport,” town hall attendee Renee Harrison told DNAinfo. In reality, most M60 riders are using it for trips within Harlem: Only one in ten M60 riders are going to LaGuardia, and some of those trips are Harlem residents going to jobs at the airport.

The M60 is the busiest bus on the corridor, carrying 9,600 passengers per day, but the other routes on 125th Street — the Bx15, M100, and M101 — serve 22,400 riders and would have also benefitted from dedicated bus lanes and faster speeds.

WE ACT, an environmental justice organization that lobbied DOT and MTA to bring bus improvements to 125th Street, expressed disappointment at the shrunken plan. “You’re setting it up to fail because you’re implementing it halfway,” said Jake Carlson, WE ACT’s transportation equity coordinator. “So many people in Harlem use the M60.”

At the same time, Carlson was pleased that Perkins hosted the town hall meeting where cuts to the plan were unveiled. “We were really glad that there was a town hall meeting,” he said. “We’re really glad that the senator took leadership to have that kind of a forum. It’s really unfortunate that it went the way that it did.”

When asked if WE ACT would try to claw back the bus improvements that were scuttled — by hosting a town hall or starting a petition, for instance — Carlson said the organization would hold its regular monthly meeting on transit issues next Saturday.

Perkins’ office, meanwhile, will be sending more feedback to DOT. “We have a lot of work to do to complete what we started,” Wood-Guy said. “We wanted them to broaden their outreach.” She added that the senator’s office is circulating an online survey about 125th Street to solicit feedback. Streetsblog has asked Wood-Guy for a link to the survey, but has not received a response.

Streetsblog reached out to Council Members Inez Dickens and Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose districts include 125th Street, as well as the Harlem Community Development Corporation (a state body under the aegis of the Empire State Development Corporation), Abyssinian Development Corporation, and Harlem Children’s Zone. HCZ declined comment; we have not received replies from the others.

DOT also did not respond to a request for comment. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

Update: “We value the feedback we received at the meeting and look forward to responding and working further with the community on the design of this important effort,” DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said via e-mail.

  • Eric McClure

    Sad. I’ve always felt like Bill Perkins was one of the more progressive legislators in Albany, but this is a huge disservice to his constituents.

  • Daphna

    The M60 carries 9,600 passengers per day in one direction and another approximately 10,0000 per day the other direction. Total ridership is 20,000 per day on the M60.

    This process was thorough. The DOT/MTA/NYC Transit presented the plan to the Transportation Committee of all three community boards involved, CB9, CB10 and CB11. Four meetings for the public were held. Three Community Advisory Committee meetings were held (to which Perkins was invited to and notified of all as were all other community boards, BIDs, local organizations and elected officials). There was a huge amount of outreach. The DOT and MTA revised their plan based on the community input after each meeting. They were very responsive.

    NY State Senator Bill Perkins is supposed to represent his constituents. Instead he is turning away investment that the DOT and MTA wanted to make on 125th Street. Bill Perkins is turning away a street improvement that other communities are clamoring for. Bill Perkins is turning away funds the city was willing to spend to improve Harlem’s main thoroughfare. Bill Perkins should be fighting for those improvements and for that funding to be spent in his district, not pushing it away. Bill Perkins wants 125th Street to stay mired in its current dysfunction. Bill Perkins doesn’t want crosstown bus riders to have their lives made a little easier and less stressful with a faster ride (not to mention all the motorists and pedestrians whose travel on 125th Street also would also have become less delayed and safer.)

    It is too bad that Albany has no term limits and that the system is set up to favor the incumbent and makes a challenge to his seat nearly impossible.

  • Anonymous

    It seems as if Sen. Perkins is just against change in general. Some may remember from the last few years that he is also heavily against the charter school movement (despite going to Collegiate), which is probably why Harlem Children’s Zone decided not to comment for this article.

    If the situation with the schools in his district as well as with traffic were passable, his stance might be forgiven. Since it has been clearly established that neither are, his aversion to change is blocking needed progress. For somewhat who has not been in office too long, he is certainly acting anachronistically.

  • JK

    So much for the imperial DOT. Perkins is a state senator, he has no formal power over DOT or MTA in this matter. The agencies, and perhaps the mayor’s office, made a decision that SBS on 125th wasnt worth the fight. It’s a bit grim for the future of SBS, how many councilmembers and state legislators have districts with 125th Street in it? Do they all get a veto? And the community boards? Will it work this way in Queens and Brooklyn?

  • JK

    So much for the imperial DOT. Perkins is a state senator, he has no formal power over DOT or MTA in this matter. The agencies, and perhaps the mayor’s office, made a decision that SBS on 125th wasnt worth the fight. It’s a bit grim for the future of SBS, how many councilmembers and state legislators have districts with 125th Street in it? Do they all get a veto? And the community boards? Will it work this way in Queens and Brooklyn?

  • Will this have an impact on any Churches with double parking issues? If yes that explains why it’s being blocked. (?)

  • Anonymous

    SBS is a “failure”? I don’t know ANYONE who has taken an SBS bus who would describe it this way.

    And I’m confused about the M60 being only for LGA. I’ve taken it from Bway & 106th to the Lex Line. Was that illegal?

  • cc

    They need to just do what is best 4 the city and 4 transit riders and stop listening to community boards. Besides, most Harlem households dont even own a car

  • Ben Kintisch

    Thousands of Harlem residents are stuck with dysfunctional and dangerous streets because of elected officials like Bill Perkins who stand up for drivers and forget everyone else. How sad.

  • Bronxite

    Although I feel SBS could he enhanced quite a bit, I welcome the improvements. Of course, we are never going to see truly efficient bus service until we dump people in political positions without a clue.

  • Bronxite

    Pretty disappointing. I bet the metered parking killed it…

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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 […]