Reactions have been rolling in since DOT and the MTA announced this morning that they are canceling plans for Select Bus Service on 125th Street.
Council Member Robert Jackson, whose district includes West Harlem, welcomed the news. “He’s pleased that they listened to concerns and didn’t move forward with Select Bus Service,” Jackson spokesperson Frances Escano told Streetsblog. “He hopes that they come together and move forward with a whole study to come to complete solutions.” According to the 2000 Census, 78 percent of households in Jackson’s district do not own a car [PDF].
Update: Jackson’s office contacted us after publication, seeking to clarify his position. “DOT was only going to do Select Bus Service for the M60,” Escano said in a follow-up call. “If you’re going to do SBS, do it for all of them, don’t just do it for one.” While the M60 has a reputation as serving only LaGuardia customers, only one in ten M60 riders are going to the airport. Riders on local routes would also see faster service thanks to the bus lanes and parking management proposed in the SBS project. Scuttling the SBS project deprives all bus riders on 125th Street of faster service.
When Streetsblog asked whether Jackson believes dedicated bus lanes would benefit all 125th Street bus riders, Escano said only that the council member supports a comprehensive study. Escano would not say whether the council member supports specific improvements — such as dedicated lanes — that would improve trip times for bus riders.
At a forum last week, most candidates looking to succeed the term-limited Jackson, who is running for Manhattan borough president, said they support SBS on 125th Street. Council candidate Mark Levine e-mailed a statement to Streetsblog this afternoon calling the SBS cancellation “outrageous [and] nonsensical.”
After today’s SBS cancellation, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the local advocacy group that initially led the push for better bus service in Harlem, said it will re-evaluate its approach. After Senator Bill Perkins hosted a town hall meeting where DOT announced that it had trimmed the bus plan, WE ACT did not host a counter-event or action. “We have to have a conversation about what strategy looks like moving forward,” said Jake Carlson, WE ACT’s transportation equity coordinator.
“We knew that there had been concerns from the community about the process around this project,” he said, adding that, despite numerous community meetings, a number of residents felt that DOT and the MTA were unresponsive. “We want to work to play a better role in trying to lead those conversations,” Carlson said.
Update: Carlson e-mailed Streetsblog with a clarification: “We stand with Senator Perkins in calling for a comprehensive planning process,” he said. “We also aren’t looking to ‘lead’ the conversations and be out in front of anyone… I don’t want folks to get the impression that we’re presuming to be out in front of the community boards and elected officials.”
DOT defended the SBS planning process and kept the door open for other bus improvements. “We held a thorough public process including 50 meetings with the community advisory committee, community boards, elected officials and other stakeholders,” DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said in an e-mailed statement. “We still hope to work to address these issues and improve bus service throughout the corridor in dialog with the community.”
Update: “After more than 50 meetings over the last year producing dramatic revisions to the project but no support from local community boards and elected officials,” Solomonow said in a follow-up statement, “It simply was not possible to proceed at this time.”
Despite the setback, advocates say improving 125th Street bus service is too important for the issue to go away. “At this point, it’s really up to the immediate communities to say what they want,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog. “The conversation needs to continue, and I think it will, because there are so many bus riders in that community.”
In a statement, MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said that improvements for bus riders would still be considered. “We do hope to have a continued dialogue with community stakeholders about ways that we can continue to improve bus speed and service… In the short term, we plan to work with the Community Boards to explore whether any parking or traffic improvements discussed during the SBS outreach process can improve 125th Street for all users.”
Update: In a statement, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who represents the area west of Amsterdam Avenue, said that SBS would have “vastly improved public transit for uptown residents that rely on this bus line every day. It is disappointing that this balanced and sensible proposal has been canceled.”
Streetsblog is awaiting responses from City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Inez Dickens, as well as State Senator Bill Perkins and Assembly members Robert J. Rodriguez and Keith L.T. Wright, who all represent areas along 125th Street. We also have an inquiry in with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which earlier this year said it will continue to contribute to Perkins’ re-election campaign, despite his opposition to SBS on 125th Street. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.