Who Killed 125th Street SBS: A Timeline

After years of advocacy and months of meetings, 125th Street bus riders will still be stuck with bus rides that are often slower than walking. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2013-03-18-sbs-125-cac3-slides.pdf##DOT##

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 a good time to review that process.

Here is a timeline of events, from initial advocacy to the end of SBS on 125th Street. Which parts look broken to you?

  • Summer 2011: WE ACT for Environmental Justice launches its Transit Riders Action Committee (TRAC) in response to fare hikes. Reaching out to neighborhood riders at bus stops and subway platforms, TRAC decides to make better bus trips on 125th Street one of its priorities.
  • Spring 2012: TRAC focuses its 125th Street advocacy on bringing Select Bus Service to the corridor.
  • September 19, 2012: DOT and the MTA launch the 125th Street SBS project with a public workshop sponsored by elected officials and all three community boards to identify problems on 125th Street and solicit feedback on how SBS measures could be implemented.
  • October 11, 2012: DOT and the MTA announce that SBS routes on 125th Street and Webster Avenue in the Bronx, as well as buses in Queens, will tie into a comprehensive plan for improved access to LaGuardia Airport. (Only 10 percent of M60 riders are airport-bound.)
  • November 28, 2012: The project’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which included elected officials, business interests, transit advocates, and community boards, holds its first meeting. The project team provides updates on its parking and traffic analysis, and merchant and shopper surveys. After the meeting, WE ACT’s Jake Carlson tells Streetsblog that he is concerned about the role of community input in the planning process.

  • December 3, 2012: The second public workshop is held.
  • January 17, 2013: The project team hosts a walking tour of 125th Street with more than 50 people to gather feedback.
  • January 23, 2013: The CAC meets for a second time. The project team provides the results of its parking, traffic, shopper, and merchant surveys, and unveils its proposed locations for bus stops, dedicated lanes, and turn restrictions.
  • February 1, 2013: The project team hosts a tour of SBS on First and Second Avenues, which received upgrades in East Harlem in Fall 2012.
  • March 18, 2013: The CAC meets for its third and final time. The project team proposes locations for curb extensions and bus bulbs, and solicits feedback on parking regulations.
  • March 2013: The project team presents the plan to Community Boards 9, 10, and 11. CB 11 is the only board to pass a resolution in support.
  • March 20, 2013: Council Member Bill Perkins sends a letter to DOT claiming that the agency isn’t listening to public input, but he does not cite examples of what is being ignored. Perkins claims that feedback from other SBS lines in the city “indicated dissatisfaction and even failure.” He asks the agency to “slow down” and present “alternative plans and proposals,” but does not come out in favor of any bus improvements himself.
  • April 9, 2013: A third public workshop is held.
  • May 23, 2013: Perkins hosts an “emergency town hall” meeting, where DOT and the MTA announce a scaled-back plan that cuts the length of the bus lane in half and eliminates some turn restrictions. “We are definitely pleased,” Perkins’ deputy chief of staff tells Streetsblog. WE ACT says it was happy Perkins “took leadership” to host a forum, but was disappointed that the proposal shrunk.
  • June 27, 2013: The MTA and DOT host a fourth public workshop, this time on the shortened plan.
  • June 2013: The project team presents the modified plan to Community Boards 9, 10, and 11. CB 11 passes a resolution withholding support for the plan unless the MTA makes changes to the M35 bus to Randalls Island. The M35 does not run on 125th Street, but the community board has long sought to re-route it.
  • July 9, 2013: CB 11 member Brodie Enoch, who voted against the anti-SBS resolution, tells Streetsblog he is afraid the MTA and DOT will scrap the SBS plan.
  • July 16, 2013: Without community board support, and facing opposition from key elected officials, MTA and DOT cancel SBS plans for 125th, but leave the door open for some improvements. City Council Member Robert Jackson says he is “pleased” with the decision and called for a comprehensive study of 125th Street, but would not come out in support of specific bus improvements. Perkins claims he actually supports SBS improvements. “We stand with Senator Perkins in calling for a comprehensive planning process,” WE ACT’s Jake Carlson said.
  • Daphna

    A fourth public workshop was held June 27, 2013. Also, there were many many other meetings that took place that are not on this time line. The DOT and the MTA presented to the Transportation Committees of CB9, CB10, and CB11 twice (so that is six meetings) and attended many other of their Transportation Committee meetings to answer questions. Also, there was a Community Advisory Committee formed that met about four times. All community groups were invited to join this committee.

  • Mark Walker

    I wish the local newscasts would pick up this story. It’s worth telling — how the residents of Harlem lost an improved transit option due to sabotage by their own elected officials.

  • Puzzled

    So WE ACT organizes enough people to push DOT/MTA to come up with an SBS plan, but is nowhere to be found when the agencies need them to rally continued support? Can Carlson elaborate on what was supposedly missing from the planning process and community input?

  • Tralfaz Magillicuty

    Future Timeline: Sept 2013, Bill Perkins is irate that other boroughs are getting SBS.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The unaccountable MTA denied the people of Harlem faster bus service!

    Any event, WE ACT should move forward with its planning process over the next decade as the MTA and DOT avoid wasting their their time there.

  • Isaac B

    Having enjoyed Manhattan SBS since Day 1, I feel frustrated watching dozens of people lined up to pay their fares on the “regular” buses. All major bus lines should be BRT. By the way, “Select” sucks for branding. It fails to sell the benefits of the service, the way LA’s “Metro Rapid” does.

    I’m beginning to believe that the various moves against transit/ped improvements, be it SBS or traffic calming are not about the benefits or impacts of the projects, or about “process”. That they are part of a “larger” coalition to frustrate Transport Commissioner Sadik-Khan, the mayor or the transit/bike/ped advocates just to deny them momentum.

  • Guest

    A suggestion to help sweeten the proposition for SBS on crosstown lines (which are a natural fit) to both users and merchants: offer SBS as a 3-hour bi-directional hop-on-hop-off service.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I lived up in Harlem for a couple of years, first on 122nd street and then at 136th street. I was frustrated with the slow bus service along the 125th street corridor and the general dysfunction of that street. More frustrating, though, was seeing various proposals to improve transit and bike infrastructure get delayed or killed by the local community boards. If you don’t have a car, the logic goes, you just don’t count.

  • Daphna

    Streetsblog readers and anyone who cares about street improvements, needs to apply to be on their community boards. Or apply to be a public member of the Transportation Committee of your local community board. Make friends with your boro president and city councilmember for your district since those are the two people that appoint people to community boards. The Transportation Committees of CB9 and CB10 could be totally transformed with just a few different people on those committees.

  • Bolwerk

    My board is full of stodgy old (possibly for real) fascists spending their last years on Earth making life crappy for succeeding generations. Naturally, they can’t hide their contempt for me or anyone else who lives car free (or thinks minorities should be allowed outside without a police escort).

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for catching that, @disqus_erYUyDEUHh:disqus . I’ve updated the post.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’ll be gone eventually.

    In the meantime, consider what it means to have appointed community boards to “represent the community” and public hearings for “citizen participation.”

    Meanwhile, there is another form of representation and citizen participation that is ignored — elections for the House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly. More attention is paid to the CIty Council, and there are elections, but only because of term limits/open seats.

    If Bill Perkins is still in office after the next election, that means most people who bother to run and show up are against improving bus service. Isn’t that democracy?

  • martian

    Yeah, I was there (had to leave early). I truly underestimated the power of the old guard in these Transportation Committees of the Community Boards. I have applied to become a public member at the CB9 Transportation Committee. You are required to have attended 4 out of the last 6 meetings in order to be considered. I high bar, which may be why so many of the people who run these committees are older/retired folks. The rest of us have a difficult time making the community board meeting a priority over time with our family or recovering from the work day. Still, if it means making better choices, I’m hoping I will be able to help tilt the vote in favor of a better life and functional community for my son and his kids.

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