To Speed Up Buses on 125th Street, Double-Parking Problem Must Be Solved

Every day, 32,000 bus riders traverse Manhattan on 125th Street, crossing Harlem at a glacial pace. Improvements are on the way as part of the next round of Select Bus Service improvements, with DOT and the MTA recently holding a second public workshop (PDF) for the project, though the precise changes that bus riders can expect remain to be determined.

A bus is stuck in traffic on 125th Street at Madison Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The M60 is the busiest of the street’s four major lines, carrying 9,600 passengers per day, with most of them making local trips (only one in ten M60 riders take the bus to LaGuardia Airport). As it moves down 125th Street, the M60 spends 60 percent of its time stopped in traffic and moves at an average of 2.7 miles per hour, according to a DNAinfo report on this Monday’s workshop. That’s not any faster than the typical walking speed, and far below the citywide average bus speed of 7.7 mph.

What’s causing these delays? A big part of the answer will come as no surprise to anyone who takes the bus in Harlem: Illegal parking. Bus drivers must constantly weave around illegally parked cars and jockey with traffic, slowing their trips to a crawl.

DOT set up a camera on every block of 125th Street between Second and Amsterdam Avenues, taking a photo every 60 seconds from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The camera between Fifth and Madison Avenues captured double-parked drivers 41 percent of the day, according to DNAinfo.

At the first public workshop, DOT and MTA announced that 125th Street is in line to receive a slate of improvements similar to those seen on other Select Bus Service corridors, including dedicated bus lanes, off-board fare collection, low-floor buses, priority for buses at stop lights and reducing the number of stops served by SBS buses. Scheduled for completion by 2014, the changes are projected to speed rides from Morningside Heights to LaGuardia by at least 12 percent, with the biggest gains coming between Lexington Avenue and the airport, where trips will be up to 18 percent faster.

The rampant illegal parking also highlights the need to price the curb and enforce the rules so double-parked vehicles don’t block the bus lane.

The status quo of underpriced curbside parking clearly isn’t benefitting anyone. Whether merchants will appreciate that remains to be seen, but their customers will benefit from higher parking turnover and the resulting reductions in double-parking and traffic cruising for spots. As part of its research, DOT staff surveyed 200 businesses between Second and Amsterdam Avenues, finding that 59 percent of customers walk and 20 percent take the bus.

The 125th Street project has been spurred on by transit activists who saw Select Bus Service improvements on First and Second Avenues and wanted to bring them to Harlem’s poky crosstown buses.

“We’re very supportive of the project overall,” said Jake Carlson of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which is a member of the project’s newly-formed Community Advisory Committee. Carlson raised concerns about where the MTA and DOT go from here and how community input will factor into the agencies’ decision-making process. “All we know is that there will be another meeting sometime in the spring,” he said.

  • Mark Walker

    Does the city not own any towtrucks?

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus Yes, the city has tow trucks but a lot of them won’t touch double-parked vehicles without police presence since they regularly get assaulted. I vaguely remember the city tow truck drivers petitioning some years ago to carry firearms for that reason.

    Dedicated bus lanes physically walled off with something like a jersey barrier would solve this problem once and for all.

  • JK

    It’s really hard to see how SBS achieves any gains on 125th without a radical parking makeover. There should be no parking on 125th except for commercial deliveries at certain times and places. Adjacent side streets should be metered, as was done on Fordham Road. Unfortunately, these reforms are exceedingly unlikely to happen because the elected officials, permanent government types and community board leadership are among the tiny portion of people in these neighborhoods who drive everywhere. The bus advocates at WE ACT are going to have to push their electeds very hard on parking reform if they want noticeably faster bus service. Yelling at DOT won’t cut it. The DOT and City are not going to take on the entitled class in Harlem, it’s up to the people to do that.

  • Albert

    Commercial vehicle, which are the only motor vehicles that are actually contributing something to the city’s economy, are always demonized for their double parking—unfairly—when they’re usually only doing it because all the curbside space is taken over by long-term squatters.  If there were curbside space available, they’d be using it.

    “The rampant illegal parking also highlights the need to price the curb
    and enforce the rules so double-parked vehicles don’t block the bus
    lane,” is really a big understatement.

  • Daphna

    There is not just rampant double parking on 125th Street, their is even triple parking sometimes.  At almost all times, one travel lane in either direction is unusable due to double parked cars.  But to solve the double parking problem, the DOT or other city officials need to solve the problem of curb usage here and throughout the city.  Many streets that have stores and restaurants are not metered and should be.  Many more loading and unloading zones for commercial vehicles need to be created and enforced. Parking placard use and abuse has to be lessened.  Tickets should be given for illegally parked vehicles even if those belong to police, fire fighters, parks employees, teachers, etc. – there should not a special class of government employed workers who do not have to pay for their parking.

    Harlem needs many more streets metered.  Even with meter rates being too low in this area (only $1 per hour), at least metering all the streets that should metered be would be a giant step in the right direction.

  • jrab

    The status quo of underpriced curbside parking clearly isn’t benefitting anyone.

    Au contraire! The benefits accrue to the street vendors, who use the curbside spaces to store their excess merchandise. These are the same street vendors who have managed to intimidate local and city officials into turning a blind eye to their takeover of sidewalk space.

  • Anonymous

    I’d leave the vans of the street venders at curbside. They are “very small” businesses and a Harlem custom. Maybe keep them out until, say, 11 a.m. for loading hours for the stores, and raise the rates. 

    But it is not the vans that are double parking, those are cars and SUVs. Yes, the adjacent side streets should be metered. Then bring in the police to tow the damn double-parked cars. 

    The police need something better to do than making racist “stop and frisk” busts of young black and brown guys who happen to like to carry a joint in their pockets.

  • Nobody

    Might one possible solution be to extend the second avenue subway (when it comes online) westward on 125th street?

  • Ahmadfrw

    I would turn 3 routes along 125th Street into SBS routes. The routes are the M60 (which is obvious), the Bx15 (which is to replace the Bx55 LTD in the Bronx along with extension to Williamsbridge), and the M101 (which is to speed up the route from end to end). The only local route is the M100 as there must be some coverage along the corridor (the Bx15 and M101 to add some Local service to their routes due to frequent service and Hours of Operation of SBS).

    The M60 should operate SBS at All Times (on all trips) as there will be no need for the M60 Local (customers can transfer to the Q19 at Astoria Blvd and to the M100 at 2nd Avenue/125th Street or at Amsterdam Avenue/125th Street).

  • Nathanael

    (1) Loading zones.
    (2) Handicapped spaces.
    (3) Taxi / pick-up & drop-off zones
    (4) Short-term (10 minutes or less!) parking
    (5) Expensive meters if there’s any spaces left