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Bus Lanes Worked Wonders on East 125th. Now What About the West Side?

1:09 PM EST on January 12, 2015

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, bus trips are now a third faster than before. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]
On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, transit speeds increased by a third. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]
On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, bus trips are now a third faster than before. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Since debuting last year, Select Bus Service on 125th Street has dramatically improved transit speeds, especially on the section with dedicated bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue, according to NYC DOT and the MTA. The results strengthen the case for adding bus lanes west of Lenox, which DOT had scuttled in 2013 in response to resistance from local electeds. With more favorable politics prevailing today, the agency could revive bus lanes for West Harlem and greatly extend the impact of 125th Street SBS.

The improvement in bus service thanks to camera-enforced transit lanes, off-board fare collection, and other SBS features is impressive [PDF]. From end to end, the M60 bus from 110th Street to LaGuardia Airport now travels 11 to 14 percent faster than it did before. On 125th Street between Second and Lenox Avenues, the only part of 125th to receive dedicated bus lanes, the M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster, an improvement that MTA bus planner Evan Bialostozky called "shocking, to even me."

The M60 isn't the only route to benefit from the new bus lanes: Local bus trips on the M100 and Bx15 are 7 to 20 percent faster between Second and Lenox.

“That’s helping a lot of people," Bialostozky told the Community Board 9 transportation committee last Thursday. Crosstown buses on 125th Street serve more than more than 32,000 riders every day. Before the dedicated transit lanes debuted last year, these routes had been among the city's slowest buses, crawling through traffic and around double-parked cars.

Even as the bus lanes have sped up trips for transit riders, they haven't had much impact on general traffic speeds. According to DOT, eastbound taxi trips on 125th between Second and Lenox Avenues are generally faster, while westbound trips have either slowed slightly or not seen any change.

In addition to the trip time data, DOT will soon perform a survey of retailers along 125th Street and other Select Bus Service routes. Previous surveys have shown that streets with SBS improvements see an increase in retail sales above and beyond borough-wide averages.

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents West Harlem, has made completing the bus lanes a priority since winning office in 2013. “Now we have data, so at this point the benefits are just beyond dispute," he said.

Levine added that 125th Street bus lanes have the backing of the Working Families Party and the Transport Workers Union Local 100. "We have more interest than ever in the political world," he said. “We have a really good shot of winning this debate and achieving fairness on 125th Street.”

DOT has yet to come out with a plan to extend the bus lanes to West Harlem after the idea was torpedoed by elected officials and community boards in 2013. Tomorrow evening, the agency is scheduled to present data on the improvements to the Manhattan Community Board 10 transportation committee. Will board members support completing the bus lanes after seeing the stats?

Community Board 9 members want the bus lanes extended to West Harlem, but see resistance from their neighbors in central Harlem. "CB 10 is still not on board," said CB 9 chair Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas.

“I don’t think CB 10 should dictate what we need in CB 9," said CB 9 member Walter South. "And we need dedicated lanes in CB 9."

Maria Garcia, who chairs the CB 10 transportation committee, attended Thursday's CB 9 meeting in preparation for her own committee meeting tomorrow. "I would like everyone here to attend that meeting," she told the audience. It is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the fourth floor of 215 West 125th Street.

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