New Year, Same Old Community Board 10

Despite its successes, Select Bus Service on 125th Street still faces an uphill battle at Community Board 10.

Despite serving an area of the city where the vast majority of people don’t own cars, Manhattan Community Board 10 has delayed, watered down, or otherwise worked to foil several major projects to improve transit and street safety in the past few years. After obstructing 125th Street Select Bus Service and refusing to support traffic calming proposals for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, last year CB 10 finally voted for a road diet on Morningside Avenue (after months of cajoling by neighborhood residents). Was it the beginning of a new era for this notoriously change-averse community board?

Judging from a CB 10 transportation committee Tuesday night, the board is only taking baby steps at best. The committee heard a presentation on the dramatic improvements for bus riders on 125th Street, a message that was all but drowned out by shouts from opponents who never warmed to the project. Later in the meeting, CB 10’s rancor was on full display as it continued to stall a plaza and farmers market that has been awaiting support for years.

Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District (and not a member of the community board), remains unconvinced that better bus service is good for the neighborhood, even though SBS has not affected car speeds and the plan added 200 parking spaces along 124th and 126th Streets, as well as nine morning loading zones on 125th Street. “People are avoiding 125th Street,” she said. “That’s why you’re moving faster, because people don’t come to 125th Street anymore. How that’s affecting business, we don’t know, but we’re looking into that. We want to find a way to make it work.”

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents West Harlem, came to the meeting to voice his support for SBS and extending the bus lanes to his district. “The bottom line is that this is an overwhelmingly mass transit community… We’re bus riders, we’re subway riders, we’re walkers,” he said. “I’ve been inundated with questions from people saying Council Member Levine, why can’t we have a faster ride on all of 125th Street?”

While many people in the room were pleased that buses are moving faster, a regular cast of characters showed up to cast aspersions on Select Bus Service. Julius Tajiddin, who has agitated against street safety overhauls in the neighborhood, noted that there are no fare machines for riders going from the penultimate SBS stop at 116th Street to the end of the route at 106th Street. MTA staff said this is standard procedure, since it isn’t worth spending thousands of dollars on fare machines at the end of SBS routes when few riders make those end-of-line trips, but Tajiddin said it was discriminatory to have fare machines along lower-income sections of the route but not in wealthier neighborhoods.

Martin Baez, a community liaison for Rep. Charles Rangel who has launched a lawsuit against the 125th Street route alleging that it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, was also at Tuesday’s meeting. He said SBS was “malarkey,” a “flop,” and “disrespectful” because it does not stop at each block. Despite existing crosstown local service provided by the Bx15, M100 and M101 routes, Baez is demanding a local bus to LaGuardia Airport, even though only one in ten trips on the M60 is to or from the airport. Despite these reservations, Baez supported extending the bus lanes to West Harlem.

The Global Gateway Alliance, a group of business leaders advocating for better access to the airports, issued a statement saying it is “thrilled” with the early results from the M60 SBS, which demonstrate the need for “true Bus Rapid Transit lines,” and supports extending the bus lanes to West Harlem.

Later in the meeting, the committee unanimously passed a resolution backing DOT’s proposed safety fixes at West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway. This complex intersection, which has been under study for years, borders three community boards and had already received votes of support from Community Boards 9 and 12. The resolution advanced at the CB 10 transportation committee on Tuesday was largely a formality.

The committee had already passed a letter in support of the plan back in October, but CB 10 rules only allow resolutions, not letters, to advance to the full board. So the issue came back to committee this week, with one modification: Initially, CB 10 had asked DOT to alter signal timing at the intersection instead of adding turn restrictions, but the agency requested that CB 10 remove that request. The turn restrictions not only create room for a pedestrian island, but cannot be substituted for changes in signal timing because traffic volumes through the intersection are so high. DOT said it just doesn’t have much extra signal time to work with without significantly worsening traffic backups.

“It’s in one of the top one percent of locations for crashes in Manhattan. As far as crashes in Manhattan, it doesn’t get much worse than this,” said DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione. “If we water down the proposal and start taking things away, the safety fix is going to be much less effective.” The CB 10 transportation committee agreed, and the amended resolution passed unanimously. It now goes to the executive committee later this month before next month’s general board meeting.

The committee also deadlocked on a resolution to support Bradhurst Plaza, which would convert a small triangle at Macombs Place, Frederick Douglass Boulevard, and 150th Street into a pedestrian space. The plan has been before the committee for years. There were two resolutions on the table Tuesday night: A new resolution from plaza opponent Barbara Nelson condemning the plan, and another drafted at last month’s committee meeting supporting the plan. Nelson’s resolution did not receive a vote, but when it came time to vote on the resolution backing the plaza, the committee deadlocked with a 3-1 vote with two abstentions.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Tupacamaru Tiwoni, founder of HERBan Farmers Market. The market operates weekly on Mount Morris Park West and would expand to Bradhurst Plaza. “We brought every sort of documentation that they’ve asked for. The project is a no-brainer.” The proposal is likely to come up for continued debate at a future committee meeting.

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