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.

  • BBnet3000

    This is a line that serves all of 125th St as well as Northwestern Queens. Its ridiculous that this group of unelected blowhards would be allowed to hurt its utility so much on one section of the corridor.

    CB 10 rules only allow resolutions, not letters, to advance to the full board

    Parliamentary nitpicking nonsense like this is also their way of puffing themselves up to seem more important.

    Gotta love Barbara Askins, the head of an organization (the BID) tasked with business development, blaming DOT for business declining (which probably isnt true anyway). If its true, she’s failing at her job. Her comment also has that Yogi Berra quality to it: “nobody comes here anymore because too many people are coming here on this improved transportation line”.

  • HamTech87

    If 125th Street doesn’t want it, please bring it to 57th, 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets! And take away parking on those streets to make it work better!

  • JK

    Why does the mayor elected to make decisions for all community districts allow one district to veto fast bus service for all districts? How can BRT possibly work in NYC if one, non-elected, advisory board is allowed the final say over a corridor stretching for miles across many boards? This is embarrassing political dysfunction.

  • This whole thing stinks of Inez Dickens. She stacks CB10 and has the intelligence of a potted plant. As for Rangel, that POS has been out of touch for ages. Both of ’em are motorheads and think car ownership in Harlem is aspirational.

  • Reader

    All Vision Zero and BRT/SBS roads go through community boards, and this is a very clear sign of how desperately that needs to change.

  • Lisa

    Sounds like CB7 and CB10 should co-host a “Where Good Ideas Go To Die” forum. They are experts.

  • lt

    Because de Blasio has no courage. He’s too afraid of drivers who want to keep their parking. Therefore, parking is more important to the mayor than a robust, reliable, and safe transit network.

  • Sfgeoninja

    I thought Community Boards were merely advisory bodies. Why do Community Boards get to exercise a veto over SBS but not, say, CB4’s Hudson Yards project?

  • AnoNYC

    Guerrilla bus lanes anyone?

  • SteveVaccaro

    Baez’s notion that express service is inherently undemocratic because it discriminates against the local stops is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in the transportation realm.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t think he really believes that, either. It’s merely a way to use hot button words like “discrimination” in the context of express bus service, with the goal of crippling that service to the point of uselessness so the MTA abandons it. It’s sort of the same line of thinking of those who wanted high enforcement levels against cyclists running red lights. They may have used sound bites like “blowing through red lights”, “killing untold numbers of people and pets” merely to get the NYPD and the public on their side. In the end though, it was never about safety. The real goal was to make cycling less efficient, hence less likely to be used. If they accomplished that, then there would be no need for bike lanes “which nobody would use because nobody rides”. Of course, that was the ultimate goal, get bikes off the streets so motorists could drive faster.

    This tactic was actually used successfully in some small town in the south I believe in the 1950s. I read about it a while back but I forgot the particulars, and haven’t been able to find a link to it online. A lot of people used bikes to go to that town but a few used cars. Eventually more used cars and they had to install stop signs (which the cyclists didn’t obey). Those who drove really didn’t want bikes around at all as they got in their way, so they had the local police start giving tickets to cyclists at the stop signs. Soon nearly everyone drove into town instead of riding. I’ll guess those who couldn’t afford cars either had to hitch a ride, or just stopped going into town.

    As dumb and illogical as what Baez is saying might be, don’t underestimate the power of such stupidity. Those in the black community especially are sensitized to the word “discrimination”, so he’s playing right into their hands. It’s up to us, along with the MTA, to show this is all smoke and mirrors. We should call him out on it. He just doesn’t want express bus service, most likely because eventually it’ll mean less space on the street for cars, perhaps also traffic signal priority which will delay cars briefly to let buses pass. In his mind the only people who seem to matter are those who drive.

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