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Harlem Bus Lane Foes: Good Streets for Bus Riders “Trampling Our Liberties”

Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]
Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]
Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Community board meetings in central Harlem have officially gone off the deep end.

A DOT plan to extend bus lanes and add turn restrictions on 125th Street was shouted down last night by the same hecklers who have filibustered street safety improvements at Community Board 10 for years. Noticeably absent from last night's meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.

Bus lanes on 125th Street have already sped up bus trips east of Lenox Avenue. Extending them west to Morningside Avenue would spare tens of thousands of bus riders from getting stuck in traffic. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the western end of 125th, is a big backer of the bus lanes, while Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents the middle section of the street and is closely tied to CB 10, is not.

Last night's ridiculousness crescendoed when onetime City Council candidate and regular community board attendee Julius Tajiddin channeled Patrick Henry to make his case against dedicating street space to bus riders. "Your progress is trampling on our liberties," he said. "Give us freedom!" The three-quarters of Harlem households who don't own cars probably have a different take on "freedom" than Tajiddin.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle nodded in agreement. "It's a lack of respect... It’s almost like the project is going to go with or without our approval," she said earlier in the meeting. "It doesn’t take into consideration the cars, the trucks, the tour vans on 125th Street."

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said that while DOT intends to expand bus lanes this summer, it is willing to make tweaks in response to CB 10's concerns. For example, she said, the agency had already removed proposed left turn bans at St. Nicholas Avenue, and is willing to toss out additional turn restrictions if CB 10 makes even an informal request.

MTA officials had less patience for last night's nonsense. “Freedom is the ability to get across 125th Street 33 percent faster on a bus," said Evan Bialostozky, senior transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit.

Also inveighing against bus lanes last night was Martin Baez, who serves as a liaison for U.S. Representative Charles Rangel. Baez has filed a federal lawsuit against M60 Select Bus Service, claiming the project discriminates against the elderly and disabled. Because it does not make all local stops, the M60 requires two transfers for airport-bound passengers coming from the M2 bus on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard who are unwilling or unable to travel a block to the nearest SBS stop.

"It’s not a Martin Baez issue," he said. "It’s a seniors and people with disabilities issue. It’s not about me. It’s never about me. It’s about the community."

After the committee moved on to other items on its agenda, Baez and Tajiddin gathered in the hallway, and then Tajiddin went to a corner to huddle with Maurice Cummings, special assistant to Assembly Member Keith L.T. Wright. During the meeting, Cummings had said he was concerned that left turn restrictions would make it more difficult for him to drive Wright around Harlem.

DOT is studying whether to restrict the turn bans to certain times of the day, said project manager Aaron Sugiura, and will have a report about the project's impact on traffic along 124th and 126th Streets within six weeks.

The agencies presented some new information on the effect of the existing bus lanes east of Lenox. DOT said camera-enforced bus lanes have reduced double parking on 125th Street by at least 91 percent. The project also added 200 parking spaces on 124th and 126th Streets.

DOT is aiming to extend bus lanes from Lenox to Morningside this summer. The agency is not seeking a resolution of support from CB 10, though opposition from the neighborhood's political establishment still poses a threat to the bus improvements.

Also last night, the transportation committee continued its seemingly never-ending discussion of a request from local merchants and community groups to create a plaza at West 150th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The plan, which has been stuck at the community board for almost two years, was entangled in a debate last night over parliamentary procedure led by committee member Barbara Nelson, who opposes the plaza. A resolution backing the plaza failed earlier this year after it didn't receive enough votes in support.

"In the past, outside of Ms. Nelson, we've had a lot of positive discussion about the plaza," Patreinnah Acosta-Pelle, a consultant for the Bradhurst Merchants Association, told Streetsblog. Acosta-Pelle said that DOT refuses to move forward on the plaza without the backing of CB 10.

I asked if she thought anything would change at future CB 10 meetings. "I don't know. That's a good question," Acosta-Pelle said with a laugh. "We can only hope and pray."

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