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

Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. 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.”

  • Baez: “It’s not about me. It’s never about me.”

    Something protesting too much….

  • AnoNYC

    I hate to say it but this CB is not going to change until the area completely gentrifies and these people loose their positions.

    Many if not most of the people that rely on cross-town 125th St bus service are working long hours on top of slow transportation. How can they be expected to be in the know about this or have the time to be involved?

    Once this area does gentrify completely and better resembles areas like the UWS, then we will see much more overwhelming community push back in response to poor transportation by more affluent, more educated, more privledged residents.

  • Sterling Archer

    Just give the seniors and disabled an electric wheelchair lane. Then give the orders to the bus drivers that it is now a bus lane. Problem solved.

  • Kevin Love

    What an amazing coincidence that it enables his behavior.

  • Orcutt
  • Anon resident

    CB10 is a disaster on so many levels. You have members of the community like CM Inez Dickens who have no clue to the needs of the residents near the Dunbar. I would like to see her try and wait for a bus on Frederick Douglas Blvd. The real issue is Henriette Lyle needs to resign, she is the reason for the lack of transparency, lost ballots and sketchy hiring practices of the staff.

  • J

    Man, someone needs to get some bus riders to these meetings! Riders Alliance, Straphangers, anyone want to step up and organize here?

  • Ex-drive

    This is all is about certain people, who have obtained a measure of privilege within a historically deprived community, defending and expressing their privilege. The gentrification and real estate speculation that is changing the neighborhood irrevocably they are powerless to do anything about. The fight against bus lanes and turn restrictions, though it may be a puny issue in the scheme of things, is one arena where their privilege still counts.

  • “During the meeting, Cummings had said he was concerned that left turn
    restrictions would make it more difficult for him to drive Wright around

    This reminds me of the Skytanic episode of Archer wherein Archer keeps insisting he’s riding in a blimp filled with explosive gas and everyone keeps telling him it’s a rigid airship. At the end, Lana asks him what about he doesn’t understand, and Archer’s response is “Well, obviously the core concept.”

    So good job there, Maurice Cummings.

  • And anyway, while I know this is perhaps an unpopular line of thinking, how many elderly and disabled riders are taking the bus to Laguardia, let alone two, even with a convenient transfer?

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    You said the right time to call in the Riders Alliance. My name is Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. And I am a member of the Riders Alliance since The Summer of 2013. One of the public transportation issues that the Riders Alliance have been focusing on is Bus Rapid Transit known as Select Bus Service. We, as dedicated bus riders in particular, have been working with the staff and the resources of the Riders Alliance, through membership-driven, grassroots, community organizing. Some of the major bus corridors that the Riders Alliance are focusing on include: 1) Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevards; 2) Main Street and Kissena Boulevard from Flushing to Jamaica; and 3) Utica Avenue. If the Riders Alliance had more staff as well as resources, then they will focus on: 1) 86th Street and 2) 125th Street. In the meantime, you can send your complaints to the following staff members of the Riders Alliance: 1) Rebecca Bailin @ rebecca@ridersny.org and/or Jess Nizar @ jess@ridersny.org. These are the senior organizers who can focused on major public transportation issues in the City of New York.

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    You can send your complaint to the Riders Alliance @ info@ridersny.org or through one or two of these senior organizers: Either Rebecca Bailin @ rebecca@ridersny.org and/or Jess Nizar @ jess@ridersny.org. ????

  • ohnonononono

    If you’re from the school of thought that transit is primarily for the poor, elderly, and infirm, then forcing even one to make a less convenient transfer is not worth improvements to able-bodied, working, young folks who should be saving up to buy a car anyway.

  • ohnonononono

    To be fair, UWS community board members/speakers have said really dumb stuff too.

  • Mr. Druthers

    And we thought Manhattan’s CB7 was bad…..we need an annual award for some of these CBs.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Noticeably absent from last night’s meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.”

    The serfs are busy working and taking care of family members.

  • AlexWithAK

    It’s absolutely insane that community boards get so much say over issues like this. SBS along 125th St would benefit not just that specific neighborhood, but residents across Manhattan and beyond. Yet a few unelected zealots whose primary goal is their own self interest (certainly not the community’s) get to blockade badly needed improvements. It’s the same story with the bike lane network. Community input is one thing, but requiring individual approval from these irrelevant community boards is holding back the entire city.

  • J

    I wasn’t meaning to knock the Riders Alliance. You’re doing great work for a young organization, and I know how hard it can be to organize across such a big city. The TA model of more decentralized local advocacy could help expand your reach, but it all depends on time and money of your supporters. Surely, though, the overwhelming majority of people in Harlem support this. It’s just a matter of organizing them.

  • QueensWatcher

    Its insane. Cars make you insane. One day there will be a solid scientific peer-reviewed study to support this assertion but I don’t think anyone can really disagree with it given the overwhelming evidence we see time and again. The bus lanes have actually been a huge improvement to 125th Street. Before the lanes were installed moving along 125th was a crawl that involved dodging around double parked cars, buses and other drivers who would make wild turns from the right lane to go left, or the left lane to go right. Now for the most part, traffic just moves – not super quickly, but steadily and that has made all the difference. I could almost understand the initial objections as it seems counterintuitive to suggest that dedicating a travel lane for buses, leaving only 1 instead of 2 for cars, would actually improve the flow of traffic [though anyone paying attention to traffic engineering issues in this City have actually seen lots of examples of how this can work]. But to be maintaining shouting objections now after the evidence of how well the lanes to the east have worked really is insane.

  • Ian Turner

    Indeed! CB Madness, anyone?

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    Thank you so much for your compliment. ????

  • Some Asshole

    If this were about liberties, why even have licenses to drive?

  • Tyson White

    The link to Julius “Ghadaffi” Tajiddin is just priceless, Stephen! It’s gold! Perhaps if JT moved to Libya, he would have had the freedom to drive a gas guzzling vehicle wherever he wants. Maybe the late Uncle G would even supply him with free gas!

  • dporpentine

    We’re at a point historically where the the words “freedom” and “liberty” are basically flags that signal “I plan to threaten your life.”

  • Richard Garey

    Pedro are they focusing on any major corridors in the Bronx i.e. Tremont Avenue, University Avenue, Third Avenue, etc?

  • Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr.

    Unfortunately, the Riders Alliance do not focus on other bus corridors because of: 1) This organization was at its infancy, since the Summer of 2012; 2) There are not a lot of resources and staff members to focus on cergain transportation issues. Sorry about that. ????

  • This kind of argument just feeds their nonsense. Plenty of non-gentry want these improvements; the CB doesn’t represent them, either.

  • Seereous

    As a senior citizen, I find this comment beyond bigoted. ( If meant to be sarcastic, sorry, but it is a massive fail.) Replace the words “senior” and “disabled” with another group of your choice and you would be called a racist or a homophobe, etc. The sad thing is, you aren’t alone. In the past 3 years or so, I have been seeing so many more arrogant and abusive comments about people who are not so fit as the person making the comment. About us being in your way. Sort of depriving you of your freedom… A bit Hitleresque, imho. In fact…like Tajaddin?

    I think the bus lane a good thing. And I want to see less…way less. cars in NYC. But for me, Select Bus Service is a hardship.

  • Seriouser

    Just give the teenagers and athletes an electric wheelchair lane. Then
    give the orders to the bus drivers that it is now a bus lane. Problem

  • Cranky Kong

    I hate stupid young people!

  • Seereous

    Cute =)

  • AnoNYC

    I agree that there are many non-gentry types that want these improvements, but like I said there are still too many unaware that they can make a change or uninterested due to other challenges (economic for instance). A more affluent population is much more capable of attacking these issues.

  • Disappointed in the drivel

    Not surprised to hear spurious claims from an anonymous resident. Thanks for the fact checking. Hope you did not stay up all night.

  • anon res

    Guys, snide remarks rarely win the day. If it helps to be obnoxious, you’ve got my vote.


Bus Lanes Coming to 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

Bus riders may not be stuck in crosstown traffic on 125th Street much longer. DOT plans to extend bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue this summer [PDF]. The news came last night at a meeting of the Community Board 9 transportation committee. “As far as CB 9 is concerned,” said board chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, “I didn’t hear anything that […]