News | Morningside Heights

Select Bus Service will quicken M60 service, but locals divided over outreach

As the city moves forward with plans to speed up M60 buses on 125th Street, commuters are pleased by the prospect of faster service, but some locals say more community engagement is needed.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority and the city Department of Transportation will convert the M60 route, which runs from the Upper West Side along 125th Street to LaGuardia Airport, to Select Bus Service this fall, with construction set to occur over the summer.

First announced in October, the SBS reforms, which the MTA has unveiled over the last few months, include bus-only lanes along 125th Street, new left turn and parking regulations, and new rules for boarding and fare payment.

When the overhaul is complete, two traffic lanes on 125th Street will be converted into bus-only lanes, to be used by the M60, M100, M101, and Bx15 bus lines. The M60 will have fewer stops and off-board fare payment, which will allow passengers to use all the doors on a bus to board and exit. Bus stops will be extended to accommodate larger buses and more buses at the same time, and the buses themselves will be able to communicate with upcoming traffic lights, telling them to turn green before the bus arrives.

The DOT estimates the changes, which are a form of bus rapid transit, would increase service speed by 15 percent while reducing emissions by 25 percent as buses spend less time idling.

“The customers actually perceive a bigger time savings than the actual time savings,” DOT representative Ted Wright said at a Community Board 10 meeting last month. 

“In Staten Island there was a big speed up—about 20 minutes faster—and people were coming off the bus saying they saved half an hour. They are used to it being slow.”

Notoriously pokey M60 buses currently average 2.7 miles per hour during rush hour, compared with a citywide average of 7.7 mph.

“Even by New York standards, it’s really slow,” DOT Assistant Commissioner Tom Maguire said Tuesday at an open house about the project.

The open houses, which have been fairly well attended, are part of the two agencies’ effort to involve locals in the planning for SBS, which also includes community walk-throughs of the route.

But there have been mixed reactions to the level of engagement officials have pursued.

Community Boards 9, 10, and 11, which represent the entirety of Harlem, sent a letter to the MTA and DOT expressing concern for the lack of community engagement, CB10 chair Henrietta Lyle said. 

CB9 member Vicky Gholson said that while her board was “somewhat in favor” of SBS, the plans “have to be given a closer scrutiny” because of recent reductions in bus service. Gholson said she and other CB9 members would also like to see the SBS reforms extended to the Broadway segment of the route, from 106th Street to 125th Street.

H. Jacob Carlson, an advocacy coordinator for local environmental advocacy group WE ACT and a weekly M60 commuter, said “there’s a difference” between the quality of the community engagement and the amount of engagement.

“I think they’re trying really hard, but I know there are some concerns that feel unanswered,” he said, adding that he was concerned about the elimination of alternate-side parking.

In addition to parking, drivers will also face more inconveniences along 125th Street, not only as the number of car lanes are reduced, but also because the DOT plans to restrict left turns at most intersections to improve safety. Wright said that left-turns are three times as likely to lead to a collision as are right turns.

But Maguire defended the agencies’ efforts.

“We’ve done more public outreach for this project than for any other SBS project we’ve done,” he said. “We’re still open to revisions.”

Some commuters agree. Carlton Walton, who takes the M60 “practically every day,” said he supports the proposal and thinks the agencies are doing a good job at outreach.

“I do like the idea of having these open houses,” he said. “You actually engage in these meetings.”

CB10 member Deborah Gillard said the proposal “has its pros and cons.” She said that there were other things that could be done to reduce truck and regular traffic.

“We don’t have the whole picture yet,” she said. “We are still working out bits and pieces because this is such a big area—from Broadway, all the way across the bridge to Queens—so it is a lot of area to address.”

Avantika Kumar and Sophie Gamez contributed reporting.

christian.zhang@columbiaspectator.com  |  @christizhang

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