Home Buses Thoughts on missed opportunities as SBS M60 nears

Thoughts on missed opportunities as SBS M60 nears

by Benjamin Kabak
The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

When the MTA Board’s Transit committee meets later today, one of their agenda items includes a formal blessing of the unnecessarily controversial M60 Select Bus Servicer route. After months of planning, rollbacks and NIMBY opposition that highlighted the flaws with the process, the committee will vote on the reduced plan, and thousands of bus riders who need better service to Laguardia Airport and down 125th St. will get it. We can celebrate the moment, but it’s also yet another example of missed opportunities for relatively cheap and easy transit upgrade.

In announcing the new route this past fall, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast spoke generally of the improvements. “The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad we will be able to improve service for our customers while still maintaining commercial loading zones for businesses in the area. Select Bus Service will speed up bus service by as much as 20 percent on the M60 where half of the route’s boardings and alightings happen right on 125th Street.”

The Board materials fill in the details. The new SBS M60 will be a 24-hour bus line that fully supplants the route’s current local service. (The remaining 125th St. crosstown local buses will continue to serve all stops.) Service frequency will increase by 10 percent on the weekdays and around 14 percent on the weekends, and with a dedicated bus lane, for all 125th St. buses, that will run for a little less than one mile between Lenox and 2nd Avenues.

The Board committee book describes the bus lane: “Most of the bus lanes will be offset, or one lane away from the curb, which will accommodate deliveries, community parking needs, and right turns; the bus lane between 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue will be curbside and only in the eastbound direction.” It’s better than nothing, but even as the MTA stresses that it and NYC DOT “attended over 50 community meetings,” I can’t help but feel this whole thing is another missed opportunity.

As this new service gears up to launch in the spring, it is definitely an improvement so long as bus lane enforcement comes with it. Outside of the need to improve access to Laguardia, a bus ride down 125th Street is often an exercise in patience and futility. This wide cross-street is chock full of traffic stretching from Fairway on the West Side to the Triborough Bridge on the East. Parking and double parking are constant problems, and as with 96th St., it can be faster to walk at rush hour than to sit on a bus.

With 125th St., the city could have taken the opportunity to rebuild the street space. The street is wide enough to support true BRT with center-running lanes and dedicated boarding areas. It has the ridership to warrant such improvements as well. Instead, Community Boards concerned with the loss of a few parking spots and one quarter of the local bus service threw up road blocks after road blocks to the point that the MTA and DOT never shelved the idea for good. Even after local politicians intervened, the plans are a watered-down version of the initial proposal, and parking will still obstruct the bus lane at certain points. Certain Community Boar members too are still unhappy with any plan that removes parking spaces and improves transit.

So again, the needs of the few and loud outweigh the needs of the many, and we applaud the SBS M60 plans because they will exist in a few weeks. It will be easier for commuters, students and New Yorkers to journey down 125th St. and for travelers to reach Laguardia. For the airport, ultimately, though, what New York City truly needs is a direct subway connection, and for a cross-street, we need bus rapid transit. For now, we’ll just have to keep dreaming.

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42 comments

Stephen Smith February 24, 2014 - 12:27 am

For the airport, ultimately, though, what New York City truly needs is a direct subway connection, and for a cross-street, we need bus rapid transit.

In a better world, 125th St. would have a subway.

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John-2 February 24, 2014 - 1:10 am

While I agree with a 125th Street crosstown — or at least something that connects with the IND on St. Nicholas north of 125th, claiming in the post that…

“On the other hand, the T line below 63rd Street would parallel the Lexington Avenue lines and therefore not provide a new service, since it would simply allow a slightly shorter walk to the subway for those who live on the far East Side.”

…ignores the reality of what East Side Access is going to do to the Lex at Grand Central if it ever once it opens. Extending the T west from Lexington long-term wouldn’t serve as many people as extending the T south of 63rd along Second Avenue.

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John-2 February 24, 2014 - 1:15 am

People living or who have businesses on major crosstown streets seem far more protective of their curbs than those on the avenues. The fight over 125th mirrors the one for the dedicated bus lanes that were scuttled on 34th Street. If at least this limited effort works out, the city and the MTA may give more specifically dedicated bus lanes on other crosstown streets another shot in the future.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2014 - 12:16 pm

Perhaps, but under any circumstances the windshield perspective of the local press greatly amplifies the opposition. In the vast majority of cases, once something is actually working and people are using it and enjoying it, most of the kvetching mysteriously vanishes. Even when it doesn’t, it’s almost always still a whiner minority (e.g., NBBL).

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tacony February 25, 2014 - 11:03 am

I think part of it is that crosstown travel has always been so slow in Manhattan that people travel N-S instead of E-W, to the point where it’s seen as “natural” and people seek to improve existing N-S travel routes instead of forge new E-W routes. If you look at commute patterns or even ethnic groups that historically settled in Upper Manhattan it’s interesting just how much your Avenue has always been viewed as the travel route and the E-W street has been viewed as a quiet residential, private thoroughfare, even when it’s not.

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MARV February 24, 2014 - 7:39 am

Yankee Stadium is at the junction of the IND and the IRT with Metro North nearby. It is also fairly close to the GW Bridge.

Build/institute HOV/HOT lanes (thus paying for the project) from the GW Bridge to Yankee Stadium and then on to LGA. Relocate the GW Bridge bus terminal down to the stadium. Run express buses from NJ to this new terminal and from it to LGA and on to Flushing (with a stop at citifield when on game/US open days).

NJ commuter have west side access via the PA Bus terminal and Penn, with the current GWB bus terminal adding little. Now they would have one transfer access to the full east side + 6th Ave (and a rapid trip to Grand Central via Metro North.) LGA would gain a dependable connection to city transit lines. Western Westchester would gain connections to Queens and northern NJ. The bronx would be better connected to LGA, Flushing, and NJ. Yankee Stadium could become more of destination with nearby development.

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Jonathan R February 24, 2014 - 8:43 am

I also question why have so many stops in Queens, and why must every M60 stop at the Marine Air Terminal? Why not just make one stop at 31st Ave, then dive on the Grand Central straight to the airport?

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2014 - 9:27 am

They are giving us a bus like that — out of Jackson Heights.

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anon_coward February 24, 2014 - 9:42 am

isn’t the marine terminal still the delta shuttle?

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SEAN February 24, 2014 - 12:23 pm

Yes. I wonder why the shuttle is seperated from the rest of the Delta flights though. Perhaps there’s a practical reason, but from a transportation perspective it doesn’t seme to make any sence.

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anon_coward February 24, 2014 - 1:35 pm

haven’t flown it in many years, but it used to have hourly service to boston, DC and maybe a few other cities.

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SEAN February 24, 2014 - 2:28 pm

At one time the shuttles were the most profitable routes for Delta & US Air. Now with higher fuel costs & the security theatre at the airports, customers have increasingly turned to Amtrak or one of the premium bus carriers if they don’t want to drive it.

Tower18 February 24, 2014 - 4:13 pm

It’s because in a separate terminal, you can legitimately show up 15 minutes before your flight and make it in plenty of time. I use the shuttle maybe a dozen times per year and rarely has it taken me more than 5-6 minutes from the curb to inside security.

Also, when you’re dealing with a clientele where every second matters (or at least they think it does), the MAT is a good 5-10 minute’s drive closer to Manhattan than the other terminals.

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anon_coward February 24, 2014 - 4:35 pm

and its almost all business travelers who pack light instead of trying to bring huge bags onto the airplane go through security fairly fast

i remember i flew to boston a few times at 7am and flew home in time for dinner

al February 25, 2014 - 11:07 am

There is also the current capacity limitations at LGA that prevents them from cramming MAT into the other terminals.

Bgriff February 24, 2014 - 9:53 am

One major constituency for airport public transit is airport employees, many of whom live somewhere near the airport in Queens and take the M60 or other buses to work. That group of riders should justify the 77th Street stop, at least, though the one-way stops between there and Terminal D are questionable since it’s not at all easy to get from the airport back to those locations.

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Jonathan R February 24, 2014 - 10:09 am

That’s a fair point about the airport employees. However, perhaps instead of increasing service along the whole route, I would like to know if it would be possible instead to make most buses express in Queens and add another local bus that goes from 31st Ave to the airport and back.

The thing about the Marine Air Terminal is that the airport runs circulator buses between all the terminals, and it takes five to 10 minutes for the Manhattan-bound bus to wend its way around the lanes to the Marine Air Terminal and back out to the Grand Central access road.

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SEAN February 24, 2014 - 12:40 pm

The thing about the Marine Air Terminal is that the airport runs circulator buses between all the terminals, and it takes five to 10 minutes for the Manhattan-bound bus to wend its way around the lanes to the Marine Air Terminal and back out to the Grand Central access road.

As I said above, the shuttle is seperate from the rest of the Delta flights & I have no idea why that is the case. It would seme that having all the flights in the same terminal would be most practical for everyone including the MTA, but there maybe a legistical reason for the current arangement.

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ajedrez February 24, 2014 - 4:08 pm

For what it’s worth, there’s another local in Queens (the Q19), but that goes to Flushing, not the airport. The problem is that it has really shoddy frequencies.

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LLQBTT February 24, 2014 - 2:09 pm

A good observation, however truncating the Q33 probably hurt a few folks.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2014 - 12:30 pm

Besides what others said, it’s probably also intended to feed the Astoria Line. It can’t do that if it doesn’t make a fair number of stops east of the the line.

It’s actually the number of stops in Manhattan that seem extreme to me.

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al February 25, 2014 - 11:28 am

They’re there for connections to other buses or to significant destinations (Columbia University).

That said, the 120th st and Amsterdam stop could go. The 116th st/Broadway makes a better stop for Columbia and the Amsterdam/LaSalle stop makes a link with M11.

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Bolwerk February 26, 2014 - 12:16 pm

Well, that’d be fine, except I suspect it negates much of the utility as an airport connection for the west side.

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johnny February 25, 2014 - 4:55 pm

Steinway Street is a major bus route, and many transfer from there to the M60.

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Tower18 February 24, 2014 - 11:41 am

I know this is sort of a chicken/egg problem, but with the way people drive on these two way streets, I would not feel very comfortable using center-running bus lanes with mid-street platforms. Hell no. Look at the platforms along Market St in San Francisco, or Toronto, or other cities with streetcars, and tell me we wouldn’t see drivers “losing control” and driving up on those things, like, daily.

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Eric February 25, 2014 - 3:23 am

So put bollards around them. Not that hard.

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Bolwerk February 25, 2014 - 10:23 am

Let’s not enforce bad transit over that. We need to fix that anyway.

It’s not always the best, but center-running often makes too much sense.

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marv February 25, 2014 - 11:16 am

Maybe the notion that 125th Street needs to be two way needs to be explored, or maybe bus service in one direction should be shifted one street over.

Alternately maybe parking between 124th Street to 126th on all intersecting avenues should converted to be loading zones/short term commercial vehicle only 30 minute parking and ban deliveries on 125th Street itself.

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al February 25, 2014 - 11:43 am

One way pairs would require new exits for the subways and MNCR along 126th or 124th st.

Designated high turnover/delivery spots with sensors could be a way to fix double parking without throwing businesses over to the NIMBYs.

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Bolwerk February 26, 2014 - 12:44 pm

I dunno, a short block seems to be a reasonable walking distance, even outdoors. It’s probably significantly less distance than PABT commuters deal with when they walk to the subway from their suburban buses.

Bolwerk February 26, 2014 - 12:42 pm

*shrug* I don’t really have an answer.

I’m actually usually rather skeptical of center-running buses. Curb pickup is pretty damn convenient, and I seriously doubt center-running meaningfully improves speed over curbside-running. Still, I don’t think it should be precluded because the traffic regime sucks.

(Center-running is probably significantly more useful for light rail because light rail is more likely to be impeded by a turning vehicle than a bus, and the higher average speed over even a center-running bus may be worth it.)

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Anon February 24, 2014 - 11:46 am

So again, the needs of the few and loud outweigh the needs of the many…

Except they were the few that showed up. Had any of the numerous groups reporting to advocate for Harlem transit riders organized folks to fill the CB meeting or Perkins’ office, things might have turned out differently.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2014 - 12:33 pm

That’s the problem with this community board regime. The people who show up are the only ones who have time to whine about things. The people stuck on slow buses? Assuming they aren’t on the bus during the meeting, they probably are trying to live their lives (e.g., children, tired from work, whatever).

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Bolwerk February 24, 2014 - 12:35 pm

Oh, and then there is the whole matter that many of the beneficiaries live in other community boards – ironically, probably often a 2-hour bus ride away. :-\

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Michael February 24, 2014 - 12:57 pm

Quoted Text:

“With 125th St., the city could have taken the opportunity to rebuild the street space.”

The entire length of 125th Street from the East River to the Hudson River was completely rebuilt from the ground up, during Mayor Dinkins’ term of office. This NY-DOT capital project added new lanes, street lighting, bricked walkways, new bus stops, etc.

Just a point of information.
Mike

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Rob February 24, 2014 - 3:14 pm

Why does it originate at 106 St of all places? Why not 125 & Bwy? Or, on the other hand, for example, Penn Sta?

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ajedrez February 24, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Penn Station is way too far south and it’s a lot quicker to transfer to the subway to get down there.

The idea with going to 106th definitely had something to do with connecting to Columbia, and probably also a little to do with the projects just south of 125th. Between 116th and 106th, I’d guess that it’s mostly for an easier turnaround.

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Spendmor Wastemor February 24, 2014 - 6:09 pm

At 106th there’s a convenient spot to /hog street space/ park a 65 foot bus. The same spot provides an easy way to turn around.

btw, there’s a great bakery at 105th and a wine shop nearby, which you need after enduring cattle class air then bus travel.

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Epson45 February 24, 2014 - 5:39 pm

Penn Station, you already have private bus carriers going to LGA.

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tacony February 25, 2014 - 11:11 am

I can imagine Columbia being a somewhat major trip generator for airport trips on the M60– Ivy League students and academics probably both fly a lot more than the general population and, unlike typical Manhattan professionals who also fly a lot more, are amenable to taking a public bus over splurging on a cab.

If you’re coming from anywhere south of 106th St on the West Side, it’s quicker to take the 2/3 or the A/D/B/C to 125th and connect to the bus there. It’d make no sense to run it anywhere south of there.

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Spendmor Wastemor February 24, 2014 - 6:04 pm

Too many stops next to the airport. If you’re only going 2 miles, you could grab a cab or a local bus.

But the correct fix is to extend N, with or without approval from the 4 or 5 blocks the extended elevated would travel through. Perhaps taking down a block of the old el and making the new extension of concrete with a sound-dampened roadbed would work out once built.

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Phantom February 25, 2014 - 4:00 pm

Yesterday, I had a day trip to Chicago out of LGA.

Took the M60 from Astoria Boulevard. At 530am, all seats were taken.

On the way back, at 8pm, I took the Q70 Ltd as a scientific experiment. It went one stop, mostly on highways, to 74th and Roosevelt and all the trains there. What a fantastic addition to service, much faster than the old Q33 which took local streets and was slower.

I’d prefer a train to LGA, but until that day comes say in 2114, I have to give the MTA credit for doing the best with the tools they have on hand.

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