Friday, September 19, 2003

Community Board Saves M104 Bus Route

Community Board Saves M104 Bus Route
By Alisa Nakamine

A plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to change the route of the M104 bus line has been dropped after a long negotiation between the MTA and community activists.

The MTA initially planned the route change in order to better serve the new development in the Harlem Piers area near 125th Street along the Hudson River. In addition, the transit authority has been in the process of reorganizing all of its bus depots, and the new route was designed in part to reflect the switch in the M104's service station from the Amsterdam depot--which closed on Sept. 7--to the Manhattanville depot, according to MTA spokeswoman Marisa Baldeo.

The new route would have withdrawn service on Convent Avenue by going up Amsterdam Avenue and turning west at 133rd Street. Presently, the northbound M104 turns east at the intersection of Broadway and 125th Street. The bus goes up Amsterdam Avenue, turns east at 129th Street, and heads south on Convent Avenue to the intersection at 125th Street.

In response to the proposed route change, community members held several meetings and participated in public hearings over the course of the summer. Community Board 9 members, along with several senior citizens from the community, testified at hearings and sent petitions with citizens' signatures. Also, because MTA is a state agency, CB9 members contacted New York State elected officials as well as Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, said Theodore Kovaleff, the co-chair of CB9's Transportation and Uniform Services subcommittee, which helped negotiate the change.

On a map, the change seemed to be a simple, one-block shift to the west. But to the residents on Convent Avenue between 125th and 129th Streets--many of whom are low-income senior citizens--that one shift could have limited their mobility in everyday life, according to Kovaleff.
He explained that because Convent Avenue sits at the top of the hill, a route change would have forced elderly residents to walk up and down the slope or a flight of stairs in order to take the M104.

Without M104 service, the only line running along Convent Avenue in the same direction as the M104 would have been the M18, which comes much less frequently than the M104.
Additionally, riders would have had to transfer several times in order to go downtown, according to Kovaleff, requiring them to pay multiple fares.

"There [were] people who [were] going to be harmed physically and financially," Kovaleff said.
"[The plan] was really something that put a major hardship in our senior citizen community."
But for many residents, the route change would have provided a more effective mode of transportation to the Fairway Market on 12th Avenue at 125th Street. This advantage of potentially creating a direct route to Fairway was discussed and "perceived as a positive thing," according to Daniel Zweig, the co-chair of Community Board 7's Transportation Committee. CB7 serves the area just south of the area served by CB9, but was not in direct contact with CB9 during the negotiation process, according to Zweig.

During the negotiation period, concerned parties discussed several compromise plans--some of which would still have provided transportation to Fairway--but could not find one that would serve the senior citizens as well as the original route, Kovaleff said.

Baldeo said that the MTA is aware that by rerouting, it would have taken service away from people who live in the area."We don't just make decisions," Baldeo said. "Community Board plays a big role. We have to see all who is going to be affected, and see if it is worth [the change]."

For now, the M104 route will remain unchanged. "[It was a] major victory for the community," Kovaleff said. "We were heard and the government responded."

But once the construction of the facilities begins for the development project in the Harlem Piers area, "it's going to be an issue again," Baldeo said. "Transportation will be a problem."