Just when you thought the battle was over, more drama is stirring up the gravel on Ocean Parkway as State lawmakers try to raise the road’s speed limit.
This month, State Senator Simcha Felder sponsored a bill to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway, which bisects Brooklyn from Kensington to Coney Island — returning it to its pre-Vision Zero limit of 30mph, infuriating safety advocates and some local pols.
The Senate Bill 5170, sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder (a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans), is currently in the Senate Committee. An assembly version of the bill was sponsored by Sheepshead Bay Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz. [We reached out to Cymbrowitz for a comment and will update as we hear back.]
“It’s simple,” Felder told BKLYNER when we asked about the bill’s goals. “There’s no 6-lane state road that’s less than 30 or 35mph.”
The historic, 6-lane highway, designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in 1876, services nearly 45,000 vehicles and thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians every day. With no other alternate route, drivers crawl along the parkway during rush hour and slam on their horns.
The bill blames Vision Zero’s speed reduction — from 30mph to 25mph — for “significantly increasing traffic congestion”, leading drivers to spill over onto surrounding residential streets. “Local residents have complained of the increase in drivers on local roads as they attempt to avoid Ocean Parkway,” the bill states.
Felder’s critique ballooned to the entire Vision Zero program, an initiative from Mayor de Blasio to cut traffic fatalities in half by 2025. “Vision Zero didn’t add up to pedestrian safety,” Felder said, citing the program’s speed cameras as a “money grab for the city.”
He denied that driving 25mph made Ocean Parkway safer, and alluded to Vision Zero’s limit as an arbitrary number.
“Why don’t we set the speed limit to 10mph? Set it at 5 miles an hour. Who decided that 25mph is safe?” he said. “I believe it should go back to 35mph — 30 is a compromise.”
But for Paul Steely White, Executive Director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, that extra 5mph is the difference between life and death.
“Speeding is a leading killer on New York City streets, causing more traffic deaths than drunk driving and cell phone use at the wheel combined… According to estimates by AAA, a person is about 74 percent more likely to be killed if they’re struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph as opposed to 25 mph,” White writes, defending the historic lows for traffic fatalities under the City’s Vision Zero initiative.
And one of Felder’s constituents agrees. “I live by Ocean Parkway in Simcha Felder’s district,” writes Daniel Millstone on Facebook. “The slower speeds and other traffic control measures have improved things greatly here.”
City Council Member Brad Lander, whose district includes Park Slope and Kensington, took to social media to express his virulent opposition to the bill, and “Albany’s myopic, faux-populist overreach.”
“It is no longer surprising for the State Legislature to disregard the laws of NYC, or the well-being of New Yorkers. But it’s no less deadly for being predictable,” lander writes.
And, Lander says, the GOP-supported bill could slip in under the radar. “To make matters worse, the Senate version is part of their budget package, so it could move quickly, in the dark of night.”
Commenters on Lander’s Facebook thread are outraged by the potential speed increase on a road they say is already dangerous to cross.
“If I don’t make it in time [crossing Ocean Parkway and Church Ave], I risk getting hit by a car speeding up in anticipation of the expressway,” said a BKLYNER reader.
Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue has long been a danger zone for locals, and the city added an improved crosswalk following the death of a 73-year-old pedestrian in 2013. (According to a NYC DOT report, five people were killed or injured by cars at this intersection between 2007-2011.)
But changes to Ocean Parkway often devolve into political spats, with arguments that pit traffic flow against pedestrian safety. For example, the state’s Ocean Parkway Safety Improvement project — adding curb extensions and a ban on left or right turns at several intersections — faced fierce opposition from southern Brooklyn politicians and neighbors who claimed the ill-conceived project would clog side roads.
And many drivers now feel like they’re bearing the brunt of the state’s project, which was greenlighted in January 2017. According to locals, the turn bans did instigate a spike in traffic delays on the daily commute (and for those of us who live nearby, a worsened rush-hour horn-honking frenzy — yes, we can hear you from blocks away).
But Felder contends that he’s not against safety. “We’re not interested in pedestrians being unsafe, but we’re not interested in NYC ripping people off,” Felder said, adding that “the only way to improve safety is to have cops giving out tickets with points.”
What do you think about the bill to increase Ocean Parkway’s speed limit to 30mph? Have the ‘no left and right turn’ changes affected your commute or quality of life? Do you feel safer on Ocean Parkway since the speed reduction? Let us know in the comments below.