Four months after he introduced the legislation, State Senator Simcha Felder said he’s dropping his controversial bill to increase the speed limit on Ocean Parkway to 35mph.
“I thought a lot about that bill as a result of different feedback,” said Felder during a recorded meeting with constituents last week. “I’ve spoken to people personally and I’ve decided to drop the bill.”
In March, State Senator Simcha Felder introduced the bill to raise the speed limit on the heavily-used 6-lane highway from 25mph to 30mph, back to its pre-Vision Zero speed limit. The bill, which infuriated safety advocates, has since been amended to an increase of 35mph — which diverged from its companion bill in the Assembly and pushed it off the table for the current legislative session.
“I did not want to increase the speed limit to 35 miles per hour, which I felt was dangerous and excessive,” said Sheepshead Bay Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, who sponsored the original bill.
But Felder’s office confirmed this week that the senator is putting his foot down for good.
“The decision to kill the bill was gradual,” said Felder’s communications director Avi Fertig. “It wasn’t a rash decision. We’ve received phone calls in the office, we’ve taken all comments into consideration.”
One of those callers was David Goldberg, from NYS 17th District for Progress, an activist group that rallied in front of the Senator’s Brooklyn office in March. The progressive group organized a call-in campaign against the bill, and met with the Senator last week.
“People have been hit and killed by cars in pedestrian crosswalks, these cars might be going only 35 or 40mph but that’s fast enough to kill a pedestrian,” said Goldberg. “Taking on this issue was a way for me to help give them a voice.”
Since Vision Zero pushed the limit down to 25mph in 2014, car crashes along Ocean Parkway declined by 16 percent, and injuries are down 23 percent, according to city data. But the Vision Zero program, which also included the installation of more speed cameras, struck a nerve for many locals and politicians who link it to heavy congestion and chaos on the roadway, and heavy-handed government.
Last year, Council Member David Greenfield likened the cameras to a speed trap and Felder called them a “money grab for the city.” (Felder’s staff said that his views on cameras are part of a broader philosophy on school protection, but he has qualms about how camera programs are implemented.)
“Through the placement of these cameras, the DOT has turned portions of Ocean Parkway into an unfair speed trap,” Greenfield said at the time. “This is an example of a New York agency failing to listen to the concerns of New Yorkers.”
Others said the lowered speed limit caused a spike in traffic on the roadway, which was further exacerbated by the state’s turn-ban on a few intersections that went into effect in January.
“Who decided that 25mph is safe?” Felder told BKLYNER in March when the bill was gathering speed. “I believe it should go back to 35mph — 30 is a compromise,” he said, adding that stepped up police enforcement and violations for speeders would be a more effective fix.
Ocean Parkway is both a major thoroughfare that bisects Brooklyn, a residential road, and a “linear park” according to the Department of Transportation. The road is traversed by thousands of vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians daily.
But it has also been called the most dangerous in the borough for pedestrians. At one intersection alone, Ocean Parkway and Avenue J, there have been 147 traffic related injuries and one fatality since 2009, according to Vision Zero data. When TV news anchors visited the intersection in March, they witnessed a crash at that very corner.
The difference of 5mph may seem arbitrary, but for safety advocates like Paul Steely-White, executive director at Transportation Alternative, it could be life or death. “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 speed limit reduction under the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative.
“Felder needs to stop playing politics with kids’ lives,” Steely-White told BKLYNER.
“I think he has been hearing us, there’s a little more question about whether he’s been listening,” said Goldberg, citing other issues the senator hasn’t been forthcoming about like the NY Health Act and Voting Reform.
“I want to give the senator the benefit of the doubt,” said Goldberg. “That he said he’s dropping the bill because he’s hearing from his constituents.”
Updated on 7/28 with additional comments