Five for fighting! Activists: Felder’s Ocean Parkway speed-limit hike will kill people

Five for fighting! Activists: Felder’s Ocean Parkway speed-limit hike will kill people
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

They feel the need — the need to regulate speed.

State lawmakers must put the brakes on a bill to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway by 5 miles per hour or they’ll be signing a death warrant for motorists and pedestrians on the Kensington-to-Brighton Beach boulevard, say hundreds of residents in a new petition.

“It makes a big difference when drivers need to react to the unexpected, and it can mean the difference between life and death if a crash can’t be avoided,” said Paul Steely White of anti-car group Transportation Alternative, whose online petition against the speed hike has racked up more than 680 signatures in just a few days.

Mayor DeBlasio reduced the speed on all of the city’s roadways to 25 miles per hour in 2014, But now, state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) is pushing legislation to boost the limit on the state-controlled thoroughfare up to 30 miles per hour. Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) is sponsoring the bill in the lower chamber.

Felder says he’d actually be happy to add another 10 miles per hour — 5 is just a compromise — arguing that lowering the speed limit doesn’t actually do anything but generate extra cash through speed-cameras, and what the stretch really needs is more police on patrol.

“Lowering the speed limit does not equal safety — it does equal the ability to raise revenue for speeding past 25,” Felder said. “If cops give out tickets and if people know it could happen any time, that is what brings safety.”

It’s nearly impossible to travel under 30 miles-per-hour, say Felder’s supporters.

“I think that 30 miles per hour on Ocean Parkway is very, very reasonable,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D–Midwood), who supports the hike. “I looked at my odometer and was going 25, and every single car just about passed me.”

But the activists argue the 5-mile difference has saved lives. Before the speed-limit drop, crashes on the strip killed three people and injured 137 pedestrians between Nov. 6, 2012 and Nov. 6, 2014, while in the two years following the change, collisions there killed one person and injured 102 pedestrians, according to Transportation Alternatives’ own data.

“It’s not about revenue,” said Steely White. “It’s about lives.”

The state recently banned drivers on Ocean Parkway from turning onto Avenues J, Avenue P, and Kings Highway — as well as making left-hand turns onto Avenues I and U — as part of what the state called a safety overhaul. But some locals, including Hikind, say they’ve actually made things less safe because people aren’t consistently observing the new rules.

On March 24, a driver jumped the curb and collided into a pillar outside an Avenue J home after he allegedly tried to speed up and cut off another motorist in the intersection. With that kind of recklessness going on, it would be irresponsible to allow people to go even faster, said one resident.

“It’s hard to argue for higher speed limits when we cannot show the city that driving has gotten better,” said Midwood man Simon Gifter.

City pols and officials are also against the change — Councilman Brad Lander (D–Kensington) called it “myopic, faux-populist overreach” in an impassioned Facebook post which likened the proposal to Albany over-ruling his plastic-bag fee. Meanwhile, DeBlasio vowed to fight it.

“I think it would make people less safe, and we’re going to fight against any measure that would make New Yorkers less safe,” he said at a press conference last week.

However, DeBlasio also tried to halt the recent changes on Ocean Parkway, and the state just ignored him.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.