How One Street Shows What Goes Wrong When We Mess With Speed Limits

Illustration for article titled How One Street Shows What Goes Wrong When We Mess With Speed Limits

New York City introduced a 25 mile per hour speed limit a little while back, in the quest to reduce pedestrian fatalities. But now, politicians that had even fought for the new limit are now pushing back, because it inevitably has made some streets more dangerous than they were before.


Tell me if you saw this one coming. Mostly because we, humanity, have never heard of foresight, and we love a good tale of unintended consequences.

There’s a major thoroughfare in Brooklyn known as Ocean Parkway, which travels from Prospect Park all the way down to Coney Island. It’s six lanes wide to carry the main bulk of the traffic, with an additional lane on each side to serve as a turning lane, separated from the main flow by a wide median containing not just pedestrian paths, but also the oldest bike paths in the United States.

And it wasn’t just designed for carrying mass loads of traffic by some schmoes, either. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Veaux. You may have heard of them because of a little green space they designed known as Central Park.

When used as it’s designed, it carries traffic pretty well, and by carrying all that traffic it keeps local, residential streets pretty bare of cars. But now that there’s a 25 MPH speed limit, and that speed limit is photo enforced, as it is on Ocean Parkway, that wreaks all sorts of havoc with the traffic flow.

And since traffic is now getting backed up on Ocean Parkway, drivers are now cutting through those local, residential streets with alarming regularity. Via the local Ditmas Park Corner:

“I am proud to have co-sponsored legislation that reduced the default speed limit citywide to ensure the safety of every New Yorker,” [City Councilman David] Greenfield said in a press release. “However, we were promised that major thoroughfares like Ocean Parkway would not be reduced without the input of the local community. We very clearly told the Department of Transportation that Ocean Parkway is not an appropriate street for 25 miles per hour. Applying the 25 mile per hour speed limit Ocean Parkway will actually do more harm than good for our neighborhoods: it will increase traffic and force drivers onto the surrounding narrow residential streets.”


The city Department of Transportation is unfazed, however, maintaining that Ocean Parkway is already pretty damn deadly for pedestrians, so a lower speed limit is clearly the answer.

Except the end result of increasing traffic on residential streets is clearly not the answer. Obviously, pedestrian deaths are bad, but shoving more traffic onto residential streets, where kids tend to play on a regular basis, is the end result that everyone should’ve seen coming.


Photo credit: AP

Contact the author at
Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: 0D03 F37B 4C96 021E 4292 7B12 E080 0D0B 5968 F14E



Raphael Orlove

You know who should be setting speed limits? The engineers responsible for designing the roads in the first fucking place. Not some politician trying to make things seem good and nice and safe. Trust the people actually involved int he science of making a road safe.