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Bike Battle Takes a Turn for the Civil

Brooklyn Hasids, cyclists debate controversial lane

Ari M. Brostoff
January 26, 2010

Last we reported, the feud between Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim and the borough’s bicycle enthusiasts had rounded the bend into full-scale performance art: cycling activists, protesting the Department of Transportation’s removal of a bike lane that ran through the Satmar ’hood, scheduled a nude ride along the route where the lane had been, on Shabbos no less. There was a blizzard that day: score one for the Satmars.

Last night, though, the warring clans tried to work things out more peaceably, with a debate held at Pete’s Candy Store, a hip Williamsburg music venue. According to a reporter for the blog Free Williamsburg, lead counsel for the Hasids was Isaac Abraham, who ran for city council last fall (he lost, but it was notable that a member of Brooklyn’s large ultra-Orthodox community ran for public office at all). Abraham reportedly lay low on the much-mocked argument that the bikers terrorize the Satmars by showing too much skin; the real problem, he wisely maintained, was that cyclists pose a safety hazard to pedestrians. Cycling advocates retorted that having a dedicated bike lane makes everyone safer. And more or less everyone, Free Williamsburg claimed, blamed the Department of Transportation for failing to listen to their constituents. (The bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives later disputed that its representative at the debate had derided the DOT.)

So where does this leave the good people of Williamsburg? Perhaps not far from where they started: the attending blogger “left feeling that, though civil, the debate didn’t really get anyone anywhere, other than a few shared laughs and a feeling that neither side is budging more than mere inches.”

On the other hand, a Village Voice writer today declared the entire conflict ridiculous, on the grounds that at least a visible skeleton of the supposedly-removed bike lane is still there on the street. “The last couple of weekends,” he writes, “I pedaled happily on this bike lane with just as much safety as ever, with the Hasids walking along on the sidewalk to my left and some weekend traffic passing by me on my right.”

So at least someone’s happy.

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.