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Bicyclists & Hasidic representatives debate the Williamsburg Bike Lane

update 9:40am below w/ video

I learned a couple things tonight at the Bedford Avenue bike lane debate, where bikers met representatives of the Hasidic community (namely: Isaac Abraham, bit more on him here) and hashed out their differences. I also 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.

At one point, Abraham asked a fellow pro-bike lane panelist, "How long have you lived here?" Before she could answer, he belted out, "I've lived here for 56 years!" (ed: number may be off by one or two, but 50-something.) At other moments, the audience broke out in laughter over the absurdity of Isaac Abraham's claims (ie. cars don't kill children, asthma does). He admitted he felt like a sheep in a lion den, a claim not far from the truth.

Going into tonight's bike lane debate at Pete's Candy Store, it's safe to say I was of the camp that believed the whole dispute was primarily a cultural thing -- the Hasids didn't like to see scantily-clad women biking through their neighborhoods, and the bikers didn't like the Hasids using their political power to remove their lane.

But I'm not so sure that's the whole picture anymore. (Continues after the jump...)

As ridiculous as it may seem to bikers who use the lane (or lack there of nowadays), the Hasids genuinely appear to be concerned about the safety of their pedestrians. Isaac offered anecdote after anecdote of a child, or a woman, being hit by a biker speeding down the road. Of course, reps for the bikers had stories to match -- one included a bus driver chasing a bicyclist with a club after he asked the driver not to park in the bike lane. His overall discomfort with the lane in the first place lies in his claim that the DOT essentially came in over night and paved the lane, leaving them with no choice but to oppose it and advocate for its removal.

On top of that, despite the panel leader's attempts at keeping the discussion about the lane, the discussion continually returned to parking, and the fact the Hasids lost a lot of valuable spots when the lane came.

Caroline of Transportation Alternatives Throughout the night, A resounding theme that they've both been screwed by the DOT continued to surface -- the Hasids when they were forced to move their cars on the Sabbath, and the bikers when the lane was suddenly removed. (update ed: the strikeout is b/c this is disputed by TA. their comment re: "At no point did Caroline and Isaac find themselves on the same side last night." is below.) Both sides came to agree that the DOT are essentially "a bunch of morons," in Isaac's words given to a member of the audience after the show. During the debate, Isaac attempted to argue that the bike lane itself was installed by the DOT without any community consent, a fact Caroline very much disagreed with.

She really came well prepared, offering stats and facts to back up her various arguments, many of which centered around her belief that bike lanes bring safer roads for bicyclists and pedestrians. You'll probably hear remarks about some of the other remarks given by pro-lane panelists (see: the titty joke).

Caroline brought up the fine point that the lane keeps everything more predictable - pedestrians can see bikers coming, cars and buses will see them too, and bikers can ride without feeling like they're going through a gauntlet of clubs, doors, and parked cars.

I overheard one Hasidic man saying bicyclists need to be held accountable as drivers do -- with licenses, registration numbers, etc. That's ridiculous. If that's really the case, then OK, lets do the same for pedestrians. Give them a giant embarrassing hand-held stop sign to cross the street and have them walk only when the traffic signals allow.

But long story short: The Hasids would like the bikers to slow down, ride more respectfully through the neighborhood, obey traffic, etc., as much as it may pain them to do. Bikers, meanwhile, would like the Hasids to drive safer, not block traffic, let them keep the lane, etc. (There are many etc.'s on both sides.)

Either way, I think they'll have to come to common ground that involves a Bedford bike lane (b/c people are going to ride it anyway) that keeps everyone happy and safe. In the meantime, Caroline hopes, everyone should wave. Waving Wednesdays is Transpo's new plan to get people enjoying each other more in the neighborhood. (more here)

Anyways, if you want to have your voice heard and maybe make a difference in this whole shibang, Community Board 1 is holding a public safety meeting on Thursday, Feb. 4th at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center on Ainslie at 7pm. Be there at 6:15 to register to speak. There will also be a general Community Board 1 meeting on the 9th, same deal. No amount of whining in the comments or at Wreck Room will get you anywhere near what your appearance at a Board meeting with do.

For a few off-the-cuff remarks from the debate, check out my twitter, I was furiously live-tweeting the comments to the point my API locked and tweets backed up.

Any comments from either side are welcome in the comments. I think the only way we're going to get anywhere is, like all neighborly debates, people understand where the other side is coming from. So, g'ahead. Make your case. Everyone's got Google, they'll find what you have to say.

Oh, and media, please stop calling this "Hipsters vs. Hasids." This is not the Hasidic community cracking down on an MGMT concert over discounted sales of PBR. It's bikers fighting for a safe lane through Brooklyn and a community that doesn't like them there, for one reason or another.


later update:
statement from transportation alternatives: "At no point did Caroline and Isaac find themselves on the same side last night. Associating Caroline with Isaac's assertion that folks at the DOT are a bunch of morons is completely inaccurate, as is saying that we felt similarly "screwed" by the lane's removal. I realize the story you're trying to tell here, but associating us with Isaac's flame-throwing (which is extremely unpopular in the Satmar community)is extremely unfair to us, and does not convey our organization's position at all." They add, "Our persistent position on this issue has focused solely on street safety, and the merits of bike lanes. We've navigated this issue as deftly as possible, and these mischaracterizations are extremely unhelpful."

my comment re: that...Caroline wasn't nearby for the "morons" comment, so yes, that's true, we shouldn't associate her with that. The resounding theme throughout the debate however was that both sides have been screwed by the DOT. This may not be Transportation Alternative's official position per say, so take it for what's it worth. I'm sure other people will weigh in. When I say "Both sides came to agree..." I'm referring to both sides of the debate, not simply Caroline (and TA by proxy).

last update (maybe?): i wrote this recap of the event on nbcnewyork. TA linked to it in an email to Gawker saying, "This NBC story
accurately reflects the evening." So, there you go.


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Pete's Candy Store ain't exactly Geneva. If the biking community is really looking to engage the Hasidic community (and not just Abraham), can I suggest something on the other side of Broadway next time?

Were we at the same event? T.A. didn't offer "the fact" that cyclists and Hasidics were screwed by the DOT; nor was there agreement on the "bunch of morons" comment. Drama-mongering should be left to reality show wannabes.

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