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Bike lanes flap - Safety – not skin – at issue

At a recent Community Board 1 meeting, many of the board’s Hasidic Jews strenuously objected to the Department of Transportation’s plan to install a temporary bike lane on Kent Avenue.

But why did they object? That question has spawned a controversy with multiple offended parties.

Two weeks ago, The New York Post published an article about objections in the Hasidic community to the attire of many female cyclists. According to the article, the presence of women clothed in what the Hasidic community would perceive as an immodest way was the reason they objected to the lanes.

“I have to admit, it’s a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code,” the article quoted board member Simon Weiser as saying. “It bothers me, and it bothers a lot of people.”

At the board meeting, Weiser and other Hasidic members presented a list of objections ranging from traffic, safety, and parking problems they say bike lanes contribute to. They did not mention female cyclists at the meeting.

The Post article engendered an angry response from both Weiser and non-Hasidic members of the board who, after seeing Weiser’s quotes, suspected his arguments at the meeting were little more than a red herring.

“It’s disturbing to be given one reason in a community board meeting and then to read about a very different reason in the newspaper,” said Teresa Toro, chair of the board’s Transportation Committee, which discusses bike lanes.

“I’m aware that there are a lot of traffic problems in that part of Williamsburg, but now it’s going to be harder to separate what’s true and what’s not. There’s now a problem of trust.”

Toro added that she had been “approached by a few women in the community who are very upset about this” because they feel their rights have been infringed upon.

Weiser, however, emphatically denied that women’s clothing was behind his objection to the bike lanes. He acknowledged the matter of clothing “is an issue, but you can’t tell people how to dress.”

Rabbi Joseph Webber, another Hasidic board member, concurred, saying: “Of course it’s an issue, but we would never raise an issue if a human being goes by and she’s not dressed in a manner in which we like our women to be dressed.”

Weiser cited many reasons for the Hasidic community’s objection to the bike lanes. First and foremost, he said a bike lane on Kent Avenue is excessive given the nearby bike lanes on Bedford and Wythe avenues. (Generally speaking, the Hasidic community is concentrated in the southwestern portion of Williamsburg, south and west of Broadway.)

He also cited the population density of the community, the heavy concentration of businesses along that section of Bedford Avenue, and the concentration of school buses as reasons why it a particularly poor choice for bike lanes.

“It’s not fair to slap such a dense community with three bike lanes, practically right next to each other. Every morning there are school buses dropping children off, trucks making deliveries. It becomes chaos,” Weiser said.

But Toro, who supports bike lanes, said the presence of lanes actually made these heavily trafficked streets safer.

“I’d say that the fact that [the area] is denser makes it a better candidate [for bike lanes]. When a street is dominated by drivers and drivers only, driver behavior becomes more dangerous,” she said.

Weiser contended that the presence of bike lanes made school bus drop-offs and pick-ups more dangerous.

“Most bikers obey the laws, but some of them go through red lights or won’t stop when a bus stops. They fly right through,” he said.

Toro responded by saying the problem lies with the enforcement of the existing law and not the bike lanes.

Weiser also said that bike lanes make it difficult for trucks to make deliveries in the morning.

Toro’s response was that trucks are legally prohibited from double-parking anyway.

“Really, the bigger issue is that we need loading zones for trucks so that this can be better regulated and managed. It’s not a question of whether an extra three feet of space is going to make all the difference,” she said.

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