It can be said that the latest culture war between North Brooklyn’s Hipster and Hasidim factions has gotten a bit out of hand, this time in person.
“You know what the bicycle lanes have accomplished?” asked a muckraking Hasidic man outside of Pete’s Candy Store during Monday night's public meeting on the removal of 14 blocks of bike lanes that run through the heart of Williamsburg's orthodox section. “They’ve gotten people to burn a lot more gasoline.
“I think that the bicycle lanes are an Arab-Christian conspiracy to burn more gasoline,” he continued, turning to the community affairs police officers who were loitering outside the bar. Though the officers were humoring the man and his theories up until this point, they couldn’t help but listen, because he just kept on talking.
Elsewhere, cyclists accused Mayor Mike Bloomberg of making a backroom deal to trade the bike lanes for Hasidic votes in his re-election campaign last fall.
Inside, a panel had assembled to discuss the matter at hand in a bar heavily in favor of restoring the paths to Bedford Avenue. After the unannounced December removal of the lanes, which provide a direct route from the south to the Williamsburg Bridge, vigilantes were filmed repainting the lane, and two of them were recently detained by the South Williamsburg Shomrim Jewish police force and later arrested by the NYPD.
Isaac Abraham, a Hasidic activist, Baruch Herzfeld, owner of the nearby Traif Bike Geschaft, and coordinator James Hook took the stage in the narrow back room of Pete’s Candy Store to discuss the opposing views. The bar was packed to the brim as arguments were made for and against the lanes, with intermittent clapping in support of their return.
“So in other words, what you’re saying is I should go back to the community and say that I just got a message, it’s their way or the highway?” asked Mr. Abraham, the sole representative of the Hasidim factional present.
“Their way is the highway!” responded the moderator in a bit of an outburst. However, if the discussion accomplished anything, it was a rational, face-to-face conversation, despite the inability to agree on anything.
“Well I think [Mr. Abraham] hit one very important point, he said, how long have you been here?” an older male cyclist told me after the meeting. “It comes down really to a sense of entitlement: ‘I’ve been here 58 years, you’ve just arrived,’ so there’s a strong sense of ‘This is our street, who the hell are you, you just came here 5 or 6 years ago, what do you know.’ It’s not legitimate, but it’s understandable.”
Meredith, a concerned Williamsburg resident, concurred over drags of a Marlboro Light, and believes the problem Hasidim have with the bike lane is the issue of immodestly dressed women riding north on an avenue with many religious pedestrians and schools, and beyond those concerns, that the city handled the issue poorly.
“You can’t let a neighborhood battle it out amongst themselves," she said. "I’m a troller of the comments on all the sites, I look at it, and the levels it gets taken to are so unnecessary and so hateful and misinformed, considering how much money they spent on this last mayoral election, if they would had spent a tenth of that on information, and actually working on a program to educate the public, the drivers, about what the rules of the road are, then we could start learning a mutual respect for each other.”
However, many attendees left with whispers of ‘This is a waste of time,’ as the meeting had no official bearing on the matter at hand, but acted as a conversation starter for the opposing views. The next skirmish is planned for the February 4 meeting of Community Board 1’s Safety Committee and beyond that at the executive board meeting on February 9. For now the sides will agree to disagree.
Eventually, the conspiracy theorizing Hasidic man lightened up, “The fact is that whether there’s bicycle lanes on Bedford Avenue or not, people are going to take Bedford Avenue to the Williamsburg bridge.”
Hey, it's a start.