Hotly-anticipated peace talks between supporters and opponents of the recently-erased Bedford Avenue bicycle lane fell short last night when both parties left a discussion at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg with the same seemingly irreparable differences that they brought to the table. Supporters of the Bedford Avenue lane insisted that a biking path on Brooklyn's longest road is necessary for both transportation and safety, while a community activist representing South Williamsburg's Hasidic Jewish residents expressed concerns about dangerous biking etiquette.
Here's a video with excerpts from the discussion:
Speaking in favor of the reestablishment of the bike lane — which was erased by the city with no notice and little explanation in December — was Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, Baruch Herzfeld, founder of the Bike Gemach cycle repair shop in Williamsburg, cyclist Lyla Durden, and bike messenger Heather Loop, who organized the infamous topless bike lane protest. Speaking in opposition of the Bedford Avenue bike lane — which was briefly repainted by cycling activists before being buffed again — was Hasidic community activist and one-time City Council candidate Isaac Abraham. Both the Department of Transportation and the Mayor's Office were invited, but turned down the request, according to the moderator.
Though Abraham insisted that bike lanes put South Williamsburg residents — particularly children boarding and exiting Yeshiva school buses — at risk, cycling path supporters said a bike lane would make Bedford Avenue safer for all users. "A bicycle lane is a necessary piece of transportation infrastructure, just like a sidewalk," said Samponaro "Wouldn't it be better if we had the right infrastructure?" The cycling activists called for a new bike lane, possibly protected from traffic like the lane on Grand Street in Manhattan, as well as traffic calming devices like speed bumps that could extend across the car lanes and the cycling path. Some suggested that the Yeshivas establish more formal bus stops so buses don't let off passengers as sporadically, potentially reducing the number of conflicts cyclists and schoolchildren.
The bike riders admitted that cyclists need to follow the rules of the road, and that increased enforcement against lawbreaking bike riders might be a good thing. "When it comes down to basically sharing limited space with each other, if you have more potential to cause harm, you have more responsibility," said Samponaro, who insisted that cyclists should aim to befriend pedestrians, not terrorize them, as Abraham had described. "Why would we recreate the same model of behavior with pedestrians [that we have with cars] we should be working together, not against each other."
For his part, Abraham emphasized that the Hasidic community doesn't oppose the Bedford Avenue bike lane because of scantily-clad cyclists or community politics, but because cyclists ride through the neighborhood dangerously and occasionally hit pedestrians. He blamed the city for poorly planning the Bedford Avenue lane, and insisted it hadn't been discussed with the community, though supporters said it had. "Biking is a new issue, nobody knows how to deal with it yet," added Abraham, who said his wife was hospitalized after being struck by a bicyclist.
When asked if there is any chance the Hasidic community could come to support a bike lane on Bedford Avenue, Abraham said: "Never going to sell." Referring to other existing lanes in the neighborhood on Kent Avenue, Wythe Avenue, and Berry Street, he added: "In order to make this a bargaining chip, I would take another one away, make it two [with bike lanes] and two [without bike lanes]."