The peculiar turf war between Brooklyn's bicycle activists and Hasidic Jews
On a bright spring afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a small cluster of Hasidic Jews stood outside a corner grocery store watching bicycles speed down Bedford Avenue. "When I drive a car, I don't know where to look no more," complained the grocery store owner, Aron, waving his palms in an exaggerated shrug. "A bike? A bus? A stroller? It's so crammed up in this neighborhood. A bicycle lane--this is not a community that needs it!"
Until recently, the city of New York begged to differ. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on a mission to green all five boroughs, and in 2006 the city pledged to build 1,800 miles of bicycle lanes. Williamsburg seemed like a logical place to start: over the past decade, the neighborhood has become a magnet for young creative types who rely on bicycles to cross the bridge into Manhattan. But when the Department of Transportation arrived with white paint to mark the lanes, the Hasids were indignant. First, they complained about traffic and parking issues. Then a Hasidic community board member admitted that he was troubled by the "dress code" of female bikers. Local blogs and tabloids reported the story under such gleeful headlines as "Hasid Lust Cause" and "Hasids Say Cyclists Too Sexy for Bike Lanes." The cyclists snickered--until December 1, 2009, when orange DOT trucks pulled up on Bedford Avenue and sandblasted away 14 blocks of bicycle lanes.