Chasidim stop bike lanes

By Paul Berger, December 10, 2009
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For some New Yorkers, cycling is a religion.

So, when the city’s department of transport removed a bike lane that cut through the Chasidic area of Williamsburg last week, it was seen as a sacrilege.

“They illegally sold out the citizens of New York,” said Baruch Herzfeld, a modern Orthodox Jew who owns the Traif Bike Geschaft repair and rental shop on the southern edge of “hipster”, or bohemian, Williamsburg.

Mr Herzfeld and other bikers are enraged because, it appears, New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg struck a back-room deal with Williamsburg’s Satmar community.

The Satmar Chasidim have long complained that Williamsburg’s bike lanes eat up parking spaces and that cyclists pose a threat to pedestrians.

The lanes also act like a conveyor belt, carrying an array of secular lifestyles through their community.

Scantily clad girls are a particular problem — bare legs and revealing tops vying for attention with black hats and shtreimels.

Mr Bloomberg campaigned hard in Williamsburg during this year’s mayoral election.

Within weeks of his victory, in November, the bike lane running along 14 blocks of Chasidic Williamsburg was gone.

According to the New York Post, a source close to the mayor admitted the lane was removed because of the Chasidim.

The transport department did not return calls for comment.

For Williamsburg’s sizable community of bohemians and activists, the mayor’s pandering was a step too far.

Last weekend, about eight people armed with paint cans, rollers, spray paint and stencils reinstituted the lane in the dead of night.

They posted a video on YouTube showing the lane being painted next to parked yeshivah buses.

Mr Herzfeld said that if the lane is removed the activists will do it again.

Meanwhile, this Sunday they will stage a protest the only way they know how — a mass-Chanucah ride through Williamsburg.

    Last updated: 12:26pm, November 4 2010