Bike lane? What bike lane? Drivers, cyclists clash over Bedford Avenue

Bike lane? What bike lane? Drivers, cyclists clash over Bedford Avenue
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The clash of cultures over a Williamsburg bike route has gotten physical.

Orthodox Jewish motorists collided with cyclists and fought them in the street several times last month while the bike riders use a dangerous stetch of Bedford Avenue that once included a bike lane until it was removed by the city last year after complaints from drivers.

A bus driver even trapped cyclist Christine Sandoval against a parked car near Flushing Avenue as she was commuting to work on April 15.

But the blowhard screamed at the cyclist, even kicking her bike in anger.

“The driver and another man grabbed my arm and masses of Hasidic people started to gather around,” said Sandoval. “I needed to flee. I was in a lot of danger.”

Three days later, her husband saw a cyclist get hit by a car on Bedford Avenue, and a day later, she saw another confrontation between Hasidic residents and cyclists.

Now the Bedford-Stuyvesant resident avoids taking Bedford at all because of the incidents.

She’s not alone.

Cycling advocates have been grumbling for months about double-parked cars and aggressive harassment from drivers in South Williamsburg, where the 15-block bike lane between Flushing and Division avenues once carved out a space for bikers until the city removed it 18 months ago after complaints from Hasidic residents. Vigilantes repainted the lane in an act of protest vandalism, setting off tense relationships between cyclists and Hasidic motorists that continues to this day.

Now conflict has broken out over a one-block section of the lane that remains between Flushing and Park avenues.

Hasidic leaders say that cyclists should find another route.

“You have a densely populated area that hundreds of people cross those streets every single day,” said former Council candidate Isaac Abraham. “You’ve got a ballroom, two schools and five synagogues. Traffic there is tremendous.”

Williamsburg bike maven Baruch Herzfeld, who hosted a debate between bikers and Hasidim last January, says the tension has resulted from the lack of parking spaces in South Williamsburg and not a conflict between Orthodox residents and yuppie cyclists.

“The Hasidim park in the [former] bike lane because there is no other place to park and the city has limited resources to enforce it,” said Herzfeld.

Still, Community Board 1 member Ryan Kuonen avoids Bedford Avenue entirely because she says it’s unsafe.

“There’s a misnomer in Hasidic community that bikers can’t be on that street [because there’s no official bike lane], so they’re more aggressive toward bikers,” said Kuonen. “My roommate got threatened and chased by a bunch of guys late at night. And there’s always massive double-parking there.”

Bike lane or no bike lane, cyclists still take Bedford Avenue because it’s the most direct route from her home to Williamsburg.

Fort Greene resident Sabine Spanjer said she gets into arguments with drivers all the time.

“It’s turned into a mess, they don’t want [cyclists],” said Spanjer. “It’s not right. Everybody has a right to bike.”