Hasid vs. Bikester Debate Settles Little

A debate between the Hasidic community in South Williamsburg and cycling advocates over the removal of the Bedford Avenue bike lanes revealed that both sides have irreconcilable differences over improving transportation in Williamsburg.

At least it was entertaining.

Credit Hasidic activist and former City Council candidate Isaac Abraham for presenting the views of much of the car- and bus-dependent Hasidic community to an overflow crowd of twenty- and thirty-something Williamsburg residents at the Great Williamsburg Bike Wars debate, held at Pete’s Candy Store (709 Lorimer St.) Monday night.

In November 2009, the Department of Transportation removed a 14-block stretch of bike lanes in South Williamsburg, which ignited a storm of controversy which included two mock demonstrations and an act of vigilantism.

Joined by panelists Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives, Heather Loop, a bike messenger, and Bike Gemach founder Baruch Herzfeld, Abraham seemingly prepared a one-liner for every question for why so many Hasidic residents opposed the Bedford Avenue bike lane.

“Correcting an error of an error does not always lead to a solution,” said Abraham.

After hinting several times he would launch another City Council candidacy challenging Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg), Abraham once questioned how long a fellow panelist had lived in Williamsburg and another time shared an off-color joke about a gynecologist and the errors of statistics.

“(The Bedford Avenue bike lane) will never sell,” said Abraham. “What we should get is the removal of another bike lane on Wythe Avenue so they both match.”

Loop found herself throwing up her hands in response.

“I want a bike lane on every single road in this city,” said Loop.

With an audience composed primarily of transportation advocates from North Brooklyn, Abraham’s arguments found few sympathetic ears. Some audience members, including Brooklyn resident Marin Tockman, tried to steer the debate to address how to improve bike and pedestrian safety on Bedford Avenue as it is currently designed.

“Caroline Samponaro, who gave the best answer, suggested doing a neckdown that increases pedestrian crossing space so it is shorter to cross the street, have actual school bus stops on Bedford, and Lead Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) which increase the length of the walk signals on Bedford,” said Tockman.

While several audience members said the debate was awaste of time, Community Board 1 member James Vicente was pleased with the event, noting that Herzfeld cited the importance of attending Community Board 1 meetings.

“The fact that this event publicizes to the right community, which may not know that community boards exist, potentially helps get their voices heard,” said Vicente.

While not exactly an analogy of the biblical parable involving Daniel and the lion’s den, Abraham received applause from the crowd for appearing at the debate. After the debate concluded, Abraham used the opportunity to meet his neighbors and build good will among a constituency that did not support his previous council run. He found at least one fan, Moses Gates, who told Abraham he cast his vote for him in 2009.

“You might have to again,” said Abraham.