Pols back Hasids in bike lane fight

Hasids: We’ll block traffic to KO bike lanes
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

Several Williamsburg elected officials — some of whom fancy themselves as bicycle advocates — have joined a coalition of Hasidic residents and local businessowners in now demanding that one of the lanes be removed to restore parking on the east side of busy Kent Avenue.

A who’s who of electeds and neighborhood leaders — including Borough President Markowitz and Councilmembers David Yassky (D–Williamsburg) and Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick) — made their demand known in a letter to the Department of Transportation on Dec. 5.

Yassky — a backer of bike-friendly initiatives, including a long-planned Greenway that will eventually create two bike lanes on Kent Avenue that are buffered from car traffic by a line of trees — signed on after taking heat from the Williamsburg’s Satmar community at a neighborhood forum last month. At that meeting, one of the community’s spokesmen, the City Council candidate Isaac Abraham, threatened that Hasidic Jews would block traffic to protest the bike lane.

But Yassky’s spokesman said his boss hasn’t changed gears when it comes to cycling.

“[Sending such a letter] seems like an anti-bike thing, but that’s not where we’re coming from at all,” said Yassky’s spokesman Jake Maguire.

“We want to see a bike lane there and we expect to see a bike lane there, but we want a bike lane that the community supports and one that is implemented in a way that is collaborative,” he added.

Community Board 1 member Evan Thies, also a Council hopeful, said he signed the letter to encourage the city to get started on the long-promised Greenway — a pair of walking and biking paths stretching from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.

Thies told The Brooklyn Paper that the best way to jumpstart the Greenway — which was backed by CB1 by an overwhelming vote of 39–2 in April — is to put “both [existing] bike lanes on the west side of the street now.”

“That way we can plant our flag there and build out [the Greenway] accordingly in the next few years,” said Thies.

But cycling advocates fear that removing even a single lane could put bicyclists in grave danger.

“If you take away bike lanes, you are feeding into that driver’s sense of entitlement to the entire street,” said Teresa Toro, chair of Community Board 1’s Transportation Committee. “If drivers feel more entitled to the road, it could be open season for bicyclists.”

That opinion has some support at the Department of Transportation, whose bike program coordinator Josh Benson told The Brooklyn Paper three weeks ago that the agency had no plan to remove the bike lane on the west side of the street.

But the agency is keeping an open mind in light of the pols’ letter, DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said.