The sixties are over.
And so is the threat of topless bike rides.
With the first blizzard of the season shelving plans of cycling activists to ride half-naked in Williamsburg in protest of an eradicated Bedford Avenue bike lane, 20 cyclists gamely put on their long johns and winter jackets and continued onward.
The “freedom ride” on December 19 was the second such demonstration in the past week over the city’s removal of a 14-block stretch of bike lanes along Bedford Avenue in South Williamsburg. The lane began capturing the attention of cycling advocates and the city’s media after two Williamsburg residents repainted the lane down to the cyclist symbols in meticulous detail. One protest a week earlier was nearly washed out due to all-day showers, with only 10 cyclists riding and nearly twice as many police officers following them.
In response, Williamsburg resident Heather Loop organized a second ride with a few of her friends.
“They removed it because the Hasidic residents just don’t want to see scantily clad women,” said Loop, who planned on having bikers ride topless.
Loop had to change her plans after a winter storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on Brooklyn Saturday, but the cyclists were not detoured. After departing from The Wreck Room, (940 Flushing Ave.), the cyclists rode down Flushing Avenue and up Bedford Avenue, trailed by two police vans and a news truck, before ending at East River Bar (97 South 6th St.) for a few beers and a round of pool, in a journey several described as anti-climactic.
That pleased transportation advocate Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives who strongly criticized the topless-themed ride in a press release sent over the past week.
“This issue is about how we manage our streets,” said Norvell. “To overlay it with more cultural overtones is not helpful and does not move this situation into a more productive realm. The solution here is to build a new consensus about how to keep everyone on Bedford safe and it doesn’t behoove us to drive a wedge between neighbors.”
Hasidic activist Isaac Abraham, who believed there should be fewer bike lanes in South Williamsburg, instead wanted the focus to be on cyclist safety and urged cyclists to wear helmets and flashing lights at night, instead of flashing their chests.
“I pay taxes but bikers want to share the road with me and they want to contribute what? Nothing. It’s highway robbery,” said Abraham. “You want to share the road? Get a plate, get insurance so we can identify you one way.”
Community Board 1 member and South Williamsburg resident Simon Weiser agreed with Norvell that “nobody wants to live with constant bad feelings to each other,” though he opposed the presence of several bike lanes in the neighborhood and was pleased to see the Bedford lane eliminated.
“The thing is blown out of proportion. Basically it’s an issue about safety and security of buses and school kids. I’ve been advocating from the first minute that three bike lanes are overloading this part of Brooklyn,” said Weiser. “Thank G-d it was snowing.”
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