The Livable Streets Backlash Claims a Victim at Brooklyn’s CB1

Teresa Toro, one of New York City’s most productive livable streets activists in recent years, has been deposed as chair of Brooklyn Community Board 1’s Transportation Committee. CB1 covers the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn and has recently been embroiled in bitter fighting over the new bike lanes on Kent Avenue. CB1’s executive committee voted unanimously to remove her.

As committee chair, Teresa was instrumental in winning New York City’s first on-street bike parking, last summer’s Williamsburg Walks event on Bedford Avenue and — don’t forget this — a 39-2 Community Board vote in favor of the suddenly controversial Kent Ave. greenway plan.

It’s also worth noting that the Kent Avenue bike lanes were the by-product of a decade of community-driven planning as part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. Williamsburg’s politically-powerful Hasidic community, offended by the loss of parking space and the potential increase in short-sleeved, female goyim rolling through the neighborhood, has vowed to make life miserable for cyclists.

We’ll try to get some more details in the new year. In the meantime, get some rest over the holidays, folks. The backlash is for real and it’s gonna be a fight in 2009. You can fax a letter to Mayor Bloomberg to express your support for the Kent Avenue bike lane.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Kind of hard to know what to make of this when you don’t say why such a motion was even being considered.

  • k. geis

    Breaking news is awesome. But without details, I won’t know who to hate about this!

  • That’s all the info we’ve got so far, guys. Perhaps someone knowledgeable can add some detail here in the comments section. We’ll try to have more on this after the break.

    Jeffrey: A Community Board doesn’t have to make a motion at a public meeting to do this sort of thing. For most or all of the CB’s that I’ve seen, the executive committee and chair get to decide who the committee chairs will be. This sort of decision happens behind closed doors.

  • For most or all of the CB’s that I’ve seen, the executive committee and chair get to decide who the committee chairs will be. This sort of decision happens behind closed doors.

    Democracy in action! The voice of the people!

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I’d like to see a shadow government created at these community boards to counter the leaders appointed by the city council people and put forth alternative policies, issue proposals and position papers. I think it would scare the electeds. The entire community board structure is there to funnel political activity into a manageable, malleable, ball of dough. Everyone knows that the CBs will oppose any and every development and change. They are the status quo.

  • Shameful.

    As with the purging of Brooklyn Community Board Six members who opposed Atlantic Yards, this is an example of what happens when CB members try to act independently of Borough presidents and City Council members, or their fellow more-line-toeing board executives. What a farce.

  • Jason A

    Ugh. Teresa is great. This is awful, awful news…

    If that Kent Ave. lane gets taken away it’s going to set an awful precedent – there will be scores of Community Board dead-enders looking to rollback all the bike lane progress made throughout the city.

    It’s time to fire up the backlash to the backlash!

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Aaron, I know that the appointment of committee chairs is often at the sole discretion of the board chair. And, I also know that Vinny Abate is one of the more autocratic chairs that I am familiar with personally. But you wrote, the “executive committee voted unanimously,” so I assumed that they voted on a motion made in committee.

  • Wesley Stevens

    Goyim? You use that term in this article to poke fun at the Jews?

    Seeing were you idiots are coming from, I’m glad they kicked out this broad who is on your side.

    Good for them.

  • Phil R.

    The community in Williamsburg opposed to the bike lane, the opposition is predicated upon any immodesty by Jews or Gentile bikers.

  • Charles S

    I’m confused. The beginning of the article suggests that flexing political power is wrong “Williamsburg’s politically-powerful Hasidic community, offended by the loss of parking space and the potential increase in short-sleeved, female goyim rolling through the neighborhood, has vowed to make life miserable for cyclists.”

    Yet then you call for the flexing of political muscle by advocating for “ou can fax a letter to Mayor Bloomberg to express your support for the Kent Avenue bike lane.”

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Get a grip, people. There is nothing offensive about the word “goyim.”

    “Goyim” is one of the all-time great words in the Hebrew-to-Yiddish-to-English lexicon. It is used numerous times, in a very matter-of-fact way, in the old testament. “Goyim” refers to all of the non-Jewish nations and tribes. “Gentile” is nothing more than the Latin/Christian translation of the word “goy” from the King James Bible. It is, essentially, the exact same word.

    Apparently, there are some people out there who use “goy” as a slur. This doesn’t mean the word is offensive. It means the people doing the slurring are offensive. There’s a big difference. Why, after 5,600 years of regular use as the term describing “non-Jew” would you want to cede this excellent little word to a small group of racists?

    Think about: The only way you could be offended by the word “goy” in the first place is if you actually think that referring to someone as “non-Jew” is an insult. The only way you could think that calling someone a “non-Jew” is insulting is if you actually believe that the Jews are somehow superior or “Chosen.” In other words, you kind of have to be a racist to think that the word “goyim” is racist.

    But we’re way off topic here. More to the point: Do you think the Hasids in Williamsburg use the word “gentile” when they see you riding along Kent Avenue or Bedford Street? They don’t.

    You want to be offended? Be offended that a religious clique is using secular political power to dictate how I must travel and what I must wear while transporting myself on a public street in New York City and then threatening to run me over with their school buses if I don’t comply. Now, that’s offensive.

  • I’m a member of an organization and am considered a thorn in their sides.
    It has meant that issues are brought up BUT the issues have been made more divided.
    I am at fault in this.
    It would be better to bring the issues up and find ways to open up discussion rather than creating untenable divisions
    If Teresa Toro was “unanimously” tossed out it is clear she was not the person to bring solutions to the issues.
    I am not saying she didn’t represent the best interests of the “livable streets activists” it is just hat she was unable to move issues forward without creating stronger opposition.
    In that she has hurt the issues rather than move them forward.
    Maybe it is best that she step aside and find a more “politic” person to represent the “streets” issues.

  • mfs

    Teresa’s chair was taken because she was publicly complaining about the Chair and the District Manager signing a letter to take away part of the bike lane after DOT put the lane in, yet the board had voted to support the lane. I would be complaining too if I was undercut in such a way. It’s a terrible signal to send to your committee chairs that if they are innovative in any way that they will get the rug pulled out from under them.

  • nobody

    Teresa’s ouster is unfortunate. Abate probably doesn’t realize how big a mistake he has made, and that he will lose his job too.

  • Karen

    It’s too bad that we aren’t hearing from the bicycle-riding members of the Hasidic community here. (though perhaps we already have and I missed the input) I imagine that the community itself is not 100% against the bike lanes, only perhaps the most visible and powerful faction.

    (I just wanted to throw that in because I often see Hasidic people riding bicycles in Prospect Park and around Crown Heights, so it seems likely that there is a pro-cycling faction in the community itself. Let’s keep in mind that there is much to admire about the Hasidic and other observant Jewish communities. If you bike through their neighborhoods on the Sabbath, you know the riding is sweet and calm, and these communities one could argue help reduce both pollution and traffic during this time.)

    I have a hard time believing that the dress code or any kind of cycling danger are really the issue here, even if the community has offered up these as reasons for opposing the bike lanes. I would imagine, that like most of the opposition to new bike lanes in the city, this is mostly a discussion about parking, car-traffic flow and business interests.

  • MrManhattan

    >> “I am not saying she didn’t represent the best interests of the “livable streets activists” it is just hat she was unable to move issues forward without creating stronger opposition.”

    Why does the phrase “giving in to bullies” jump to mind?

  • mfs

    After some consideration, I think that a lot of the anti-bike lane reaction is not due to the transportation chair, but to the Community Board leadership itself. They have no one to blame by themselves for the backlash.

    If the idea is that DOT didn’t have an inclusive enough or broad enough process, then the CB itself played a large role in making the process not inclusive or informative. The CB completely fails to notify the community about its agenda in a timely manner and it has ridiculous public participation requirements (you must show up 15 minutes before the start of the meeting to sign up to comment, even though your item may not be til the end of the agenda).

    Karen- In my years here in North Brooklyn, I haven’t seen a Hasidic person over the age of 10 on a bike. It’s probably a cultural thing among the Satmars, which is the dominant group here, I’m sure the Lubavitchers and the other groups that live in Borough Park and Crown Heights ride bikes more.

  • Karen

    mfs– Thanks for the input. I was wondering about that.

  • teresa toro

    Karen and MFS:

    Just wanted to clarify something regarding your posts, regarding appropriate community outreach and opportunities for community input in the CB1 process.

    The community board is made up of members who belong to community groups across the whole district — religious groups, civic organizations, business organizations, nonprofits, etc. That’s why we’re appointed — because of our special relatonships with community based groups. I firmly believe that CB1 representation must go two ways: on the board, we speak for those many different voices within the community; I also believe that it’s our
    responsibility to report back to those groups we represent. It doesn’t make sense to me to do half the job.

    There is a significant number of CB1 members who specifically represent local groups along the entire greenway corridor in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. If any groups didn’t know enough about what has been going on the past 2 years, they surely have a bone to pick with their representatives on CB1 and ask why they haven’t been kept properly informed. If those members are not representing their constituencies adequately on the board, that is a valid issue to address with them.

    We also have really good coverage in community papers and blogs — Greenpoint
    Star, Vos Iz Neias, Greenpoint Gazette, Brooklyn Paper, and the Courier just to name a handful. They have all reported thoroughly on CB1 meetings and discussions that happen month to month. So there’s not much excuse for people to claim ignorance. Outreach can always be better, but for those who want to be informed, the resources are there, and I believe the representation is there. (If if isn’t it needs to be addressed as I stated.)

    As far as other comments… I have not been given an explanation for my removal, and I don’t believe in speculation, so we’ll have to wait and see if a formal statement is made. The next CB1 meeting is on Tuesday, January 13, and I hope to have some reasonable explanation then, or by then.

    Thanks to all those who have offered kind words of support — it’s meant a lot to me this week especially.

    Teresa

  • Karen

    Teresa- I just wanted to let you know that my comments were not a reflection on you or your removal. I was just hoping to throw a little goodwill out to the Hasidics during the holiday season and quite honestly wondering when and if we would hear from some who support cycling here on Streetsblog or maybe somewhere else in the press.

    I hope you get your explanation and perhaps your removal is something you can fight? If not, I’m sure that you will continue to do good work to bring about the change you desire for NYC streets. Good luck.

  • DriggsAveNative

    Teresa Toro = Sic semper tyrannis

    Not soon enough. Thanks, Vinny. Let’s reclaim our streets from these hipster transplants.

  • teresa toro

    DriggsAveNative:

    I am sooooo tired of this oldtimer/hipster transplant thing. I don’t owe you or anyone my creds but I’m a Brooklyn native and lifelong borough resident (and far too old to be a hipster, not anyway since 1983) who’s watched in consternation as local neighborhood streets — where I used to play because the “local” park was too far away — have become too dangerous and/or unpleasant for any human to linger.

    Although we’re city dwellers, we have incrementally permitted the texture and quality of our public spaces to be dominated by vehicles, and we’ve now reached a point where we’re under virtual house arrest because it’s not safe or enjoyable to be outside. That’s not the Brooklyn I grew up in, I don’t think that should be defined as progress, and that’s what I’d like to see addressed going forward.

    We need a people-first policy that guarantees safe passage so humans at all ages and levels of physical ability can use our streets; we need better truck management to ensure delivery of goods and services without harming the integrity of neighborhood streets; we need to speak out for attractive, safe public transportation; and we need to focus on smarter mixed-use development to reduce car dependence.

    Tyrannical? Okay.

    Teresa

  • Teresa’s ouster is a black mark on CB1, not on Teresa. I worked with her for years at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and I found her to be a tireless, intelligent and motivated advocate.

    Shame on the chair and GM of CB1. Their actions show that they consider themselves above the process that they are supposed to uphold.

  • Bravo, Teresa. When was the last time anyone saw kids playing stickball (or anything else) on a Brooklyn street? It’s not all the fault of video games.

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