Baby Steps Forward in Bedford Avenue Bike Lane Debate

2010_1_bikelanedebate.jpgLast night’s bike lane debate. From left: Heather Loop, Lyla Durden, Caroline Samponaro, Isaac Abraham, and Baruch Herzfeld. Photo: Gothamist.

The seemingly perpetual conflict in Williamsburg over bike lanes has seen a lot of twists and turns the last few years. The issue has surfaced in City Council elections, on the local community board, and in proposed direct actions — from a topless bike ride to intentionally blocking cyclists with school buses. Last night, each side took it inside for a debate hosted by Pete’s Candy Store. 

The event pitted Isaac Abraham, an activist in the Williamsburg Hasidic community and a former candidate for City Council, against four debaters in favor of bike safety: Lyla Durden and Heather Loop, who planned the snowed-out topless ride, Baruch Herzfeld, who runs a bike repair shop in Williamsburg targeted at the Jewish community and has emerged as something of a bike-friendly ambassador to the Hasidim, and Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternatives’ director of bicycle advocacy. With only around five Hasidim in the packed house, Abraham called himself "a sheep in a lion’s den," though the evening stayed generally cordial. Durden, Herzfeld, and the evening’s moderator, James Hook (also a cyclist), all wore "Isaac Abraham for City Council" baseball caps for much of the debate.

To the surprise of no one, the night did not end with a formal agreement on resolving the conflict. When it was over, Abraham still insisted that a bike lane on Bedford Avenue is "never going to sell. Not ever." Even so, the discussion seemed to have progressed somewhat from the point where bike lane opponents were objecting to cyclists’ very right to the road. "What we’re talking about here is baby steps," said Samponaro. For more on the blow-by-blow, you can check out the write-ups on Gothamist, Gawker, and Voz iz Neias.

As for those baby steps, the debate did raise a number of possible ways to address safety on Bedford Avenue, without necessarily re-striping the bike lane:

  • Samponaro recommended a variety of pedestrian improvements, such as neckdowns or raised crosswalks. "If this is really a pedestrian corridor," she said, "let’s prioritize pedestrians."
  • Herzfeld called for installing speed bumps for both cars and bicycles.
    That would address the safety concerns of both sides of the debate, he
    argued.
  • Samponaro also proposed making permanent, fixed school bus stops, enabling cyclists to know when schoolchildren would be stepping into the road.
  • One audience member recommended an enforcement crackdown of all traffic laws in the area, targeting both drivers and cyclists. The suggestion got some nods from the debaters. 
  • Finally, there was widespread agreement that any future action should be preceded by a more open public process. Durden complained that the city "didn’t treat anyone very fairly." They removed the Bedford Avenue lane overnight, and "when they put in the bike lanes on Kent, they did it on a day when no one could move their cars [due to Shabbat]." She proposed an open meeting to build off the debate.

If there is another meeting, the sides might want to consider hashing out some terms for collecting information on Bedford Avenue. Throughout the debate, Abraham repeatedly mocked DOT studies of neighborhood streets and asserted his own data on cyclist behavior. The facts about street safety, and where the real risks on Bedford come from, might become less contentious if both sides went out and observed the street together. Although some facts are already indisputable.

  • Eric

    I was the audience member who suggested an enforcement crackdown. Your reporting of the panel responses is a lot mroe positive than what I saw. Isaac completely ignored addressing the issue in his response and continued to stick to his apparent belief that as long as there’s a bike lane, bikers will act as hazards to pedestrians. That response was not very heartening.

  • Georgette

    I was born in Chicago, and later, partially raised by NYC. I am now attending school in LA, but I must say that the bike movement that I’ve seen and heard about across the country is marvelous. As a philosophy and political science enthusiast, I find such a communal movement to be a reminder and a proof towards supporting the hope of a better world, and the bare fact that change is something that human beings were naturally, instinctively born to do. We can adapt to our environments, like other animals can; we can create and build tools to assist ourselves; our intellect supports is infinitely capable of coming up with solutions, so long as we are truly working at it. In the “biking culture” we find people who describe their experiences as representative of “freedom”, “self-sufficiency”, and “health”. The United States also happens to be a nation where higher and higher percentages of people are experiencing overweight-gain and are becoming more prone to type II diabetes. It seems to me that a movement that encourages some sort of community stability-in terms of easy, safe, and environmentally friendly transportation, at almost nowhere near the cost of a car, that also provides daily exercise and the health benefits that develop in response to exercise, that also rekindles the sense of community that we as a nation lost so long ago– such stability in a growing global world, is a necessity and bikes are an opportunity that can help close at least one of the many chasms that seperate a United States(/cities/towns/suburbs/etc.) of peoples.

  • I was sadly unable to attend this debate due to illness, however continue to be frustrated over the conditions of this corridor that I use on a daily basis to get to work from around Myrtle Ave.

    With a minimum of fifteen miles per day on my saddle, I consider myself proficient in the art of urban cycling, and therefore for the most part appreciate bike lanes merely as a way to encourage others to take up cycling. I have no problem “taking a lane,” whether it has little pictures of a man on a bicycle or not, and therefore do so on Bedford Ave.

    Somebody (and I suppose that somebody is the DOT, or, god forbid, the NYPD) needs to somehow communicate to motorists that in the absence of a bike lane on Bedford Ave, cyclists WILL be using one of the two general purpose vehicle lanes. Almost every morning I get treated to the musical sounds of DERRRRRP!!!!! DERP DERP DEEEERRRRRPPPP! on my way to work, and at least once a week one of them passes (or tries to pass) me in an aggressive and unsafe way (i.e. if I am occupying the right lane and there is part of a block with no vehicles parked on the right hand side, they will actually use that space to pass me on the right!).

    While I have been annoyed that my comfort and safety was sacrificed due to a political favor from day one, I am really starting to get sick of the behavior of motorists on this particular stretch of Bedford Ave. I used to more or less just laugh when motorists act like impatient morons, however since I was hit about a week ago (in a completely different part of Brooklyn), I’m starting to take it a bit more seriously as a threat to my safety.

  • philosophy and political science enthusiast, I find such a communal movement to be a reminder and a proof towards supporting the hope of a better world, and the bare fact that change is something that human beings were naturally, instinctively born to do.

  • I was the audience member who suggested an enforcement crackdown. Your reporting of the panel responses is a lot mroe positive than what I saw. Isaac completely ignored addressing the issue in his response and continued to stick to his apparent belief that as long as there’s a bike lane, bikers will act as hazards to pedestrians. That response was not very heartening.

  • Chsandoval44

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:30 am I was aggressively blocked from riding my bike twice by a hostile Hasidic school bus driver in what used to be the bike lane on Bedford Ave just past Flatbush Avenue in Willamsburgh, Brooklyn. The bus driver used his school bus, which was loaded with children, to pinch me and my bike between his bus and the lane of parked vehicles, not once but twice. This maniac bus driver was not only using his bus to play chicken with my life, he was also putting the lives of the children on his bus in danger. During the first incident I was riding North on Bedford Ave and the bus was turning right from Flatbush onto Bedford Ave. After the bus made the turn onto Bedford it sped up and parked diagonally as school buses do to safely block traffic for boarding or dis-boarding children, except this bus came inches away from hitting me on my bike and in turn pinched me so close up against a parked car that I could hardly dislodge myself from between the car and the bus. This bus driver was using the right to block traffic with his school bus to attack the bicycle traffic going up Bedford Ave, while having a bus full of children he was responsible for transporting to school safely. Frustrated and a bit shaken, I squeezed between the bus and the parked cars and continued to ride up Bedford. I could hear the reving motor of the school bus behind me as it sped up to violently whip around me and postion his bus at such an angle so that the front grill of the bus was coming straight at me. I had to stop riding and press myself and my bike up against the parked cars on my left so the large school bus tire would not hit me. The attack caused extreme anger and I slapped the door of the bus and yelled at the driver. The driver, who was a large over weight man who appeared to be in his 60’s, immediately jumped out of the bus and started to yell at me, “This is not a bike lane!” while waiving his finger so close to my face I thought he was going to poke my eye out. I yelled back, “I have a right to ride my bike here!” as an argument ensued. At this point I was still straddling my bike and precariously lodged between his tire and a parked car. It was difficult to keep my balance while he was yelling and waiving his finger in my face. I then turned my back to the driver and tried to move myself and my bike forward past the bus so I would have more space away from the irate and aggressive bus driver and his vehicle. He then kicked my back tire and almost made me lose my balance and fall. I responded by using my rear bike tire to block his physical attack. He followed me as I maneuvered past the bus and continued to yell and kick my bike. At that point another younger but equally large Hasidic man came over and physically pushed my bike from the front. I was trying to ride my bike away from these two large men, but they used their bodies to block me from leaving and at one point the younger Hasidic man grabbed me and held me while the bus driver started taking cell phone pictures of my face. They both threatened to call the police. I would have gladly called the police myself if I were not so afraid they where going to hurt me physically. All I could do was try my hardest to flee the situation. A non-Hasidic man stopped in his mini van on the right side of Bedford Avenue and asked what was happening. I yelled that they had tried to hit me with their school bus. The man started to yell at the two Hasidic men, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” At that point the Hasidic men turned their attention to the man in the minivan and I was able to take off on my bike.

    In hindsight I wish I would have stopped and called the police, but the attack was so physical all I could do was get myself away from the situation and the Hasidic neighborhood. I will still make a written complaint to the local police department in the neighborhood of the incident and am publishing my account on various blogs as a public record within the community.

  • Chsandoval44

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:30 am I was aggressively blocked from riding my bike twice by a hostile Hasidic school bus driver in what used to be the bike lane on Bedford Ave just past Flatbush Avenue in Willamsburgh, Brooklyn. The bus driver used his school bus, which was loaded with children, to pinch me and my bike between his bus and the lane of parked vehicles, not once but twice. This maniac bus driver was not only using his bus to play chicken with my life, he was also putting the lives of the children on his bus in danger. During the first incident I was riding North on Bedford Ave and the bus was turning right from Flatbush onto Bedford Ave. After the bus made the turn onto Bedford it sped up and parked diagonally as school buses do to safely block traffic for boarding or dis-boarding children, except this bus came inches away from hitting me on my bike and in turn pinched me so close up against a parked car that I could hardly dislodge myself from between the car and the bus. This bus driver was using the right to block traffic with his school bus to attack the bicycle traffic going up Bedford Ave, while having a bus full of children he was responsible for transporting to school safely. Frustrated and a bit shaken, I squeezed between the bus and the parked cars and continued to ride up Bedford. I could hear the reving motor of the school bus behind me as it sped up to violently whip around me and postion his bus at such an angle so that the front grill of the bus was coming straight at me. I had to stop riding and press myself and my bike up against the parked cars on my left so the large school bus tire would not hit me. The attack caused extreme anger and I slapped the door of the bus and yelled at the driver. The driver, who was a large over weight man who appeared to be in his 60’s, immediately jumped out of the bus and started to yell at me, “This is not a bike lane!” while waiving his finger so close to my face I thought he was going to poke my eye out. I yelled back, “I have a right to ride my bike here!” as an argument ensued. At this point I was still straddling my bike and precariously lodged between his tire and a parked car. It was difficult to keep my balance while he was yelling and waiving his finger in my face. I then turned my back to the driver and tried to move myself and my bike forward past the bus so I would have more space away from the irate and aggressive bus driver and his vehicle. He then kicked my back tire and almost made me lose my balance and fall. I responded by using my rear bike tire to block his physical attack. He followed me as I maneuvered past the bus and continued to yell and kick my bike. At that point another younger but equally large Hasidic man came over and physically pushed my bike from the front. I was trying to ride my bike away from these two large men, but they used their bodies to block me from leaving and at one point the younger Hasidic man grabbed me and held me while the bus driver started taking cell phone pictures of my face. They both threatened to call the police. I would have gladly called the police myself if I were not so afraid they where going to hurt me physically. All I could do was try my hardest to flee the situation. A non-Hasidic man stopped in his mini van on the right side of Bedford Avenue and asked what was happening. I yelled that they had tried to hit me with their school bus. The man started to yell at the two Hasidic men, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” At that point the Hasidic men turned their attention to the man in the minivan and I was able to take off on my bike.

    In hindsight I wish I would have stopped and called the police, but the attack was so physical all I could do was get myself away from the situation and the Hasidic neighborhood. I will still make a written complaint to the local police department in the neighborhood of the incident and am publishing my account on various blogs as a public record within the community.

  • Chsandoval44

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:30 am I was aggressively blocked from riding my bike twice by a hostile Hasidic school bus driver in what used to be the bike lane on Bedford Ave just past Flatbush Avenue in Willamsburgh, Brooklyn. The bus driver used his school bus, which was loaded with children, to pinch me and my bike between his bus and the lane of parked vehicles, not once but twice. This maniac bus driver was not only using his bus to play chicken with my life, he was also putting the lives of the children on his bus in danger. During the first incident I was riding North on Bedford Ave and the bus was turning right from Flatbush onto Bedford Ave. After the bus made the turn onto Bedford it sped up and parked diagonally as school buses do to safely block traffic for boarding or dis-boarding children, except this bus came inches away from hitting me on my bike and in turn pinched me so close up against a parked car that I could hardly dislodge myself from between the car and the bus. This bus driver was using the right to block traffic with his school bus to attack the bicycle traffic going up Bedford Ave, while having a bus full of children he was responsible for transporting to school safely. Frustrated and a bit shaken, I squeezed between the bus and the parked cars and continued to ride up Bedford. I could hear the reving motor of the school bus behind me as it sped up to violently whip around me and postion his bus at such an angle so that the front grill of the bus was coming straight at me. I had to stop riding and press myself and my bike up against the parked cars on my left so the large school bus tire would not hit me. The attack caused extreme anger and I slapped the door of the bus and yelled at the driver. The driver, who was a large over weight man who appeared to be in his 60’s, immediately jumped out of the bus and started to yell at me, “This is not a bike lane!” while waiving his finger so close to my face I thought he was going to poke my eye out. I yelled back, “I have a right to ride my bike here!” as an argument ensued. At this point I was still straddling my bike and precariously lodged between his tire and a parked car. It was difficult to keep my balance while he was yelling and waiving his finger in my face. I then turned my back to the driver and tried to move myself and my bike forward past the bus so I would have more space away from the irate and aggressive bus driver and his vehicle. He then kicked my back tire and almost made me lose my balance and fall. I responded by using my rear bike tire to block his physical attack. He followed me as I maneuvered past the bus and continued to yell and kick my bike. At that point another younger but equally large Hasidic man came over and physically pushed my bike from the front. I was trying to ride my bike away from these two large men, but they used their bodies to block me from leaving and at one point the younger Hasidic man grabbed me and held me while the bus driver started taking cell phone pictures of my face. They both threatened to call the police. I would have gladly called the police myself if I were not so afraid they where going to hurt me physically. All I could do was try my hardest to flee the situation. A non-Hasidic man stopped in his mini van on the right side of Bedford Avenue and asked what was happening. I yelled that they had tried to hit me with their school bus. The man started to yell at the two Hasidic men, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” At that point the Hasidic men turned their attention to the man in the minivan and I was able to take off on my bike.

    In hindsight I wish I would have stopped and called the police, but the attack was so physical all I could do was get myself away from the situation and the Hasidic neighborhood. I will still make a written complaint to the local police department in the neighborhood of the incident and am publishing my account on various blogs as a public record within the community.

  • David_K

    What an awful experience; those who assaulted you should be behind bars.

    Every day I bike along Broadway in Brooklyn. I regularly see Hasidic school bus drivers talking on cell phones while ferrying bus loads of school children. Those guys should be behind bars too.

  • dporpentine

    I think that whole area should be the subject of a documentary and an organized protest, probably on bike. The bus drivers are *horrible*–a menace to every single person on the road and even on the sidewalks.

  • dporpentine

    I think that whole area should be the subject of a documentary and an organized protest, probably on bike. The bus drivers are *horrible*–a menace to every single person on the road and even on the sidewalks.

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