Williamsburg's hipsters broke bread with local Hasidim Monday at a community meeting where they discussed their disputed bike lane. "The debate didn't really get anyone anywhere," reports a local hipster. Uh oh, is that the sound of youthful idealism crashing?
Refresher: Williamsburg thoroughfare Bedford Avenue once had a bike lane. The bike lane rolled through a neighborhood of Hasidic Jews, who thought the cyclists rude, scantily clad, and dangerous. So the lane was removed, probably because Emperor Bloomberg needed the Hasids' support to crown himself mayor again.
Going into tonight's bike lane debate at Pete's Candy Store, it's safe to say I was of the camp that believed the whole dispute was primarily a cultural thing—the Hasids didn't like to see scantily-clad women biking through their neighborhoods, and the bikers didn't like the Hasids using their political power to remove their lane.
But I'm not so sure that's the whole picture anymore.
As ridiculous as it may seem to bikers who use the lane (or lack there of nowadays), the Hasids genuinely appear to be concerned about the safety of their pedestrians. Isaac offered anecdote after anecdote of a child, or a woman, being hit by a biker speeding down the road.
As is usually the case when two parties have different motives, all the warm fuzzies in the world failed to render real solutions. (See: "Waving Wednesdays," when surly cyclists shall henceforth gyrate their wrists 'hello.') Ries concludes, "the debate didn't really get anyone anywhere, other than a few shared laughs and a feeling that neither side is budging more than mere inches." This means they'll have to go through the same useless motions several more times, with varying degrees of bureaucracy: a public safety meeting at "the Swinging Sixties Senior Center" on the 4th, another talk-it-out meeting on the 9th, internet comment boards, an "education campaign," and a plea to stop calling it "Hasids vs. Hipsters." (Sorry Brian, that ship's already sailed.)
Luckily, there is light at the end of the (bicycle-free) tunnel: Hasids and hipsters alike bonded over a shared enemy, the Department of Transportation.
Throughout the night, a resounding theme that they've both been screwed by the DOT continued to surface — the Hasids when they were forced to move their cars on the Sabbath, and the bikers when the lane was suddenly removed... Both sides came to agree that the DOT are essentially "a bunch of morons," in Isaac's words given to a member of the audience after the show. During the debate, Isaac attempted to argue that the bike lane itself was installed by the DOT without any community consent, a fact Caroline very much disagreed with.
This whole affair is a depressing microcosm for the democratic process: Two parties, irreconcilably gridlocked, talk lots and accomplish little until a mutual enemy intervenes. Moral of the story: Someone's about to get sent to Iraq. [FW]
Update: Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Wiley Norvell emailed this morning to take issue with Brian Ries' account of the meeting on FreeWilliamburg:
They completely mischaracterized our position, and
paraphrased our Caroline Samponaro incorrectly. I don't think anyone who
attended last night would say that post accurately conveyed Caroline's
statements or our organization's position. This one paragraph (which is
included in your post as well) is simply untrue, and associates T.A.
with the remarks of Isaac Abraham
Since Ries was there and we weren't, we're waiting to see if he changes his report. And now he has: Ries has edited his story to clarify, as Transportation Alternatives emailed him, "At no point did Caroline and Isaac find themselves on the same side last night."