What is happening with the Brooklyn bike path? There have been several miles of moderately successful bike lane installations, and ongoing public debate. The most newsworthy is that over the struggle between Hassids and Hipsters (as the media puts it) in Williamsburg. From Bedford Ave and N 7th, I walked the three parallel bike paths on Wythe, Berry, and Kent Ave that cut through Williamsburg and the residential towers that anchor the large Hasidic community to the south to get a better sense of the use and context of these bike lanes. From the heart of hipster Williamsburg, where Crossroads clothing company and the flea markets were humming with tourists and twenty- and thirty- year olds hunting down the perfect used fashion statement. The streets throng with shoppers and bicyclists. It is interesting to wonder about thisdiverse hipster community not solely as agents of gentrification. These residents are not just alternative, “white” and privileged but also internal American migrants, often working service jobs and perhaps nearly as entrepreneurial as foreign migrants.
This area has an amazing dedication to bike lanes. Berry is a one-way street north, with a dedicated painted bike lane. Wythe is the same, a one-way street south. Along Kent Ave is a veritable bike highway. Here major compromises have clearly been made, the bike lane is unusual in its design. A strip of street parking divides the two-lane bike highway (painted green) from the one-way northbound road. Parking spaces were clearly affected more on Kent by the bike highway than on Berry and Wythe, where parking remains along the curb and the bike lane runs down the middle of the street.
It’s not clear what causes the greatest conflict in the uproar over bike lanes- a reduction in parking spaces, opposition to bike and dedicated bike lanes in general, or specific objections like those by the Hasidic community to the right to the street. The compromise, on the ground, is equally confusing. It seems to me that all three dedicatedbike lanes have essentially similar levels of traffic, although Wythe and Berry seem to be more for cruising and at times have less visible signage. Kent Ave may be for more serious riders, however I passed (or was passed) by a handful of tourists riding rented bikes. Kent Ave, too, is a major thoroughfare for the Hassidic community. There are several nearby schools, religious organizations and the Jewish Center for Special Education. It also has a good sidewalk for baby carriages, of which there are many.
At Kent Ave and Clymer St, the Jacob’s Ladder playground is obviously popular among young Hasidic mothers and children. Kent is on the downhill side, where the bike highway continues unabated, with no median plantings and few parking spaces to block visibility. But on the uphill side, signs of compromise over bike lanesare visible. On Wythe, where the women and children undoubtedly cross to enter the playground, the bike symbols are present, but there is no separate bike lane. On Bedford, the bike symbols themselves are missing, but the dividing line of the bike lane itself is still present. The symbols have been sandblasted away again after the painting battle staged on youtube. From the Hassid perspective, they may have won. For a block or two, their request to “remove”the bike lanes on Wythe and Berry/Bedford has been somewhat fulfilled. But enough paint remains: on NYC bike maps, the streets are still shown as having separate bike lanes, funneling bike traffic through the Hassidic community regardless of the one or two blocks that lack an inner bike lane line or a handful of bike lane symbols.
Another impact this community has on the neighborhood is the proliferation of temporary structures. Along Kent near Clymer, I began to notice that every porch was built out under a tarp awning, some more permanent than others with windows, wooden walls and more permanent roofing. These same temporary buildings continued along Clymer- sometimes even completely blocking the sidewalk. These rooms expand religious buildings and apartments alike for a community that requires room for expansion. But at the heart of the Hassidic residential area, I saw relatively few signs of commercial activity. There were a couple of grocery stores, a kosher bakery and a few other small shops. But unlike most streets in New York, there were few signs of commerce and immigrant entrepreneurialism. I did see one start-up baby clothing shop offering a wide selection of black children’s shoes, but I think it would be worth going back on a Monday and learning more about entrepreneurialism within Hassidic religious organizations.
A selection of background news articles: