Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg petition for Citi Bike 

Hasidic Jews have a well-deserved reputation for shunning cycling — but one splinter group of the faithful is trying to change that reputation.

A small group of Hasidic Jews has launched Hasidim For Bikes in response to a recent Daily News article that revealed a gaping void of Citi Bike rental kiosks in the religious section of Williamsburg.

The group said in a statement it is "not pleased" with the "black hat black hole," a reference to both the lack of kiosks and the prevailing sartorial custom in the area.

On its Facebook page, the group claims its members are united by a shared passion for bikes and that riding keeps traffic off the road, while providing a healthier lifestyle.

"Bikes fill our lives with adventure and excitement, relaxing our minds and energizing our souls," said the group's website.

Hasidim for Bikes is also gathering support through its Twitter account, @hasidimforbikes, which currently has 95 followers.

The group is calling on Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg) to help bring bikes to the area.

"As our rep ... we ask you to demand Citi Bike stations for our neighborhood," the group said.

Members of the group declined interview requests. If the group takes hold, it would be a rare instance of support for cycling in the Hasidic community.
Ultra religious Jews have in fact battled bikes for years.

Williamsburg's Satmars demanded in 2008 that officials nix the Hasidic Quarter portion of the Bedford Ave. cycling lane, complaining that scantily dressed women were pedaling past their kids.

A similar argument was made a decade earlier after the city proposed a bike lane in Borough Park

And when Citi Bike was announced, Hasidic community spokesman Isaac Abraham warned of "civil disobedience" if the kiosks are ever placed too close to where the Satmar Hasidim live.

"We will put baby carriages there," Abraham said. "We will make a baby carriage lane."

Still, Levin is moving forward with his own bid for more Citi Bike kiosks in the non-Hasidic portion of his bike-friendly Greenpoint-Williamsburg council district.

The Citi Bike program launched last month with 6,000 shareable bikes at 330 docks in Manhattan below 59th St. and in neighborhoods around downtown Brooklyn. The second phase of the program, which would comprise 10,000 bikes across a wider swath of the Big Apple, remains unfunded, so it is unclear when Levin and the Hasidic splinter group will get its blue cycles.

The News reported last month that Hasidic Williamsburg was nearly completely devoid of Citi Bike kiosks — an indication of the community's strong political power and preference to be left alone by cyclists, whose biking clothes and lifestyles clash with traditional values.

Hasidic officials defended their efforts to block specific locations for Citi Bike in their neighborhood.

"They put the racks where they are going to be used," said Community Board 1 member Simon Weiser, who hashed out kiosk locations with the Department of Transportation. "Look at the Hasidic community. No one rides a bike here."

Gears may have shifted.

"We believe that by coming together, we can make our Hasidic shtetl (neighborhood) a better place to ride," the Hasidim for Bikes group stated.


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