The conflict involves mainly two significant distinct communities:
-The population of biking commuters who go to or from Manhattan, to or from the 90% of Brooklyn which is south of the Williamsburg Bridge
-The tightly knit group of Hasidim who almost exclusively occupy a large continuous area south of the bridge and approaching Fort Greene on the south and Bed-Sty to the east
The Hasidic community, like many other curtural zones in NYC, is one of extreme self-segregation. The vast majority of pedestrians are Hasidim, as are a large majority of motor vehiclists and 100% of the school busses. The area is patrolled by the Hasidic paramuniciple police force (Shomrim) and generally governs itself. However, there is no legal precedent for independent jurisdiction, as a Native American territory in the United States would have. NYPD does inhabit the area, as the city has a responsibility to protect all city streets, including the public streets passing through any cultural zone.
From a biking perspective, approaching the Williamsburg Bridge from anywhere south would involve a route through the Hasidic zone. This is unavoidable unless travelling at least half a mile out of one’s way (From Bedford, east on Park, north on Union, west on Broadway) on a route that is not only out of the way but completely void of bike lanes.
Going to the bridge, Bedford Ave offers a direct one-way route with a bike lane straight to the entrance at the base of the bridge. Coming from the bridge, the Bedford route is complimented by the parallel Lee Ave offering a one-way in the opposite direction of Bedford, but without a lane. The only other main biking thorofare in the zone is Kent Ave, along the water, part of the continually developing Brooklyn Greenway. While this two way road and has a two way bike lane, use is only helpful traveling to and through Greenpoint, as it under cuts the bridge making it 4 blocks downhill out of the way for bridge access.
Currently, a conflict exists due to the dangerous nature of all three mentioned routes. Typical motor vehicle infractions include double parking (even in bike lanes) and over-aggressive driving. In addition, pedestrians have a greater tendency (greater than typical NYC pedestrian behavior) for jay walking and crossing during reds. Close calls (biking collisions) are more frequent in this area due to both the unique nature of the local occupants and the greater volume of commuter bike traffic through the corridor. Furthermore, the conflicting sentiment is only exacerbated on both sides as the dangers increase.
Bedford Ave’s 14 blocks of bike lane (from Flushing Ave to Division Ave) were recently grinded away in late November, 2009. This now makes Bedford Avenue even more dangerous as the elimination of the lane increases the ability for motor vehicles to dominate the rode and it gives bikers less legal leverage should there be an accident. As stated earlier, bikers have no viable alternate route approaching the bridge that would avoid such dangers. Therefore, the bike volume on Bedford Avenue will not significantly decrease and the route will remain more dangerous than before the removal.
Recently, bike advocates tried to repaint the bike lane at night, only to be arrested.
However, the repainted lane stayed for several days before DOT finally repainted over it in black. The strong opposition to this decision has even followed Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Copenhagen. Locally, efforts are currently underway to find a solution to the obvious and unavoidable problem. Hopefully the effects of this will include, at a minimum, bringing back the bike lane…