A news article from New York was heavily making its way across the cycling blog/Twitter-verse yesterday, about some New York City bicyclists that repainted some bike lanes in Brooklyn. I vaguely registered the news item on my radar, but did not take a moment to read it until a friend of mine sent it to me by email. It was then I clicked and read it, and realized the Brooklyn area this happened in was Williamsburgh, a section that is full of Jews, specifically Hasidim (or as they are called in the news, Ultra-Orthodox, a title I do not like at all). Oh boy.
I don’t know exactly what happened that those bike lanes in Williamsburgh were sandblasted away. I can only comment on what is said in the article, and even then I have to treat it as not entirely accurate. That said, there’s one part that really pressed my buttons:
Scantily clad hipster cyclists attracted to the Brooklyn neighborhood made it difficult, the Hasids said, to obey religious laws forbidding them from staring at members of the opposite sex in various states of undress. These riders also were disobeying the traffic laws, they complained.
Again, I have to assume that this is the paper embellishing things unless I actually hear it from someone who could corroborate that is precisely what was said. The thing is, it does sound like something they would say, and based on a Google News Search of recent news, and even some articles from a year ago, it would appear this is indeed cited as the reason.
Listen, I’m a Jew, a Shomer Shabbat, Kosher-keeping Orthodox (not a Hasid) Jew who rides a bike in South Beach, the hottest, trendiest, most trafficked area of Miami Beach. There is more than this city’s share of scantily clad people all around me that I pass by while I ride, or that pass by my house, the park, the yeshiva (the Torah school), the various synagogues, etc. Guess what, I’m under the same religious law forbidding me from looking at “members of the opposite sex in various states of undress,” and you know what I do? I don’t look. Yes, I slip up sometimes, but in general, I don’t look. I, me; I take the action, or decide to not take the action as the case may be. The onus of that Law is on me to not do it. There are also religious laws that govern how we should dress modestly, but again, those are on me; I can’t enforce those on anyone, Jewish or not.
Eliminating the bike lanes for this reason (and “disobeying the traffic laws” was an add-on, at least as the writer put it) is inane at best. Bicyclists are allowed full use of the road, so riders will continue to use the same avenues, bike lanes or not. Difference is, you just made it a bit more unsafe for them, and last I checked, that is also disallowed by halachah (religious Law). If it’s because they are not obeying traffic laws, have the same Shomerin Patrol educate them when they see them do things wrong, remind them that there are kids around they can hurt if they don’t ride according to the law, etc. But don’t attempt to have your neighborhood, where you are not the only one who lives there, shaped to your convenience; that’s just rude (and shame to those in City Hall that gave in to these demands for political reasons without any survey on the larger safety implications).
While I normally don’t condone acts where people take the law into their own hands, I can’t disagree with the bicyclists that repainted those bike lanes either. I’m not necessarily going to be behind a Naked Bike Ride going through the Hasidic neighborhood (that would be rude on the part of the cyclists as well), but the responsibility to not look at bicyclists in shorts, tanktops, etc is on you, the Jew. You are the one bound by the Law of Hashem, not them (Jewish bicyclists aside – and as far as those that are Jewish and not dressed modestly, well, there’s far more effective ways to establish that conversation than by stripping off/blocking the construction of new bike lanes). Take responsibility for your actions and take care of those around you, Jewish and Gentile; it is the mission that was entrusted to us by G-d, after all.