It’s mourning in Williamsburg

The Brooklyn Paper
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A bike lane is gone, but it was not unloved.

Such was the message from the cyclists who pedaled through cold, soppy conditions on December 13, to pay their respects to the removal of the popular Bedford Avenue bike lane.

Times Up!, a New York-based environmental and transportation organization, organized the ride as a New Orleans-style “Bicycle Funeral Procession,” to mark the Department of Transporta­tion’s removal of a 14-block stretch of bike lanes along Bedford Avenue in South Williamsburg two weeks ago.

“We’re not here to eulogize the bike lane, we’re here to ask, what happened?” said Times Up’s Benjamin Shephard, aka Hank ‘Tears of a Clown’ Clown, who delivered a eulogy anyway.

The demonstration ride is the latest chapter in a local cultural clash over the city’s bike lane network and the manner in which they are added or removed. Over the past year, residents throughout Williamsburg have registered their complaints online and in community meetings about segments of bicycle lanes on Kent and Bedford avenues.

While the DOT has largely stood by its position of increasing the number of bike lanes citywide, city workers sandblasted several lanes on Bedford Avenue on November 30. One week later, police arrested two individuals who set about repainting the vanished lanes in exacting detail and charged them with criminal mischief. DOT workers have since brushed over the acts of vandalism, though transportation advocates are still fuming over the episode.

“Any creative effort we can do to support the cycling community and sustainable transit we will be there,” said Times Up! volunteer Monica Hunken, who revealed that the costumed effort was inspired by the actions of the Bedford painters.

At 2 p.m., 15 cyclists, half of whom were dressed in makeshift clown outfits, gathered at Continental Skate Plaza (South 5th Street and South 5th Plaza) in Williamsburg to share their thoughts about the lane before embarking on their funerary ride down Bedford Avenue. An equal number of police officers in about a dozen vehicles were waiting for them, photographing their move.

“We just wanted to let you know that we’re here,” said 90th Precinct Deputy Inspector Michael Kemper, who greeted Hunken and other volunteers before the ride.

After Shephard made his remarks, the cyclists were off. With their sirens flashing, the officers slowly followed. A neighborhood onlooker could be mistaken for assuming that an actual funeral procession was taking place.

“It was a really nice ride, even without the bike lane, said Transportation Alternatives member Marin Tockman. “Because of the police there was very little traffic.”

Though some cycling activists hinted that there may have been an attempt to restore the bike lane, any thoughts of re-repainting had evaporated due to the severity of the weather and the presence of the police. Instead, volunteers laid flowers on the corner of Bedford and Wallabout Street and held a peaceful dance party, serenaded by the sounds of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Gloria Gainer’s “I Will Survive.”

In the wake of a cycling fatality on Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint hours before the demonstration, Shephard urged cyclists to keep using Bedford Avenue and riding in groups if possible.

“It’s illegal for cars to hit bike riders. It’s still a problem, the streets aren’t safe for bike riders,” said Shephard. “If Mayor Bloomberg were serious about green infrastructure, police would be ticketing and towing cars. Instead cars have free reign in the streets and bicyclists ride in fear.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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