Too cold to strip: Bike protestors stay clothed in Hassidic area of New York
Brooklyn residents wanted to cycle naked after bike lane removed from ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Bicyclists planning a Saturday protest in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish area of New York had been calling it their "Freedom Ride" - free of clothing, that is, but a last minute snowstorm meant that there was less nudity than expected.
Some protestors pinned fake breasts over their clothes instead.
The removal of clothing had been planned as a protest over the removal of a bike lane in Williamsburg, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. The activists wanted to go topless in front of Hasidic residents who "can't handle scantily clad women" on wheels, bike messenger Heather Loop told a local newspaper earlier this week.
The newspaper, The Brooklyn Paper, had suggested the scantily clad protesters could roll into the neighborhood at sundown Saturday - just as families leave synagogue services on the Sabbath.
Bicycling advocates claim New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg erased the bike lane because conservative residents don't like seeing women in skimpy clothing riding by every day. But local residents say the lane was removed out of concern for the safety of children being dropped off by school buses.
Members of the Satmar branch of Judaism "don't want to see women in shorts," says Baruch Herzfeld, who runs a bike-sharing program in a community where Jewish women wear hefty skirts and blouses with long sleeves and men heavy coats and hats, even in summer.
"The rabbis want to keep their people in the 18th century, and they don't want the world to intrude into their enclave," says Herzfeld. Not entirely true, says Leo Moskowitz, a resident with five children. He insists the main issue is safety.
"Kids can be knocked over because school buses are not allowed to stop in the bike lane - it's dangerous," says Moskowitz, a salesman at a telecommunications company who acknowledges that he feels "very uncomfortable" seeing women bare their legs in public.
The bike lane battle is pitting Hasids against hipsters and, in some cases, Jew against Jew.
Those who say safety is the main reason for doing away with the lane "are lying," says Herzfeld, who was born a Satmar but says certain practices should be abolished.
"The mayor made a deal with religious fanatics trying to enforce old traditions that don't belong in the 21st century," he said.
Marc LaVorgna, a Bloomberg spokesman, says the city always consults members of a community when making changes that affect them. In this case, he said, city officials want riders to use a much safer lane nearby that he called "the Cadillac of bike paths" - a two-way path separated from car traffic. That bike lane also drew the wrath of some Satmars last year, but it stayed.
The now-vanished bike lane, on Bedford Avenue, has been the subject of two recent protests.
On Sunday, activists staged a "funeral procession" for the departed path. Two weeks ago, under the watchful eye of police, they painted back the stripe. City workers scraped it off and two bikers were charged with criminal mischief and defacing the street.
The organizers of Saturday's naked ride have been keeping a low profile. Since she spoke to The Brooklyn Paper earlier this week, Loop has been mum. She didn't return a call to her cell phone or answer a Facebook message.
The participants in the ride did not have the support of Transportation Alternatives, a major cycling advocacy group.
"A ride with people in provocative undress doesn't make Bedford any safer, and it undermines efforts to bring the neighborhood together to solve the problem," says Wiley Norvell, a group spokesman.