(photo credit: AP)
Bicyclists planning a Saturday protest are calling it their "Freedom Ride" - free of clothing, that is. And they may be pedaling topless in a fierce snowstorm, if the forecast holds.
The removal of clothing is meant as a protest over the removal of a bike lane in Williamsburg, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The activists want 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, suggested the scantily clad protesters might roll into the neighborhood at sundown Saturday - just as families leave synagogue services on the Sabbath.
Bicycling advocates claim Mayor Michael Bloomberg erased the bike lane because conservative residents don't like seeing women in skimpy clothing riding by every day.
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 do 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.
The biggest challenge for the topless riders, however, might not be the law - it's legal to go topless in New York in public - but the weather: Forecasters are predicting as much as 10 inches of snow and brisk winds.
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