SoHo Fights Back Against Bikers

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:06

Residents are hoping to squash a motorcycle rally planned for their neighborhood

Soho Depending on who you talk to, New York City motorcycle riders are either daredevils living on the fringes of society or simple freedom-lovers who are only trying to put their community first. The two sides only became more ingrained when video of the gruesome road rage incident on the West Side Highway went viral last fall, and now tension is growing again over a proposed rally on the streets of Soho.

The Brooklyn Alliance chapter of ABATE New York, a statewide organization that advocates for motorcycle rights, has requested permits from the local community board for a "Bike Blessing and Community Awareness" event on July 22nd. The blessing is an annual tradition among bikers that aims to provide them with good luck through the riding season.

The all-day event would feature children's face painters, involvement from public officials, and members will be on hand to answer questions or provide motorcycle safety advice. According to organizers, much of the goal is to improve New Yorkers' opinions of motorcyclists in the wake of the West Side Highway incident, in which dozens of bikers surrounded, harassed, and attempted to assault a young family. Cell phone images of the chase made international headlines and seemed to cement hobbyists into the outlaw stereotype celebrated by the Hells Angels.

Soho residents ? to put it mildly ? are less enthused about the proposed bike blessing.

Sean Sweeney, the executive director of the Soho Alliance and member of Community Board 2, warned that between 150 and 200 motorcycles are expected to rumble into Soho from Brooklyn and throughout the state, closing off streets and creating a headache in a community where even street fairs are few and far between.

"No one wants it," he said. "Who would want motorcycles revving up from 12:00 until 6:00 p.m. and maybe even later on a nice sunny Saturday afternoon? It shows no concern at all for the hundreds of people who live within earshot of this proposed event."

When questioned about details of the event and the expected turnout, multiple New York board members of ABATE said they have no intention of sending any motorcyclists to Manhattan, and that the issue has not come up during their regular meetings.

Sweeney said he is a motorcycle owner himself and admitted that the event, which will be held at Soho Square near Broome and Sixth Avenue, probably won't impact traffic much, if at all. However he stressed that the problem is the location, along with the vendors possibly selling food and souvenirs at what has been billed as a religious event.

A major point of contention is that the rally is being sponsored by the Ducati Triumph motorcycle shop, leading to the perception that the true motivation for the ceremony is profit. Despite the focus on community-building, he equated the situation with a company debuting a new product.

"Does that mean the Apple store could close the street off when the next iPhone comes out? Of course not," he said. "This is a commercial event, a noisy event, from people who have zero roots to the community."

The proprietor of Ducati Triumph, Steve Rodt, said he was led to believe the event would have "minimal impact" and he made it clear that upsetting neighbors is not on the store's summer to-do list.

"Motorcycling is a nice leisure activity," Rodt said. "I'm not looking to create any hardship at all."

Members of the Brooklyn Alliance chapter refused to speculate on how many people would show up, but ABATE New York State President Robert Porter estimated that sun and bright skies attract hundreds of people to a bike blessing. He said that unlike the "Sons of Anarchy" TV show, ABATE has actually raised thousands of dollars for the Ronald McDonald House and other charities.

The group also lobbies lawmakers in Albany to allow for safer helmet laws and to update driver's license tests so that young drivers know how to share the road with bikers.

As for the location of the bike blessing, the Brooklyn Alliance said motorcycle events are held throughout the city and they chose Soho as a way to "just get the awareness out." They said large numbers could show up, although they expect that visitors will come and go throughout the day.

The community board will meet to discuss the matter next on Thursday, May 22nd.