I am currently reading A Fortress in Brooklyn, a (mostly) fine book about the relationship between Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidim and real estate policy.
One chapter discusses Satmar opposition to bike lanes in their neighborhood, and suggests that one cause of this opposition might be that “the Hasidic community in Williamsburg developed a pervasive and entrenched culture of driving automobiles.” In an otherwise heavily footnoted book, the authors supply no footnotes to support this claim.
Is it true? Let’s look at the 2019 Census data. There are three Census tracts that include the core of Lee Avenue (the main street of Hasidic Williamsburg): tracts 531, 533 and 535 in Brooklyn. According to the American Community Survey (ACS), the percentage of occupied housing units without automobiles ranged from 63 percent (tract 531) to 85 percent (tract 535). Admittedly, ACS data for anything smaller than a city is subject to a large margin of error; however, it is pretty common for car ownership to be low in neighborhoods that are (like Hasidic Williamsburg) close to Manhattan, have a 55 percent poverty rate, and have over 80,000 people per square mile. Another heavily Hasidic area, Borough Park, is further from Manhattan, more affluent, and less dense. (The primary zip code of Borough Park, 11219, has a 32 percent poverty rate, and has only 60,000 people per square mile). Yet even in the Boro Park zip code, most households lack a vehicle.
ACS commuting data is consistent with these figures. In all three Census tracts, fewer than 1/4 of workers drove or carpooled to work. Public transit use was roughly comparable, because the majority of workers worked in the neighborhood and walked to work.
To me the most interesting question is, why did these otherwise careful authors get it wrong? I have two theories. First, if they were focused on bike lanes, perhaps they spent more time talking to anti-bike-lane activists than to other Hasidim; perhaps bike-haters might be more likely to own cars than their more apathetic neighbors. Second, perhaps the authors’ stereotypes got in the way. In most of the United States, large families and large cars go together; perhaps the authors assumed without researching the point that this must be true in Williamsburg as well.