NO LAUGHING MATTER: This Whoopi Goldberg Thing is a Watershed Moment

Last week, Goldberg made some ill-informed comments about bike lanes.
Last week, Goldberg made some ill-informed comments about bike lanes.

Well, if nothing else, Whoopi Goldberg just showed how badly we need a bike mayor.

In reality, a commissioner-level cycling czar is just a symbol of the need to fight the continuing bikelash; Goldberg’s comments on “The View” on Wednesday — a must-watch if you haven’t seen it — were just the latest example of a troubling perception of bikes that is not going away, no matter how many times Speaker Corey Johnson says he wants to “break the car culture” or how many times Mayor de Blasio rightly points out that protected bike lanes do not increase traffic and they do safe lives.

Mayor de Blasio pushed back against an onslaught of anti-bike vitriol hurled at him Wednesday on ABC's "The View."
Mayor de Blasio pushed back against an onslaught of anti-bike vitriol hurled at him Wednesday on ABC’s “The View.”

To his credit, the mayor made that very point to Goldberg, but his logic didn’t change any minds in a nation where facts don’t matter. Goldberg herself often criticizes President Trump, but on Wednesday, she was the one engaging in Trump-style misinformation, spewing the classic demagogy: “I feel it, so it must be true.”

Cycling advocates have statistics and facts on their side — bike lanes do make roadways safer, do not cause congestion, do not block emergency vehicles, do not cause pollution, do offer a less-expensive commute for struggling workers — but stars like Goldberg have more powerful megaphones.

And yesterday, Goldberg abused that power, using a nationally televised platform to lie (she said there’s a bike lane on 10th Avenue when there isn’t), stir dark conspiracy theories (she argued that bike lanes are a “set up” to increase congestion so Gov. Cuomo can push congestion pricing), claim the city doesn’t actually study road safety (“What feasibility study did you all do when you decided to put these in?” she asked), and flat out make stuff up (“You can’t make a turn anywhere, you can’t go straight anywhere,” she said).

She offered only a windshield-eye view of the city she commutes into most days from her New Jersey mansion. But, frankly, that’s all we hear from the champions of car culture. People who drive — or in Goldberg’s case, are driven in a really big SUV — simply cannot conceptualize the damage they do because, indeed, how can they when the roads were built for them?

In Albany this week. I asked State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island about congestion pricing and he launched into a tirade about how every resident of The Rock should be allowed to drive whenever and wherever he wants.

“They ought to be able to drive in. Why not?” he said, incredulous. I’ve heard the same pro-car rants from my pal Curtis Sliwa every time I go on his radio program to talk about the city and end up being screamed at about how “my” bike lanes are screwing everything up (no one seems to care about Uber, which causes virtually all of the post-2014 congestion). And we’ve all heard it from some friend who can’t conceive of the idea that single-occupancy cars are literally the worst form of transportation in an urban area.

Lanza’s “Why not?” or Goldberg’s tired complaints about traffic are the stuff of indifferent sociopaths who are clueless about the harm they do. They simply can’t understand why anyone would want to restrict their “right” to drive, never mind that car drivers killed all of the 201 people who died on New York City streets last year and caused virtually all of the 53,200 reported injuries on roadways — all while polluting the air, getting in the way of buses, blocking delivery vehicles, forcing us to put our trash on the sidewalks instead of in the roadway, frightening children, and making our streets less livable.

That’s what Goldberg enabled yesterday.  To me, there’s very little difference between a former talk show host who moved to a mansion and now lies about crime rates among immigrants and a current talk show host who moved to a mansion and lies about how bike lanes are causing congestion. As a result of Goldberg’s rant, a bunch of drivers in Middle America and Morris Park Avenue now nodding their heads and saying, “Yeah, I hate those bike lanes. Now I can’t drive 45 in a 25-mile-per-hour zone anymore!”

After the “View” segment, I reached out to Johnson and de Blasio, but neither wanted to fight the good fight.

“The Speaker didn’t see the segment, but he is a big supporter of bike lanes because he knows they save lives,” Jennifer Fermino, the Council’s spokeswoman, told me. Eric Phillips, the mayor’s mouthpiece, said something similar: “We respect Whoopi, we just disagree with her. Our focus is on educating her and others on the live-saving benefits of bike lanes.

So if re-education is the ticket, let’s hire that bike mayor already. It doesn’t have to be me, of course, but Mr. Mayor, if it was me, I’d be at the head of a small armada of cyclists greeting Whoopi Goldberg’s SUV at the ABC studio on W. 66th Street this morning.

And I’d be telling her that she’s the one “screwing up” the city. Because she is.

 

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