Bikelash’s Latest Tactics: Pedophile Smears and Conspiracy Theories
A Park Slope community meeting descends into silliness, shoving, and a sinister, cinematic 'Betrayal on 14th Street.' Can we please have some sanity?
As a longtime safe-streets activist, I have attended countless community meetings at which people have spouted tendentious things about street redesigns. I’ve even seen a few meetings descend into shouting matches pitting neighbor against neighbor.
But never before have I attended a meeting where participants linked an advocacy organization to a pedophile, aired a “documentary” about a deep-state conspiracy to force bus and bike lanes on the frail and elderly, and shoved an advocate.
The advocate was me. (More on that later.)
The tone of last night’s meeting on the Ninth Street traffic-calming project in Park Slope was set by an incendiary flier distributed in the neighborhood. It asked people what they would do if their “house were on fire and the ambulances and fire trucks couldn’t get to you in time because of narrowed streets cause by bike lanes.”
Myra Manning, who’s leading the anti bike lane effort, just intro’d John Halpern, a “climate activist” and filmmaker who wants to show a movie about 14th Street. He claims TransAlt is being funded by Epstein. It gets weirder from there pic.twitter.com/VP2YjPQOwE
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) September 25, 2019
The meeting, held at the Church of Gethsemane, ran off the rails shortly after the moderator, Ninth Street resident Myra Manning, welcomed the representatives of elected officials and DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray.
After those customary salutations, Manning gave the floor over to John Halpern, whom she introduced as a “climate activist” and documentarian who has produced films about, among other subjects, “the Dalai Lama and saving souls.”
Halpern said his video was about projects that had been “foisted upon the community by wolves in sheep’s clothing” — and invoked a fearsome bike lobby more powerful and sinister than any known.
“The people of Transportation Alternatives are not as alternative as they want to present themselves,” he said. “Their funding comes from the likes of billionaire Steve Ross, a crony of Jeff Epstein, and an elite group of backers.”
(I texted TransAlt spokesperson Joe Cutrufo to ask if his organization receives money from Ross or any former associates of Epstein. he said, “No,” and sent a link to a list of the group’s funders.)
“Yeah I shoved him,” Halpern said afterward. “It’s theatre, we’re all performers.” pic.twitter.com/IhJjToNcK0
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) September 26, 2019
As Halpern continued, mentioning “the 1 percent,” he was interrupted by jeers. So he stood on a chair and yelled back: “You wanna clown around with me?!”
It was downhill from there.
He then played his approximately 15-minute video, “Betrayal on 14th Street: A New York Story.”
“Betrayal” was ostensibly about the now-averted L train shutdown, but it quickly devolved into a strange conspiracy theory about how a rogue Department of Transportation was pushing forward in Manhattan with a needless 14th Street busway and harmful crosstown bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. The film insinuated that bike lanes had sown chaos across the Village.
If you are wondering what a film about Greenwich Village has to do with bike lanes in Park Slope, so were many of the more than 100 people packed into the church’s basement. As the film droned on and the meeting stretched into its second half hour, many began yelling that Halpern and the organizers ought to wrap it up and that, far from being an impartial moderator, Manning had a clear anti-bike perspective.
Meanwhile, Halpern’s agitprop opus showed images of the July 9, Washington Square “die in,” including shots of people holding signs with the names of some of the cyclists killed this year. The film used the images in a way that suggested that TransAlt has an inordinate sway over the de Blasio administration.
At the film’s end, incensed, I jumped up.
In my advocacy and writing, I have argued fervently for a city in which children are not regularly mowed down by multi-ton cars and trucks — and in which killings by drivers are taken far more seriously than the few collisions of pedestrians by cyclists.
With people shouting at me to sit down, I read a list of the children and one adult who have been killed by drivers on 9th Street since 2004: Joshua Lew, 1. Abigail Blumenstein, 4. Victor Flores, 11. Juan Angel Estrada, 10. Bahtiyor Khamdamov, 41.
I asked the crowd: Where was the flier for these victims? Why had no emergency meeting been called by the residents of Ninth Street following these tragedies?
Halpern shoved me and gave the audience the finger.
In another context, what I did might have been a breach of decorum. But given the meeting’s tenor, the defamatory accusation that TransAlt gets money from the “crony” of a known pedophile, and the images of grieving cyclists used to depict a vast, bike-wing conspiracy, decorum already had vanished.
Strangely, my soliloquy may have moved the meeting to more order; former Bay Ridge Democratic District Leader Ralph Perfetto took over as moderator from Manning.
From there, the meeting featured such events’ typical bikelash bingo: people leveling disproved claims that bike lanes have slowed emergency-response times, others establishing their bona fides by describing the length of their residency, and still others complaining about scofflaw cyclists. Many of the claims were debunked by Streetsblog’s Julianne Cuba in her report about a similar meeting in Fort Greene last week.
Safe-streets advocates, displaying their best behavior, spoke about the lifesaving qualities of bike lanes and the ways in which good cycling infrastructure promotes good cycling behavior. Others spoke of the benefits of calmer streets for businesses.
Late in the evening, Brooklyn DOT Commissioner Keith Bray was asked to clarify whether his agency gets sign-off from FDNY before installing bike lanes (it does) and whether bike lanes enhance safety for more than just cyclists (they do). Bray, not surprisingly, spoke with authority on that subject and others.
But, by that point, it hardly mattered. After two hours in a hot church basement, most people already had left.
Doug Gordon, a TV producer, is a safe-streets activist in Brooklyn. He hosts The War on Cars podcast.