Bikers: Get those church-goers out of our lane!

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Cyclists are calling for a separation of church and bike lane along a narrow Brooklyn Heights roadway, where every Sunday, parishioners anoint the cyclists’ safe haven as their own personal parking strip.

Along Henry Street between Clarke and Pierrepont streets, every Sabbath is the same old psalm outside the First Presbyterian Church, according to Heights resident Peter Kaufman, who said the situation is an unholy accident waiting to happen — and it’s all allowed by the 84th Precinct.

“This basically says that if you have a particular religious belief, you get to flout the law,” said Kaufman. “This is a place exclusively dedicated to bikes — we are not saying you can’t park in Brooklyn Heights — we are saying park around the corner.”

Rev. Stephen Phelps said the parking provision has been made possible by the precinct — and it allows the very survival of the church, which was first formed in 1822.

“Churches would fail if they could not allow the driving public to come near,” he said.

Phelps, who took over the reigns of the church about four months ago, said he recently met with the commanding officer of the 84th Precinct, Capt. Mark DiPaolo about the matter.

“The police recognize that churches make extraordinary contributions to the community,” he said. “[DiPaolo] basically confirmed that this is a long standing practice. While we are really interested in the question of reducing the use of cars and supporting bikers — we see this as an acceptable cost, and they agree.”

Pressed several times for a comment, DiPaolo refused.

This rider vs. religion battle knows no sectarian divide: Rabbi Serge Lippe, the rabbi at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue on nearby Remsen Street, agreed with Phelps.

“No one ever consulted with the church or parishioners that the bike lane coming in means they couldn’t park there as they have been doing for decades,” he said.

But cyclist Rob Hall, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident and co-owner of a company that makes bicycle pedal straps, wasn’t buying it.

“Why should they get special treatment putting cyclists at risk?” he asked. “Every time a cyclist has to go off a bicycle path in order to avoid a double parked or illegally parked car, it puts both cyclists and motorists at risk.”

The church first opened on Henry Street in 1847 — slightly before the Henry Street bike lane, which is one of the oldest in the city, according to the Department of Transportation, which dated it back to the 1970s.

In July, 2007, though, high visibility green paint was added to enhance the popular lane.

Cycling advocates conceded that Henry Street is a relatively low traffic street, but the narrowness of the street “means that a parked car puts you right into moving traffic,” said Wiley Norvell, spokesperson for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “And even at slow speeds, that’s not where you want to be.”

So what would the pastor preach to the cyclists among his flock?

“If you are reasonably confident, you can move in the traffic and you are going to be absolutely safe,” he said. “Be bold, have fun, and cycle. And thank you for understanding why it is that churches need parking spaces on Sunday morning.”

Kaufman refused to turn the other cheek.

“What part of ‘bike lane’ don’t you understand?” he asked.

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Reader Feedback

sid from boerum hill says:
This courtesy is extended to all houses of worship. Its for a relatively short period on Sunday(or Saturday or Friday) as the case may be. Given that the bike riders were hollering when the PD enforced the laws against them, it makes little sense for them to complain when this courtesy that predates the bike lanes is allowed to continue. Sometimes you need to go with the flow. Its rarely a problem going into the street on Sunday morning with the bikes.
March 24, 2010, 10:58 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
Sid, when was the last time you were on a bike in Brooklyn! Ticket all parking offenders. Going to church is not excuse.
March 24, 2010, 11:11 am
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Actually, Sid, the cyclists were hollering because they were wrongly given tickets for riding outside the Adams Street bike lane, which they'd been forced to do because of -- wait for it -- cars parked illegally in the bike lane!

Bike lanes are not auxiliary parking areas -- they're there to keep cyclists safe. Imagine the outcry if cyclists parked their bikes in the middle of a vehicle lane -- or in a legal on-street parking spot.

The city already suspends meter-parking regulations on Sundays to make parking easier for people going to worship. Do those same people really need to park in bike lanes, too?

NYPD, please issue tickets to those who are actually violating the law -- not those who are endangered because of their actions.
March 24, 2010, 11:27 am
Biker from Park Slope says:
Just because they've been doing for so long doesn't make it legal. Any car parked like that deserves an egg to the windshield. Consider it a small act of counter-civil-disobedience.
March 24, 2010, 12:29 pm
Scottilla from Midwood says:
Actually, I think it says in the bible that double parking is a mitzvah. How else do you explain the impossibility of getting a car to the curb in Borough Park?
March 24, 2010, 12:30 pm
biker from bklyn says:
It's crazy to say that believers in a certain religion get to flout the law without penalty. There is no reason why people should need to drive to church -- there are churches in every neighborhood. And if they want to drive to church, they can -- they just need to park legally. Exactly the same as choosing to drive to any other activity -- a park, a furniture store, a movie, whatever. The NYPD needs to stop tolerating illegal parking on this (and all other) bike lanes.
March 24, 2010, 1:01 pm
Don from Kensington says:
The bike lane in question is near the Lebanese church at Henry and Remsen streets. This is a major regional facility and NOT primarily a local community house of worship.

Extending special consideration to its parishioners for a few hours a week — particularly during low-traffic Sunday morning hours — should not be too onerous a burden for bicyclists to overcome.

Some of our holier-than-thou bicyclists could use a little introspection and less hate. Maybe a quick stop in church would do them good!
March 24, 2010, 1:14 pm
biker from bklyn says:
Explain to me why those people can't either take mass transit or park in a garage, just like normal people who want to engage in any other activity?
March 24, 2010, 2:42 pm
holy roller from bay ridge says:
Why not just close Henry Street to cars on Sunday mornings so the churchgoers can park and the bikes can ride safely?
March 24, 2010, 3:08 pm
Evangelist from Brooklyn Heights says:

Love the driver, hate the illegal parking.
March 24, 2010, 3:28 pm
Dav from Greenpoint says:
Biker from bklyn says: take mass transit or park in a garage, just like normal people…I will be very open with you most of the bikers are not normal people
At all!! Trying to take over the road by never following rules and regulations, passing lights, wrong way, yield for pedestrian, stop for red flashers of school buses,
Etc. it’s about time cops should enforce the law and start handling out tickets, so its going to be an equal opportunity…

Just for the records I am a biker I love biking every day, what I don’t like is the image and responds on the street people just saying bed thinks
About bikers they happens to be right, so lets fallowing rules and regulations and work out with the community everybody will be happy..
March 24, 2010, 3:45 pm
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
The claim that this should be justified because churches make an outstanding contribution to the community is totally baseless. I won't bring up the fact that I am not in 100 percent agreement with the assertion that the contribution of churches is outstanding, but even if it were, should this apply to all groups that contribute to the community? Should parking laws be ignored for hospices, charities, orphanges, etc?
March 24, 2010, 4:18 pm
Mr. "R" from Los Angeles, CA says:
Since the police will not enforce double parking laws, I think that the cyclist have to set an example and start to key the cars that are double parked and endangering bikers and motorist alike. I can guarantee you that if my car was keyed and I thought it was because I was double parked I would think twice about breaking the law. It is obvious that the majority of the people in nyc have very little sympathy for cyclists so why not take matters into your own hands and deal with the problem.
March 24, 2010, 6:48 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
Allowing free parking because of religious reasons on a bike lane is a violation of the separation of church and state. Churches have been long around before the introduction of automobiles, so a automobile is not required for worship, thus the cars have to follow the laws.
March 24, 2010, 10:53 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
You know, funny, but I did see an old guy on a bike yelling at people double parked and even stopped and got into a confrontation with the car service guy and went in and complained, all this on henry st. Honestly, this is really taking an unnecessary risk. You never know if you may be riding along on the lane and some nut is double parked ready to go off on the next person to say something to them. Just avoid the car. If you want to complain, find a cop.
March 25, 2010, 2:28 am
Bret White from Brooklyn Heights says:
The First Presbyterian Church needs to ask itself "what would Jesus do?" The Church needs to do the right thing. A Godly institution should encourage congregants to conserve the earth's precious resources, and not drive excessively. Congregants should take it upon themselves and walk or take public transit. Let's work together to improve the quality of life in the city, and not be selfish. That is precisely what Jesus would want us to do.
March 25, 2010, 9:23 am
murph from boerum hill says:
The police allowing another favored group to double park - no surprise there - if only Bloomberg would go after government employees abusing parking privileges like he went after smokers...
March 25, 2010, 9:30 am
Chris from Williamsburg says:
Fourth Estate: I'd love to take your advice and find a cop, but it's obvious from this article that the cops won't do anything.
March 25, 2010, 9:45 am
Jacob from Brookyln Heights says:
Libraries, nonprofits, community centers, and schools all make "extraordinary contributions to the community". Should they be allowed to break the parking laws? What about other laws? Where does it stop? Maybe religious groups can be allowed to steal some things too - you know, as a courtesy due to their "extraordinary contributions to the community".

Rev. Phelps should be ashamed of himself. It's obviously indefensible and he knows it. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, sir.
March 25, 2010, 9:47 am
Bill from Bay Ridge says:
I am a biker and a bike commuter, and I think the response of many of the bikers here is absolutely ridiculous and over the top. Have some sense of balance and mutual cooperation. The cars parked in this lane for a short period of time to accommodate part of the community should not be made into a huge issue. It makes bikers seem small minded and rigid when most of us don't want full scale enforcement of some of the traffic rules that we sensibly violate such as doing Idaho stops/yields. Throw in the ridiculous remarks that the counter-response should be to egg, key and damage the cars and you further make cyclists look like spoiled brats. Bike lanes are routinely blocked around the City and the real issue should be focused on getting the NYPD to enforce the routine disregard of bike lanes. and not to focus on a short agreed upon accommodation on Sunday morning. The former presents real and constant safety challenges the latter should be able to be addressed. This is a short defined accommodation to a part of the community and quite distinguishable from something like the removal of the lanes in Williamsburg.
March 25, 2010, 9:59 am
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
@ Chris,

my point was to look for a cop in lieu of confronting a person who has double parked. People have been shot here for a lot less. Personally, if a double parked car is in my way, I ride around it, it's not a big deal and I can go on my merry way. Yes, I do think that double parked cars should be ticketed and there are more productive ways of getting this done than challenging a random person on the street. Cop won't do anything? Go to his sergeant, he won't do anything, then the lieutenant, nothing, then the precinct commander, nothing, then your council member, in other words, there is a process for resolving complaints. Use pictures of cars, show obstruction, etc. There are proactive things to do, but starting a fight over a bike lane is not one of them.
March 25, 2010, 10:02 am
Michael from UWS says:
I'm all for being open minded and i concur that some posts, e.g., suggesting keying cars, are competely boneheaded. However, this ``semi-legal'' unwritten rules allowing double-parking and alike is exactly part of the problem which will prevent what you promote later, the enforcement of the laws: how can you enforce a law which everybody sees it flouted and _tolerated_ at so many other places.

Besides, if they really would care about parking, the churches shouldn't have fought against metering spots on sundays but should have been vehementally in favor! By not metering church goers are now almost assured of not finding legal (free) parking spots ...
March 25, 2010, 10:29 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:

I promote intelligent and rational enforcement of the laws with an modicum of discretion. I ask, are you a cyclist? If so, do you want strict enforcement of all traffic rules against cyclists? I certainly don't, because it would be irrational and counter to my safety. I believe there should be enforcement of traffic rules against cyclists for dangerous acts such as most acts of riding as a salmon (riding the wrong way) or riding on the sidewalk (except to avoid an immediate safety threat). But I am much safer when I ride following a variation of the Idaho stop/yield and it would be counter productive to be ticketing cyclists every time there is a yield instead of stop at a stop sign or stop/yield proceed at a red light.

As a cyclist, I do not want rigid enforcement I want intelligent rational enforcement that truly addresses broad safety issues. As such, it is significantly more imperative to enforce the wide-spread disregard of bike lanes and the regular double parking that takes place in those lanes, as oppose to insisting on enforcing a defined short period where there is an agreed upon accommodation. Accommodations extend across entire communities. A civil society as opposed to a strict totalitarian society, should be able to deal with accommodations even ones that occasionally inconvenience us or involve people or groups different from ours. We would all want the same in return. And that is is why it is necessary to have balance and a sense of what is truly material and what is not. So from my perspective, the issue at hand is part of living in an accommodating community, while the day to day disregard of bike lanes is not.
March 25, 2010, 11:19 am
Bill from Bay Ridge says:
Whoops i typed the Michael in the wrong place above
March 25, 2010, 11:20 am
dporpentine from Flatbush says:
Bill from Bay Ridge:
I commute by bike year-round and I'd love rigid enforcement of all laws related to the road. All of them. At all times. Of all people, no matter what their mode of transportation.

It's pie in the sky, but your pick-and-choose approach to law enforcement is just a variation on the excuse made by the bike-lane blocking hooligans in this article: "My behavior, under these circumstances, is okay, no matter how it affects anyone else."

And by the way: why are you so convinced that blowing lights is safer? Show me a rich body of evidence to support that position . . .

But I guess you don't need evidence. You decide what's right and wrong all by yourself!
March 25, 2010, 11:34 am
Mitch from Bushwick says:
The pastor's line at the end of the article about riding in traffic is excellent advice.
March 25, 2010, 12:28 pm
ClarknHenry from Brooklyn Heights says:
The real issue is that it is not just for an hour or so that the bikle lane is unavailable. Calgary Baptist Church rents the church every Sunday aftertoon (also ostensibly necessary to keep the churches coffers full...), and they have four large church vans that occupty the lane for the remainder of the day. That means that one out of the two most popular days for bike riding, the lane is unusable. The churches in Brooklyn Heights were not designed for folks from New Jersey to park out front--simple as that! If you MUST drive to church, then you MUST find a parking lot and walk! And I live right next door, so I know how dangerous the situation is with cars parking on both sides of Henry Street.
March 25, 2010, 1:26 pm
Michael from UWS says:

Similar to dporpentine i do actually favor strict enforcement as long as it is consistently done across the board. Of course, that doesn't mean that i'm happy with all laws, e.g., i would prefer idaho-like lights=stop/stop=yield laws for cyclists or alike. However, in that case, the solution seems to me to change the laws rather than having unwritten conventions. E.g., while i would not be happy, i would object far less to parking-in-bike-lines-during-mass (or the alternative-street-side-parking-dance or civil-servant-parking for that matter) if it would be a written and well-defined law which can be argued about, is common knowledge and can potentially also changed.


BTW: regarding strict enforcement i would agree it must still allow for some discretion. However, it shouldn't be something so generic as the matter discussed here which could be easily handled by laws if the legislative deems this to be to the better of the public good.
March 25, 2010, 2 pm
Michael J from Brooklyn Heights says:
What about the church on the corner of Remsen and Henr streets. On Sunday's not only are cars parked in the bike lane, they park on the sidewalk blocking individuals, baby carrages, wheelchairs etc. from easily proceeding on the sidewalk. If you want to walk by you must walk single file. In addition, cars are parked in every designated no parking spot. In the event of a fire or an emergency a firetruck, for example, cannot make a turn without potentially damageing a vehicle. It's an unfortunate incident waiting to happen.
March 25, 2010, 3:44 pm
Mat v G. from Marine Park says:
Actually, bicycles DO belong in the same street as car traffic. Fear of leaving the painted, protected lane and going into the real world is part of the problem, not the solution. Isn't this the same precinct that was enforcing the "law" by summonsing cyclists who left the bike lane on another street, even though it was full of parked cars? What is the old expression, "S__T or get off the pot!"
March 25, 2010, 4:47 pm
Mr. "R" from Los Angeles says:
To Bill from Bay Ridge and Michael from UWS, you thought my idea of keying cars that are double parked was a "bonehead" idea. Are you afraid that the people who break the law by double parking and getting their cars keyed may not like cyclist because of that?, get real, these people could care less about cyclist, or their safety, they only care about what is convenient for them, tell me, how long would you wait for the parking laws to be enforced before you took action?, or maybe you already have taken action and if so what was that?
March 25, 2010, 7:28 pm
matt from Brooklyn Heights says:
The talk of keying cars is ridiculous. Stop it and grow up.

The cars, however, need to go. It is simple. If the church needs the parking that badly, and the community needs so dearly to please this one single church, then the congregation ought to go through proper channels and attempt to have the bike lane removed and parking signs erected.

The church is brazen and un-Christian in its behavior. Parking is hard. Welcome to New York.
March 25, 2010, 11:56 pm
lb from brooklyn heights says:
Maybe the police should also ticket all fixed-gear bikes with no brakes. Those are also illegal, and the police doesn't seem to be ticketing them either.
March 26, 2010, 7:35 am
Matt from Brooklyn Heights says:
I agree. Bikers do not deserve any more lenience than drivers. However, there is a fairly wide-held and very untrue notion that many or all bikers conduct themselves in a dangerous, lawless fashion. This is a sad stereotype that I would hope my neighbors could see beyond.

There are ——ty drivers, there are ——ty cyclists. A scourge of illegal bikes or dangerous bikers may be real but has nothing to do with this instance of selective law enforcement and is not a justification for it.

Ticketing illegally-parked cars is a widespread, easy, and cheap practice that encourages compliance and raises quality of life. To echo my comment on BHB: if the current regulation is not suitable, change it. Until then, please, enforce it.
March 26, 2010, 4:26 pm
Chad from Park Slope says:
If they are true believers, then they should recall a bible passage that relates to this very subject:

Book of Leviticus -

And then the lord said - unto them will each be granted parking,
and this parking shall be in walking distance from their house of worship.
Heed not them that drive on two wheels, as their importance is minimal in the face of convinient parking.
Remeber that the lord has chosed you, above his other people, as the chosen parkers.
You need not want for parking, you need not abide but the rules of earthly governments.
Mine parking is thine parking, and all of the people shall rejoice!
March 29, 2010, 8:29 am
Joey Bots from Bama Land says:
Let's tell the truth - these liberal bike riders don't care about the bike lanes being blocked, so much as they hate the idea of people attending religious services.
March 30, 2010, 2:38 pm
Leo F from Prospect Heights says:
You think this is bad? Come over to Dean Street, right around the corner from another major headache - The Ratlantic Yards project. We have this same situation occurring on our block, and it's not only on Sunday morning, but they come back Sunday night, then again on Monday night, and then again on Friday night. It's not only for one hour either. It's a minimum of 2-3 hours each time! To make matters EVEN worse, there is a bike lane on Dean Street, there is a firehouse on Dean Street, and there is the B65 bus that comes down the block too. Seriously, there is plenty of parking on the nearby blocks, but God forbid these parishoners have to walk a block or two to get to Church. They also spend no money in this neighborhood. They come in, they use our street as their free personal parking lot, and then they go home. Something needs to be done about this ridiculous situation!
Sept. 10, 2010, 9:33 pm

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