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

Illegal parking? Not on Sunday, thanks to a "compromise" that will allow churchgoers on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights to park in the bike lane.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

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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