In addition to eternal salvation, New York City churchgoers enjoy the privilege of parking their cars in bike lanes with impunity. But for the Sunday cyclist, this means saying a little prayer before turning out into traffic. Dave, a Harlem cyclist, sent us this video showing 14 cars and a row of cones blocking the southbound bike lane on Adam Clayton Boulevard, outside the First Corinthian Baptist Church on 116th Street. “Every Sunday [the church] makes my son and I veer into the car lane,” Dave writes. In this case, the detour lasts two entire blocks.
A comment left on the DOT’s Vision Zero “public dialogue” map two years ago notes that cars “double parking on the south bound bike lane of ACP is a constant problem.”
Phone calls and emails to the First Corinthian Baptist Church and the NYPD’s 28th Precinct have not been returned, but the commanding officer of Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Sergio Centa, shed some light on the police department’s policy of absolution at a neighborhood meeting earlier this month.
Blocking the bike lane on Henry Street, 2014 (courtesy Peter Kaufman)
Centa was asked by Brooklyn Heights resident Peter Kaufman, who has written blog posts criticizing the practice, why members of Our Lady of Lebanon were allowed to park in the Henry Street bike lane on Sundays without being ticketed.
“It’s a courtesy we do for the church,” Centa replied. “Giving the courtesy to people going to church on Sunday is something that’s done all over the city. For a couple of hours, I’m not going to write anybody going to church a ticket. I’m not doing it. It’s a courtesy we give to people.”
Centa added that “We can have a discussion with the church. We can let them know the community is not happy about it.”
A person who answered the phone at Our Lady of Lebanon told us that the NYPD has not contacted them about the issue, and confirmed that the department allows their parishioners to park where they please on Sundays.
A parking placard given to parishioners (courtesy Peter Kaufman)
“We have continued to liaison with the department very closely and with their advice and through their discretion we offer our parishioners parking permits which identify them as being members of the parish,” said the person, who declined to give their name.
“The permit does not give them special privileges, it simply allows them to park without the fear of getting a ticket,” they said.
We pointed out that this sounded like a special privilege.
“Freedom of religion allows you to make your way to church and the point is that if in fact people have difficulty with their parking arrangements, that’s an impediment,” the person said.
Kaufman told us that parishioners from First Presbyterian Church, four blocks up Henry Street from Our Lady of Lebanon, have stopped parking in the bike lane, opting instead to illegally park on the other side of the street. “It's not ideal, but at least it's not a safety issue as it is with the bike lane,” Kaufman said.
He argues Our Lady of Lebanon could extend the same courtesy.
“Whether or not the cops give them this privilege, the church can clearly see that they are forcing bicyclists—women, children, everybody—into traffic. All to avoid paying for parking. Do they really feel that is something they should be doing as good neighbors, let alone good Christians?”
An NYPD spokesperson declined to comment on these specific instances in Brooklyn and Harlem, but noted that "there is no official citywide policy relating to this issue."
"However, our enforcement of parking regulations at times can take into account special circumstances, including social, civic, community-based and religious events," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "The overall issue of safety is paramount but certain temporary accommodations can be made at the discretion of the local precinct staff."
With additional reporting from Emma Whitford