Bike lane would infringe upon religious freedom, argues US church

The United House of Prayer in Washington DC says a proposed bike lane would take away parking spaces and make it hard for people to come to church services

United House of Prayer (Google Maps)

A church in Washington DC is arguing that a proposed bike lane outide its premisis would infringe upon the rights of religious freedom, in an attempt to block it being built.

The United House of Prayer, on M Street, to the north-west of Downtown, says that the proposed segregated bike lane along nearby Fifth Street would be “unsupportable, unrealistic and particularly problematic for traffic and parking”, according to a letter to the District Department of Transport (DDOT) obtained by WashCycle blog.

The church's issue appears to be that inserting a bike lane outside would take away the on-road parking provisions that it currently enjoys.

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A nearby convention centre is also cited, with the Church arguing that traffic is regularly diverted down the road where the proposed bike lane would be and therefore meaning the road needs as many lanes for traffic as possible.

The letter reads: “As you know, bicycles have freely and safely traversed the District of Columbia throughout the 90-year history of the United House of Prayer, without any protected bicycle lanes and without infringing in the least on the United House of Prayer’s religious rights.

“More importantly, as discussed at various points with DDOT, there is another alternative that would simply entail altering the proposed bike lane’s route by one block, such that the bike tracks would follow 6th Street to N Street for the block or two needed to avoid impacting adversely on any parking adjacent to God’s White House on 6th and M Streets.”

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It also states: "Three of DDOT's currently proposed protected bike lane options would eliminate one or two lanes of traffic along 6th St, 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and replace these critical lanes of traffic with a protected bicycle right of way.

"If any of these designs are implemented, it would severely restrict the already limited parking for UHOP members adjacent to the church, leaving them with nowhere to park to attend services and other Church functions.

"As such, the planned bicycle lane will create a permanent and untenable burden on members' ability to attend services at the Church. Any plan by DDOT to eliminate all 6th and M Street parking by installing a bicycle lane/track along those thoroughfares would represent a substantial and egregious encroachment on UHOP's rights."

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WashCycle notes that it's not the first time that churches in DC have opposed bike lanes outside their premises, but none of them went as far as to claim their religious rights were being infringed upon.

"Asking that the bike facility still be built, but somewhere farther away from them is classic NIMBY behavior," the blog reads. "Surely UHOP can be a better neighbor than that, They should work with DDOT to find a solution to their parking needs while also building a bicycle facility fitting the District's needs, without resorting to unfounded, and inflammatory, accusations."

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Stuart Clarke is a News Associates trained journalist who has worked for the likes of the British Olympic Associate, British Rowing and the England and Wales Cricket Board, and of course Cycling Weekly. His work at Cycling Weekly has focused upon professional racing, following the World Tour races and its characters.