Bike Lanes Are Killing Religion

Or, how this latest complaint about bike lanes might be a teensy bit far-fetched.

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Original photo by Josh, photoshop by Hilary Angus

Original photo by Josh, photoshop by Hilary Angus

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an article about a rather unusual debate over a proposed bike lane currently playing out in Washington DC. What began as a standard municipal procedure trying to determine the best possible route for a protected bike lane in the east side of downtown has morphed into a controversy around the infringement of urban infrastructure into the rights of religious freedom. You read that right.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has drafted four possible routes for the bike lane, three of which would run along Sixth Street near the property of United House of Prayer (UHOP), a prominent African-American church in the District. UHOP alleges that the loss of parking resulting from the installation of the bike lane on Sixth Street is a direct infringement on their constitutionally-protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection under the law, and represents a veiled attempt to kick them out of the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood.

The church, represented by a lawyer, delivered a letter to DDOT which laid out, in no uncertain terms, the unconstitutionality of the proposed bike lane. The 7-page, hand-delivered letter lamented the elimination of “an entire lane of traffic, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” that would “also prohibit any possibility of diagonal parking” and, ultimately “would place an extreme burden on the free exercise of religion by United House of Prayer Congregants.’

While the church wouldn’t be the first body to voice legitimate concerns about the relationship between bike lanes and gentrification, they are the first, to my knowledge, to suggest that a hindrance to motorized transportation directly contravenes the right to practice religion. It’s a big claim, and one that would be difficult to support with any evidence.

From what I understand, parking in DC really is a hot mess, and competition over road space is fierce. Given that bike lanes actually reduce congestion, and there is a metro stop right next to the convention centre, I would be inclined to think that the church would prefer to expend their energy on encouraging congregants to consider forms of transportation other than driving. But what do I know, I’m an atheist.

So following their logic, I’ve produced a handy list of 10 other social nuisances threatening the rights of religious freedom that must be remedied at once:

  • Traffic jams
  • Engine failure
  • Car theft, esp. occurring late Saturday night or early Sunday morning
  • Minor-serious injuries to the foot and/or ankle region that prevent comfortable operation of a vehicle’s gas pedal
  • Road closures
  • Parades, when the route re-directs traffic around a house of worship
  • Blindness, being very young or very old, or any other condition which prevents one from obtaining a driver’s license
  • Rising fuel costs
  • Floods, earthquakes, and other acts of nature which tend to damage roads
  • Not owning a car

Get your typewriters ready, these complaint letters aren’t going write themselves.


This article is part of our ongoing coverage of the devastating social consequences of safe cycling infrastructure. Read our previous analysis of how bike lanes are really, terribly ugly, and stay tuned for more updates on this horrifying trend.

7 Comments

  • Zack Rules

    “parking in DC really is a hot mess” Not on a Sunday morning! In fact, churches remove a traffic lane each Sunday when they are allowed to parked perpendicular instead of parallel. That being said, it would not be that hard for the District to replace this Sunday parking on a nearby street.

  • I work in a synagogue. Does this mean I have to drive to work instead of riding my bicycle in every day? I often pray on my bicycle for the drivers not to hit me. I never pray when I walk. Clearly, cycling is a more religious, spiritual experience if it drives one to prayer.

  • SFIII

    Hysterically funny! Have they bothered to consult the portion of their congregation that arrives on bicycles?

  • • Some people don’t read their Bibles. Here’s Ezekiel 1:19-21 for enlightenment:

    19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.

    20 Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

    21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

  • John

    It appears to me that they are grasping at anything, no matter how silly, that will help in their attempt to keep parking spots. But what do I know, I am a Christian.

  • Bart Hawkins Kreps

    A similar controversy played out a couple of years ago in a small town an hour east of Toronto. A street badly in need of repair was slated for a redesign that including traffic-calming measures and protection of young trees at road’s edge – at the cost of about 20 parking spaces. But this street happened to go right past the oldest church in town, some of whose members considered it their eternal, God-given right to park on the street every Sunday morning. While parishioners gathered signatures to stop the street redesign, other citizens asked “What would Jesus do?”, and answered “Walk.”

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