Prominent D. C. African-American Churches Bring Out Large Crowds to Fight Bike Lane that Could Cut Into Parking Spaces

The packed DDOT meeting Thursday night. (Perry Stein/ Washington Post)
The packed DDOT meeting Thursday night. (Perry Stein/ Washington Post)

Some prominent D.C. African-American churches showed their muscles Thursday evening, bringing out hundreds of congregants to a city meeting to discuss proposals to build a protected bike lane that could cut into street parking spaces near the churches.

And the packed meeting — which was eventually broken up by city officials who said the crowd in the Shaw library’s meeting room was a fire hazard — highlighted a tension in the rapidly changing District between longtime, black residents and new, largely white residents.

“We just think we have to protect what’s ours,” said Robert Price III, a pastor at the United House of Prayer church in Shaw on the 600 block of M Street NW, referencing black churches that have left the District in recent years.

The District Department of Transportation is exploring the possibility of installing a protected bike lane going northbound and southbound somewhere between Fifth and Ninth streets NW that would connect to popular east and west protected bike lanes, such as M and L streets NW, or Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The city is down to four options, three of which would run down Sixth Street NW.

Church congregants are allowed to park diagonally on the street on Sundays, and there is currently space in the area for about 75 vehicles do so. DDOT has not yet determined exactly how many spaces would be lost under each proposal, but presumably at least some of them would be lost.

When the city released the four bike-lane options, United House of Prayer responded with a letter from its lawyer to DDOT saying a bike lane near its property would infringe upon “its constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection of the laws.” The letter also argued that city policies were driving African-American churches to the suburbs.

The fourth option would put a bike lane along Ninth Street NW, which could take away parking from New Bethel Baptist Church—a congregation with about 900 members around 9th and S streets NW.

“This ain’t London, this ain’t Europe. The United States is built on the automobile and we need to respect that,” said Michael Green, a deacon at New Bethel Baptist Church.

 

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Perry Stein