“There is much to pray about for the world,” says a parish newsletter from the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Chiswick, West London, “and the 10.30am daily public recitation of the Rosary in church will also be praying for success in turning the plans for CS9 away from the High Road and the church.”
And Father Michael Dunne has ramped up the rhetoric by stating on Facebook that the proposed cycleway would do more harm to his church than the Luftwaffe:
"It’s depressing to reflect that [Transport for London’s state-sponsored, taxpayer-funded plans would do our community more harm [to the] expression of our Christian identity than the Luftwaffe managed with its wartime bombs."
(He’s not the first to make such a comment. In 2015, former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lawson told his fellow peers in the House of Lords that the building of cycleways in London was "doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz.")
Fr Dunne and many of his parishoners are opposed to plans for Cycle Superhighway 9 that Transport for London is planning for this part of West London. Chiswick High Road is a four-lane road with wide pavements. Transport for London proposes to take some space from pedestrians to create a two-way Cycle Superhighway, and this pass in front of the church.
A poster on the church’s website says: “The pavement outside the church will be reduced to about one third of its current size and the Cycle Superhighway would have right of way. Consider the impact on Sunday mass congregations gather join the pavement, the elderly and families with children vs spending cyclists."
The poster also complains that the cycleway would obstruct funerals and weddings for there would be "no right of way for carrying the coffin … no right of way for Brides in their wedding dresses."
The argument is expanded on the church’s Facebook page:
"We do not oppose safer access for cyclists, but rather the location where TfL propose to place the superhighway. [We] are also very much in favour of better air quality, which is best achieved by removing cars from the road, rather than restricting pedestrian access. By situating the cycle superhighway on what is the pavement, rather than the road, there is no indication that this would be achieved. Rather, pedestrians are put at risk as the pavement is reduced from 6m to 2.2m, especially if there is no physical separation from between the CS and the pedestrian area. We are in favour of both good air quality and safety, but safety first."
The Facebook posting added that the CS9 route would "threaten our community’s ability to practice the faith, let alone affect children crossing Chiswick High Road to/from school and residents walking to/from local businesses. This pavement is a hub for the community, and not just the Catholic community. It is a shared and safe place, a place where a community comes together, to share and exchange, to welcome, to celebrate, to do good, to mourn, to inspire. All these things are at risk; they don’t belong to cyclists or just to the church. They belong to everyone and have belonged to everyone for over 150 years."
In fact, the pavement – like the road – belongs to the local authority.
Ignoring the fact there’s a busy four-lane road outside the church, one former parishioner imagined what it would have been like if the cycleway had been installed many years ago: "It grieves me to imagine that when my mother died we would have to dodge cyclists to take her coffin from the hearse into the church. Or when I got married and got out of my car in my wedding dress and had to be careful of cyclists. Not to mention gathering outside after Mass and have bikes whizzing past."
Cycle campaigner Simon Still told the church: "One of the big benefits of running safe cycle infrastructure on our high streets is that they actually pass venues that people want to visit. The new cycleway will, of course, enable your congregation – both adults and children – to come to church by bike."
However, such arguments will likely curry little favour with The Hounslow Cycling campaign has pointed out to Chiswick’s Our Lady of Grace that encouraging a healthy and pollution-free form of transport is something that should be welcomed:
"Cyclists are not a community apart," argues the campaign group, "they are just people who sometimes use a bike, old and young, male and female. If you look at other cycle lanes around London, they may be full of commuters in rush hour, but on the weekend they are full of families, couples, shoppers, tourists. We would hope – and realistically assume – that many of your congregation would use the lane to cycle to church, which would be a far healthier option than driving there. The lane should predominantly be for the local community, so removing it elsewhere would mean that Chiswick High Road remains the polluted and dangerous place it currently is."
The campaign group also suggested support for a cycleway would be in keeping with the current Pope’s teachings.
"Pope Francis in an important recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, has asked ‘every person living on this planet’ to engage in an inclusive dialogue to fight against environmental degradation and global warming. He highlights the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change and says that technology based on this ‘needs to be progressively replaced without delay.’ He especially picks out the role of cars ‘raising the level of pollution and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy.’"
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Christian community …
Blessing of the #Bicycles! 15 Oct at 5.15pm outside @GreatStMarys, followed by Choral Evensong. @camcycle @oldbicycleshop @Outspokencycle pic.twitter.com/mQXWuintqx
— Great St Mary's, The University Church (@GreatStMarys) September 26, 2017