UPPER WEST SIDE — A popular worship service at an Upper West Side mosque has prompted dozens of cabbies to flout the rules of the road in order to observe the rules of their religion, neighbors and mosque officials said.
Cab drivers rushing to services at the Islamic Cultural Center at Riverside Drive and West 72nd Street are double- and triple-parking outside the house of prayer, forcing northbound traffic on the recently-reopened stretch of Riverside Boulevard to veer into the oncoming traffic lane, DNAinfo has learned.
"It's an accident waiting to happen," said James Beale, the resident manager at 240 Riverside Blvd., one of four Trump high-rises along the boulevard. "It's a very dangerous situation. It's like all the rules of the road are thrown aside."
Beale said residents in his building complain regularly about the flood of taxis. 311 records show at least nine complaints this year about illegal parking at that intersection.
The illegal parking was largely ignored for years, but has recently become the source of a police crackdown, after the long delayed connection between Riverside Boulevard and West 72nd was re-opened to traffic last month after a four-year-closure, Beale said.
But the cabbies who gather for the religious devotions — which can run as long as a 30 minute sermon followed by a 15-minute prayer — say they have no qualms about breaking parking rules in order to attend the prayer services, which are mandatory for practicing Muslims.
The Friday service, which is typically scheduled during the middle of the day, is the most heavily attended, with up to 300 worshippers.
"For me, my prayer is more important, because that's what I'm going to take with me the day I die," said cabbie Abdoulaye Diallo, a 30-year-old immigrant from Guinea, who left his taxi in a no parking zone outside the mosque at 1 Riverside Drive on Tuesday evening so he could dash in for a quick evening prayer, one of the five mandatory prayers he performs daily.
Diallo said he's racked up several $75 tickets for parking illegally in order to pray, but he doesn't mind.
"I'm not going to take my money with me," he said.
Jim Littlefield, a security director at the Trump Corporation, said that as police have stepped up their enforcement on the illegal parking, tensions have flared. He said he saw a police officer who had been asking double parked cars to move handcuff a taxi driver on Nov. 18. Littlefield, a retired NYPD cop, said he then called 911 because he saw several cabbies approach the officer and was concerned about his safety. Several police cars responded to the scene, Littlefield said.
Police did not immediately return a request for comment.
Abdur Rahman, an assistant imam at the mosque, said officials at the Islamic Cultural Center are well aware of the parking problem and have made repeated announcements asking worshippers to follow parking laws.
"We're trying to control it and take care of it," he said.
Rahman said police allowed the illegal parking to happen for years outside the Islamic Cultural Center, but took more aggressive steps to control the practice after Riverside Boulevard and West 72nd Street reopened to traffic.
Rahman said that aside from avoiding a pricey traffic ticket or an accident, cabbies have a religious incentive to follow parking rules.
"In Islam, you have to make happy neighbors," he said. "It's a rule of Islam. Good Muslims should follow parking rules, because it's a rule of the city."
Rahman said the city should consider more flexible parking rules around Muslim houses of worship on Fridays. He noted that on-street parking is free on Sundays, in part so Christians can go to church without worrying about feeding a meter.
Officials from the Trump Corporation have asked police to beef up ticketing of illegally parked cabs and contacted major cab companies about the problem, Beale said.
But the Trump Corporation has not approached the mosque directly, said Thomas Pienkos, senior vice president of operations for the Trump Corporation.
"We didn't want to get into a local squabble with people, especially over religious issues," Pienkos said. "I think that's the same reason the police were reluctant to write tickets, because of the sensitivity of the situation. They've got kind of a hot potato of an issue."