Routine Risk in Midtown Traffic Costs a Bike Messenger His
New York Times, November 19, 2004
By James Barron
The dance plays out day after day in Manhattan. Big trucks lumber by like
circus elephants, pausing when they want, where they want. Bicycle messengers
dart around them with moves more daring and more complicated than anything
a Balanchine could dream up. A tiny miscalculation, a nanosecond of bad timing,
and the dance goes wrong.
Yesterday, a 42-year-old bike messenger tried to slip between a food delivery
truck that was double-parked and a police van that was passing it on Eighth
Avenue near 49th Street in Midtown. The messenger, whose name was not released
by the police, was thrown to the pavement and killed.
What happened in the moment the bicyclist pedaled between the truck and the
van was not clear. The two vehicles blocked the view from both sides of the
avenue. So even if employees in the hotel or the parking garage on the east
side of the street had been watching - which they said they were not - they
could not have seen what caused the bicyclist to lose his balance and fall.
That left midday crowds to speculate as the police questioned the two food
supply employees in the truck and emergency medical workers removed the messenger's
The police said that the employee in the passenger seat opened his door,
and that the cyclist struck it and fell to the pavement.
But Steve Manning, a vice president of the food supply company, Vesuvio Foods
of Edison, N.J., challenged that sequence. He said he was told by his employees
that the bicyclist first hit the truck, and was already down when the employee
in the passenger seat, who is known as a helper, opened the door.
"Our helper's saying no, he never opened the door until after the impact,"
Mr. Manning said, "so that instead of our door throwing him into the path
of the van, it was the van that threw him into our door."
The police said that an autopsy would be conducted and that they were investigating
the accident. The driver of the van received a summons for an equipment violation,
the police said last night.
The delivery truck was on a routine run, loaded with eggs, mozzarella, black
pepper and carbonated water, among other things, and bound for Ciro Trattoria
at 813 Eighth Avenue. The truck stopped in front of the restaurant around
10:40 a.m. Mr. Manning said the driver may have been waiting for a parking
space to open up around the corner on 49th Street, where the restaurant has
a gate leading to a side door.
At the scene, the driver, who would not give his name, said, "The truck was
standing still" when the accident occurred.
The police van, which carries prisoners, was empty except for the officer
driving it, police officials at the scene said They also said the messenger
had been riding with one hand, and carrying coffee and a muffin. Keeping
the bicycle under control when the truck's door opened would have been difficult,
they said, adding that the police van had nothing to do with the accident.
Other messengers who passed by after the accident said they recognized the
red bike and said the rider was a regular in the mailrooms and lobbies that
their rounds take them to. They said that when he pulled between the delivery
truck and the police van, he was doing what any messenger would do when a
double-parked vehicle was on the horizon.
"This is the risk bike messengers take," said Eddie McCormick, a former messenger
who now does home renovation and demolition work. "I know. I used to be one.
I quit after I almost got run over by a taxi. This guy was following all
the rules, going with the traffic, not against the traffic, and look what