Red Light for Reckless Bikes
The Worm and the Apple
New York Times, December 9, 1983
What motivates those cyclists who whiz along the blind side of traffic lanes,
plunge through intersections against the light and otherwise terrorize New
York City drivers and pedestrians? For the worst offenders, the answer is
They're bicycle messengers paid by the trip. The faster they pedal, the more
they ears, An aggressive one can make as many as 40 trips and earn more than
$100 a day. A bill before the City Council would require identification plates
on messenger bikes, making it possible, finally, to enforce traffic laws
and protect public safety.
The Police Department now takes seriously its obligation to ticket reckless
cyclists. Through September it issued 3,552 bike tickets, more than quadruple
the 1982 rate.
But even this welcome effort has hardly curbed the problem. Since neither
their bikes nor their riders must carry identification, the offender can
give a phony name and tear up the ticket as soon as the traffic cop is out
Are the bike messengers capable of such contempt? You bet. One quoted recently
in the Times complained that "Pedestrians are unpredictable, our worst problem."
He added that running red lights is "a necessity to make money." Another
advised, "Avoid collisions, They slow you down."
Recklessness so thoroughly motivated by greed ought to be easily deterred
by meaningful enforcement. A fine would be the least of the penalties for
the bike messenger who's arrested and perhaps even relieved of his bike while
he settles up with the court. But the courts can't pursue a person they can't
The bill before the Council would require messengers to ride bikes equipped
with plates identifying the messenger service. A better bill would require
identification for riders as well as bikes and make more explicit penalties
for failure to comply.
But on this Issue, a flawed bill 'Is better than no bill at all. Counsilwomen
Carol Greitzer and June Eisland and Councilman Samuel Horwitz deserve praise
for introducing the bill. Apples await all those who can get it passed and
make it work.