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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 money.

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 of sight.

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 identify.

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.


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