COURIER CARAVAN IN PROTEST

MESSENGERS OBJECT TO D.C. LICENSING PLAN

By Lawrence Feinberg

Washington Post, October 22, 1987

Some came to the D.C. Council chambers in their biking tights -- green,maroon and bright blue. A few had on goggles and cycling caps, fanny packsand leather-palmed, open-fingered gloves. One wore a gray sports jacketover his cycling regalia with a ribbon of orange reflective tape woundaround the sleeve.

They were, unmistakably, members of the growing fraternity of bicyclecouriers who ply the District's downtown streets -- and several dozen turnedout yesterday to protest a proposal before a council committee to licensethem.

Some of the couriers called themselves part of a modern, urban PonyExpress. However, to some of their critics, including council members andseveral pedestrians and motorists, the couriers seem more like "hellon wheels" and kamikaze cyclists.

"I get more complaints about the bicycle situation than anythingthat goes on in my community now except drugs," said council memberJohn A. Wilson (D-Ward 2).

"You ride behind the little old ladies in my ward and they breaktheir hips," Wilson lectured one cyclist. "You scare the normalmotorist to death . . . . The truth of the matter is that you scare theliving hell out of me when I'm walking downtown. And I can get out of yourway, and then I can kick the back wheel of your bicycle to get you outof the way."

A.J. Horne Jr., president of the Professional Bicycle Couriers Association,agreed that "there are things we have done that are wrong and we aretrying to take hold of ourselves." But Horne said the way to cut downon reckless riding is to enforce existing traffic laws rather than setup an "expensive new system" of regulation.

Representatives of other cycling groups, most of whose members use bicyclesfor recreation or commuting, also appeared at the hearing, generally tosupport the bill, which was introduced last summer by council member NadineP. Winter (D-Ward 6).

Under the bill, similar to a measure passed three years ago in New YorkCity, "commercial bicycle operators" would be required to completea training program, pass a safety test and pay up to $50 a year for a license.They would have to carry a photo ID and display on their backs or the backof their bikes a large identification number issued by the city. The licensecould be suspended or revoked for traffic violations.

Horne, who said he is a "nine-year veteran of the streets,"termed the bill "discrimination" because it requires no licensingor training of other cyclists. He called it a "direct violation ofour constitutional right to make an honest living."

Winter likened the proposed courier's license to the license for cabdrivers.

But several witnesses said the licenses have had no effect on New YorkCity's bicycle problems. Last month New York tried to ban bicycles frommid-Manhattan streets, but the move was blocked by a judge.

Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) said the pressure for couriersto "tempt the law . . . {and} be as quickly free-spirited as theycan" comes from the system by which they are paid according to thenumber of deliveries.


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