Bicycle Blueprint

NYC Cycling
1. NYC Bike Policy
2. State of NYC Cycling
3. Cyclists & Streets
A Bike and a Prayer

Riding Infrastructure
4. Street Design
5. Bridges
6. Road Surfaces
7. Greenways
8. Parks
9. Bicycles and Transit
10. Reducing Traffic

11. Bicycle Theft
12. On-Street Parking
13. Indoor Parking

On the Job Cycling
Bicycle Messengers
Fifth, Park & Madison
15. Freight Cycles
16. Gov't Cycling

Reducing Risks
17. Accidents
Three Who Died
18. Air Pollution

Bicycle Education
19. Schools
20. Public Education


      Chapter 14:
Bicycle Messengers
a) A Vital Service
b) A Negative Reputation
c) History of the Messenger Industry
 Profile of Messengers
e) Messenger Behavior
f) Food Delivery Bicycles
g) Chapter 14 Recommendations

Profile of Messengers

The industry has a cadre of skilled and dedicated messengers who, like Lund, remain on the job because they love cycling for their living. These intrepid cyclists — African-American, Latino and white — comprise a genuine “gorgeous mosaic,” reflected in their colorful clothing and evident pride. But many others become messengers because they have few other options. “It's a poor working-class job,” says McGlynn, “one of the few jobs that's always available.” “If you're going to get bottom-rung work, you can get a job in a restaurant, cleaning up offices or as a messenger,” says Lund. For many, becoming a messenger is the most attractive option, since it's outdoor work with an unusual degree of autonomy.

The casual nature of messengering has serious drawbacks, both for the riders themselves and for everyone on the street. Because most companies hire rapidly without screening or training their messengers, many are sent out on the road with little or no expertise in city riding. There are exceptions, such as Breakaway Courier Systems, a company that conducts safety orientations for its new couriers and has a good safety record. [2]

Under the harsh conditions of the street, many messengers last only a few months. Injuries are frequent, and of the 15-20 cyclists killed each year in New York City, one or two usually are messengers. Companies are required by law to provide worker's compensation, but don't necessarily go out of their way to inform their messengers of the fact. They generally offer no other benefits, no holidays. Attempts by McGlynn and the ICA to create a messengers' union have run into a catch-22: because conditions are so poor, the turnover rate is far too high to get a union started to improve conditions.

Jean-Jacques Marquetty

Bike Messengers Earn Their Pay

“Bike messenger work is grueling and the work environment utterly dehumanizing. The life span of messengers in this work is seldom more than a year. They're treated with superciliousness in elevators and offices. They drink foul, putrid, and health-threatening exhaust as a daily diet. They work in bitter cold and enervating humidity.

They work in constant danger — and not only danger of their own making — as they negotiate our mean streets, streets chock full o' potholes, illegally crossing (and standing) pedestrians, passengers entering and exiting taxis more than 12 inches from the curb and without looking or warning, cars going through red lights and turning suddenly and without warning from other than turning lanes, and buses challenging their right to the road. They bike approximately 40 miles a day in these wretched conditions.”

From “A Kind Word for Bike Messengers” by Richard S. Rosenthal, Newsday, Aug. 28, 1987.

2. Breakaway Courier is profiled in “With Speed and Charisma, Bicycle Couriers Deliver,” Denise Jones, Bicycle USA, Jan. 1992.

A Vital Service
b) A Negative Reputation
c) History of the Messenger Industry
 Profile of Messengers
e) Messenger Behavior
f) Food Delivery Bicycles
g) Chapter 14 Recommendations