May/June 1996, p.22


Dear T.A.:

We were glad to see NYC's bike-messenger industry discussed in your March/April issue. However, "Uneasy Riders" sidestepped the key issue: the potential of a messenger union to radically improve working conditions for bike messengers and riding conditions for all cyclists.

Unlike your writer, we believe bicycle messengering is vital to NYC cycling. Messengers support our bike shops, strengthen cyclists' claim to street space, and put cycling in the workaday world. Moreover, the forces undermining messengering threaten all cyclists. The skyrocketing cost of messenger insurance and worker's compensation is society's way of making cyclists pay for dangerous motor traffic. Other public subsidies-free pollution, free parking and double-parking- help motorized delivery services take market-share from cycle messengers and harm us all.

A workforce that is denied sick days and paid vacations, and that cannot negotiate with employers, has less capacity to respect others on the street. A union is messengers' best t means to dignity, job stability and safer riding. At union organizing meetings throughout 1994-95, many messengers called for wage alternatives to the prevailing piece-rate system-a prime cause of the over-90% messenger injury rate. In speculating that a union might price messenger companies out of business your writer fell for the classic management line.

A unionized messenger force could energize and broaden T.A.'s advocacy. TA. should be supporting messenger organizing rather than reporting passively on their "plight." Your March/April cover warned of new bike and pedestrian programs being "trashed." A unified community is our best offense against Giuliani's downsizing of bicycling.

Charles Komanoff, Manhattan
Bob McGlynn, Brooklyn

The writers are, respectively, a former T.A. president and a founder of Bike Messengers United (formerly Independent Courier Association).

Dear Charlie and Bob:

Bike couriers are a big part of New York cycling. Accordingly, my article described the many threats to their continued existence. These threats, not speculation about a union, are the key issue. While unions often help workers, it is by no means clear that a union could reverse what most observers agree has been a long, slow decline for New York's bike messenger industry.

No union, not even the Teamsters, can turn the tide on consolidation and rising insurance costs. These forces are beyond the control of even the most powerful labor organizations.

TA. supports messengers by doing what it does best: fighting for safer streets and greater access for bikes.

-Brendan Mernin

Dear T.A.:

I'm responding to an item us the March/April issue concerning traffic circles. Long before Seattle began building circles, they were being used in New Jersey, Europe, and elsewhere. These intersections were for a long time unwieldy, dangerous, and confusing to cars and completely hostile to pedestrians. I fail to see how circles provide a safer environment for neighborhoods.

Beth Renaud, New York, NY

Dear Beth:

The traffic circles you remember front New Jersey are a far cry from what Seattle uses. Seattle's smaller traffic circles are installed on local streets, and are safer for those on foot because they slow down all vehicles approaching an intersection, not just those facing a red light. Larger circles, on the other hand, are designed to increase the number of cars traveling through an intersection. TA. wants the city to install smaller traffic circles like those in Seattle.