Carlos Reyes of Falls Church is a recreational bicyclist. Make that "was a recreational bicyclist."
When Carlos parked his hatchback car at 17th and H Streets NW one day in May, he left his $900 Bridgestone bike inside. The hatch was locked, and so were the car's doors. But that meant little to whoever fell in love with the Bridgestone.
Smash went the hatch's window, and bye-bye went Carlos's bike. At the time, the theft was the 77th in downtown Washington involving a bike to be reported to police this year.
The police said they'd be in touch with Carlos if anyone recovered his bike. The cops didn't say so, but Carlos well knew that his chances of seeing the bike again were somewhere between zero and zilch.
"But I'm not the kind of guy who takes this sort of thing lying down," Carlos told me. "I'm an ex-Marine. I can take care of myself."
Carlos began nosing around 14th Street and New York Avenue NW, where several bicycle messenger companies have their offices. He didn't find his bike, but he found something perhaps more interesting.
Many of the bikes that belong to messengers have been repainted.
And most of the bikes belonging to messengers do not bear current D.C. registration stickers.
I went down to that neck of the woods on a typical Friday afternoon to have a look for myself. I examined 35 bikes. All of them were parked in front of messenger agencies, or close by.
Fifteen had been repainted -- in several cases quite clumsily, as if the job had been done in a hurry.
Only six bore current D.C. registration.
Asked to comment, officials of three messenger agencies said they had no reason to suspect that their employes were bike thieves. But they said they don't ask messengers where they get their bikes, either.
Similarly, several messengers I approached on the street said they have heard about messengers who stole the bikes they use to make a living. But the messengers to whom I spoke denied being thieves themselves. They also denied that anyone who works for the agency where they work is a thief.
I don't have the power to compel truthful statements from citizens. Nor do I have full descriptions of all the bikes that have been stolen in the downtown area.
But the police have both. They might want to have a look around 14th and New York. There's smoke there -- and my nose says there may also be fire.
Longtime Leveyites are probably wondering how he could have written nine column inches about bicycle messengers without mentioning what dangerous menaces they are.
That forbearance is about to come to an end.
In New York City, an experimental program was to have gone into effect this week until protesters got a local court to grant a stay. The experimental program would have banned all bicyclists (including messengers) from the heart of midtown Manhattan. The reason: pedestrian safety.
How bad could the problem possibly be? I was shocked when I looked up the statistics.
In New York City last year, there were 640 bike-pedestrian collisions. More than 75 people were seriously injured as a result. Three pedestrians were killed.
According to the D.C. police, no one has been killed in a bike-pedestrian collision in downtown Washington. But more than 25 D.C. pedestrians were seriously injured last year when bike messengers came whipping out of nowhere -- usually on the wrong side of the road or against the light -- and bashed into them.
The D.C. police have been indifferent to this problem for as long as it has been a problem. Proof of the pudding: When's the last time you saw a bike messenger being written up for a moving violation? Come to think of it, has there been a first time?
It's time to take a page from New York's book.
The D.C. Council should place an experimental three-month ban on bike messengers downtown, in the same way that New York was just about to.
There'll be moaning from messengers about fairness and right-to-make-a-living. There'll be ominous predictions of greatly increased charges to get a package from Point A to Point B. There will probably be lawsuits filed by the messenger companies against the city government.
But it will be safe to walk the streets again. Isn't that reason enough to try this? New York officials thought so. New York officials weren't wrong.
Alex Thien in The Milwaukee Sentinel:
There's a new version of the old tug-of-war game.
Instead of using ropes, the teams try to separate shopping carts at the supermarket.