Do you think for a minute that our wonderful Washington bike messengers have mended their ways in honor of Christmas? Do you think for a minute that I've given up recounting the horrors that they produce, every minute of every day?

From Cathy E. Stewart of Springfield:

"My 'accident' happened last winter at the intersection of 18th and L. I had the WALK light and proceeded across the intersection with about a dozen other people. When I got halfway across, I happened to see a courier rounding the corner (against the light) and heading straight toward me.

"My reflex was to slow down, hoping he would miss me. Instead, he ran right into me.

"I ended up on top of him and his bicycle. I was dazed and all I can remember is him telling me, 'Get up, lady, you're all right.'

"He did stay around long enough to help me get to my feet . . . . I spent the next four hours at George Washington University Hospital tied to a stretcher. I ended up missing almost a week of work because of the huge lump on my head and many bruises down my back . . . ."

From "Unsigned -- Retired":

"As I was walking on Pennsylvania Avenue, a biker plowed into my back and sent me flying face forward . . . .

"My lower teeth went through my bottom lip. My upper teeth were strewn on the sidewalk. My nose was bleeding and blood clots began to float in my eyes. As I raised my bloody head, he made an obscene gesture . . . .

"My dental bill was over $2,000. My parents live outside the area. They have no idea as to my condition because I have not been 'home' since the accident. My lower lip is disfigured, my nose unbalanced, and since they are almost 90 years old, I have withheld this from them. By Christmas I may be presentable, and can visit . . . ."

From Charles N. Childers of Crofton:

"On Sept. 28, I finished lunch at a sidewalk restaurant on M Street across from the National Geographic Society. I decided to cross the street and visit the museum-like display in the National Geographic building.

"I started across the street. At about the second step, I was struck by a bike messenger . . . .

"The handlebar hit me full force on the left thigh. The result was facial lacerations which required a trip to the emergency room . . . .

"Four hours in the emergency room were required for 53 stitches. After the soreness was over and the black eyes subsided, a fracture in the left shoulder with a rotary cuff injury were discovered. There is possible damage to my right eye {as a result of} glasses shattered with pieces embedded in my cheek . . . .

"The total expense to me will probably be about $1,500. I am covered by insurance. The only comfort that I can take in the entire incident is the fact that a 60-year-old guy can take such a blow and not pass out and still drive home to the suburbs that evening.

" . . . .Please pursue your goal of getting the messengers off the street. Get them off downtown streets right now. There is no information so time-critical that requires messengers to endanger life and limb, theirs and mine."

I can't imagine saying it any better -- or reading it said any better.

But do you know what?

There are people around town who think that these victims (and this columnist) are overstating the case -- or misstating the cause.

Robyn Daugherty, a bike messenger, blames the victim. "If you walk around Washington, D.C. without looking where you are going, I can only feel sorry for you," she says.

Robert H. Gagel of Gaithersburg blames the police. "Get the police into the downtown area and have them enforce the laws that are already on the books," Robert writes.

David J. Turim, a former messenger, blames cars and the people who drive them. "It is cars which rule the city, make the streets unsafe and emit the noxious fumes which we all must breathe," he writes. " . . . . I believe that the couriers are a vanguard of sorts, out there proving the viability -- no, the superiority -- of getting around the city by bike."

Mark W. Paules of Rockville, also a courier, blames the downtown crush in general. "The problem downtown is not just couriers breaking the law," he writes. "It's everyone breaking the law -- commuters, cabbies, delivery people, pedestrians, even the police."

Finally, Karen Brown, president of the Washington Metropolitan Courier Association, makes the remarkable argument that the problem is economics. Many messengers are black, she notes. So if we ban messengers from downtown, "black inner city youth with already high unemployment and little or no credit history (for financing a vehicle) would be out of work."

You'll forgive me, folks, but I have never seen so many people bend over so far backwards to miss the point in my whole life.

It's very simple.

The common element in every courier atrocity story is the courier.

You can stick your head in the sand and yell, "Pedestrian!" You can close your eyes and howl, "Police!" You can beat your breast and moan about traffic. You can even raise the specter of black unemployment when it has nothing to do with the issue.

But this remains: If bicycle couriers were not vicious, uncaring scofflaws, you wouldn't be discussing any of those other questions.

You've read Cathy Stewart's story. And the story of "Unsigned-Retired." And the story of Charles Childers. I ask you:

Did these incidents happen because a cop didn't do his job, or because a black kid needs to keep a job?

No. They happened because criminals were riding bikes.

So let's go after those criminals. Let's solve the courier problem at its source. Get couriers out of downtown. Get them out now.


Kimberly Nelson, I wish I could lie you flat on a Xerox machine and make 100 copies.

Do you believe this kid, folks? At the age of seven, she has donated $9.50 to our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital.

That's special enough. More special: She earned the money by reading.

"For each book that I read last summer, I got 25 cents," Kimberly writes, from her home in Potomac. "I read 38 books for $9.50. I want to give this to Children's Hospital."

I know seven-year-olds who would spend their hard-earned $9.50 on movies. I know seven-year-olds who would spend their hard-earned $9.50 on video games. But now I also know a seven-year-old who spends her hard-earned $9.50 to help sick kids whose families don't have the money to pay their hospital bills.

I'd like to know others.

In the meantime, thanks a lot, Kimberly. It isn't the size of your gift that's important. It's the size of your spirit.


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.