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Bicycle ban starts in midtown Manhattan. City hopes 90-day trial will improve safety; opponents argue it's premature

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Concern over traffic safety in Manhattan's teeming midtown area has led to a ban on bicycles from three major avenues during business-hours, starting today. Citing careless bikers, particularly messengers, Mayor Edward I. Koch says strict regulations are essential for safer streets.

Reactions, of course, are mixed. George Morales, a bicycle messenger from Queens, shakes his head when asked about the ban.

``It's terrible,'' says Mr. Morales, as he leaves 42nd Street for 15 downtown deliveries. ``I'm a family man, just trying to look for a living.''

``They are terrible,'' says Ellen, a retiree riding a downtown bus. ``Just the other day I almost got hit by a boy running a red light and going the wrong way up 2nd Avenue.''

``There is going to be a ban on bicyclists? That could make a difference!'' says a director for a public relations firm that frequently dispatches news releases. But after a quick check with the stock room, she happily reports that most of their messages go out by foot messenger.

The experimental ban on bicyclists who traverse Fifth, Park, and Madison Avenues from 59th to 34th Streets begins a 90-day trial today. Scofflaws will get warnings this week, and starting next week summonses will be issued.

Last year, there were 640 pedestrian-bicycle accidents in the city, and three people were killed. There were also 2,953 bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, and nine deaths. Midtown Manhattan has the heaviest concentration of pedestrians.

Some citizens have lobbied heavily for the ban. But others complain that it came without warning.

Nancy Cooper, president of both a messenger service and of the Association of Messenger Services says she suggested as recently as July that commercial bicyclists be licensed or issued permits by the city. That way the city would be better able to track down violators.

``This [ban] is disheartening. We're [still] trying to negotiate with the city,'' Ms. Cooper says. Messenger businesses say the ban, as now proposed, could have an impact on the efficiency and cost of their service, as well as on the income of their messengers.

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