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Tricycles the answer to NYC gridlock?

'Pedicabs' provide an environmentally sound - and fun - way to navigate the Big Apple.

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As Paula Murgia determinedly pedals her tricycle up Park Avenue, she turns to the passenger in the back seat. "You know, someone gave the Dalai Lama a golden tricycle when he was a child," she says with a great grin. "There's something very spiritual about them."

If not spiritual, the three-wheel "taxis" called pedicabs are certainly enlightening, at least about the city of New York. Over the past few years a small band of courageous tricyclists has taken to the treacherously packed streets to give city dwellers and tourists an environmentally sound, human-powered alternative to New York's gas-guzzling yellow cabs.

The experience provides far more than a fast way around the taxis and semis stalled in gridlock. The open-air ride offers a unique window onto the city's history, giving a close-up view of its lovely old buildings and remaining cobblestone streets. It also gives new insights about its inhabitants, many of whom are quick to look up and smile at the oddity on three wheels wending its way through cars and chaos along the avenue.

George Bliss, who brought the first pedicabs to the Big Apple, calls the phenomenon "transpor-tainment."

"Transportation should be a wonderful experience, not a miserable experience - that's my main motivation for doing this in New York City," says Mr. Bliss, standing amid the pedicabs and wheels that clutter up an old gas station at the intersection of Broome and Thompson streets. "A lot of people complain about automobiles, but not too many are trying to put an alternative out there."

Pedicabs are exactly what they sound like, foot-powered taxis - or tricycles with a seat over the back wheels. They've been mainstays in parts of the developing world for generations. But in the past few years, as cities like Jakarta in Indonesia have tried to stamp them out as an archaic traffic nuisance, they've begun to flourish in New York, Berlin, and London.

When Bliss started his PONY Cabs of NY eight years ago, he had just a handful of pedicabs. Today, there are three other companies and more than 80 trikes on the tarmac - almost the same number as horse-drawn carriages that roll through Central Park. And the numbers keep growing.

"It was certainly a gamble when we started, nobody knew if they were going to allow pedicabs in a city like this, where there's almost a million dollars invested in medallions [cab licenses] alone," says Bliss. "It's a very political thing to put a new kind of taxi on the streets."

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