Pedicabs Don't Work with Big Wheels

The usual suspects snuff a people-powered invention

Pedicabs would not be the first transportation novelty to die of political strangulation in City Hall. In 1870, inventor Alfred Ely Beach sought permits to excavate for something he called a subway. Back then, William "Boss" Tweed controlled all political levers and already had a nice piece of the action going with elevated railways and stagecoach lines. Tweed made sure that Beach's brilliant plan was snuffed in its cradle. The inventor managed to get a single block-long tunnel built and then hit Tweed's roadblock. Subways had to wait 30 years to get past it.

There was one episode in this sordid pedicab business that did play against political type. On the day last spring when the council's bill was presented for the mayor's signature into law, a handful of people came to speak in what they assumed was a futile last gasp of opposition. Quinn stood beside the mayor. The bill, and the pens with which to sign it, were next to them on a table. The first speaker, Melissa von Ludwig, a photographer and pedicab driver, spoke sweetly, asking the mayor to consider that pedicabs are a natural extension of his new environmental program. "By 2030," she suggested, "I imagine our city needing pedicabs by the thousands." George Bliss raged. "You are jeopardizing your legacy," he yelled. "You are giving police the power to stop a tricycle from coming down the street, but Humvees can come right through? What is that about?"

Bloomberg listened quietly. Then he stunned Quinn and everyone else in the room by saying he wanted to think about this one a while longer. A few days later, on his radio show, he announced his veto. Quinn quickly summoned her troops and won an override of the mayor's decision.

The new law was supposed to go into effect last month, but a lawsuit filed by pedicab operators won a last-minute delay. Hearings are pending. Last week, a 25-year-old driver named Ned Akkayk, a business major at NYU, peddled a passenger past the theaters of West 47th Street. He swerved around three stretch limousines, each the size of a yacht, that were doubled-parked on the block and said, "I don't know how they say we are the problem."

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