Free as the wind, squeezing between cars and trucks, a bicycle courier races to deliver packages.
It's a race against time because time is money. The faster
he goes, the more packages he delivers, the more money he makes.
"The courier doesn't have the world's best safety reputation out there," said Jihon Jordan, a cyclist himself who is redesigning intersections for the Streets Department.
Despite the dangers of the job, the death Monday of a bike courier in Center City was a rare occurrence. Sgt. George Golden, supervisor of fatalities for the police Accident Investigation Division, said he could not recall a similar incident involving a courier.
On Monday, police said David A. "Drew" Ditzen, 24, of Stafford Street near Morris in Germantown, was riding south on 8th Street near Chestnut in lunchtime traffic when he apparently tried to push off from the truck next to him by planting his foot against a rear wheel.
He was dragged under the wheels and crushed, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
"It's tough riding in the city," said Will Maus, who is a salesman and was a messenger for seven years at Diamond Courier, where Ditzen worked. ''You're riding a delicate machine surrounded by tanks driven by people who don't know what's going on."
Ditzen's father, L. Stuart Ditzen, an Inquirer reporter, said his son ''just loved racing around the city on a bicycle. It was almost like an addiction." His parents worried about his safety, fearing what they call now "the inevitable." His father, who used to bicycle to work daily from the suburbs, warned him repeatedly of the dangers "but I couldn't dissuade him."
The mystique of the courier was popularized by the recent movie,
"Quick Silver," and enhanced by recent newspaper accounts.
Messengers yesterday wore black armbands in Ditzen's memory as they raced through the city delivering packages. And last night, friends gathered at McGlinchey's Tavern to plan a memorial benefit to honor him.
An owner of Diamond Courier had earlier urged the messengers to stage a fund-raiser in Ditzen's honor for helmets for messengers, according to Maus. But messengers spurn helmets.
"A helmet can be a problem when you're riding in the city," Maus said. ''You really need your peripheral vision. It's almost an impediment."
However, Jordan, a cyclist and member of the bicyclist advisory board to the state Transportation Department, recommends wearing helmets, wider lanes to accommodate cars and bicycles or special lanes for cyclists, and being mindful of road hazards. He said 75 percent of the people involved in bicycle accidents annually have head injuries, which could be prevented by wearing helmets.
Last year, two of Philadelphia's 178 traffic fatalities were bicyclists, Jordan said.
by Kitty Caparella
Philadelphia Daily News, September 11, 1991