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NYPD To Reconsider Ticketing Cyclists Where Drivers Kill Cyclists

Mourners gather at the spot where 20-year-old Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck driver on Monday morning
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Mourners gather at the spot where 20-year-old Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck driver on Monday morning Scott Heins / Gothamist

An NYPD Chief said on Thursday that the department will reconsider its longstanding practice of ticketing cyclists near locations where cyclists have been recently killed by drivers.

On Monday morning, 20-year-old bike messenger Robyn Hightman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run truck driver on 6th Avenue between West 23rd and 24th Streets. The very next day, NYPD officers were deployed near the spot where they were killed, ticketing cyclists. (Hightman preferred they/them pronouns.)

"As far as the female who passed away unfortunately, yesterday, I believe she was riding off the bike lane, you know," Officer Carlos Negron told Gothamist at the scene, explaining why they were ticketing cyclists. "It's sad, but it's sad that she was off the bike lane, you know? Maybe if she had been on the bike lane, maybe she'd still be alive."

At an unrelated press conference on Thursday, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told reporters that officers "went to the scene after an incident, which we do," and issued roughly 100 summonses to drivers and around 30 to cyclists.

As for why the NYPD targets cyclists after drivers kill cyclists, Chief Monahan said, "We're looking at that strategy and it's something that we're looking to adjust."

"It's something we want to take a look at, how we're responding to it. What sort of enforcement we're going to do. We're speaking with Chief Chan about how to respond after a fatality accident," Monahan added, referring to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan.

Monahan was asked specifically if not ticketing cyclists was one option they were considering.

"Yes," he replied.

Several city councilmembers, including Speaker Corey Johnson, have criticized the practice, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended it.

"Whenever there is a fatality... it’s a horrible situation, and we all feel it. That does not mean we’re going to stop enforcement," de Blasio said in February, after the NYPD ticketed cyclists near the spot where cyclist Chaim Joseph was killed by a hit and run driver in Midtown. "We’re going to be enforcing on anybody who we think puts other people in danger, period."

The driver who killed Hightman, Antonio Garcia, explained that he didn't know he hit anyone, which is why he drove away and had to be flagged down by pedestrians. The NYPD gave him five summonses, all for truck inspection-related offenses, not for the circumstances related to Hightman's death. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed this year so far; in 2018, 10 cyclists were killed on city streets.

Cyclist Jameson Croasdale said he was "incensed" by Officer Negron's implication that Hightman caused their own death by riding outside of the bike lane (which on 6th Avenue has been under construction).

"I'm sick of every time a cyclist dies or gets injured, the NYPD blames the cyclist and cracks down on the cycling community as a whole, rather than enforce the laws for commercial vehicles and drivers," Croasdale said.

So on Wednesday afternoon, he created an Instagram account, @onthebikelane, to document obstructions in New York City bike lanes that force cyclists into traffic—while cyclists are required to stay in bike lanes when they are provided, the law states that they may leave them if they are obstructed or filled with hazards.

In around 24 hours, the account has amassed more than 1,000 followers, and Croasdale says he can't keep up with all the submissions.

"I work in the production industry, I have driven 24 foot box trucks and sprinter vans for he last 10 years, I don't buy it," Croasdale says of Garcia's excuse that he didn't feel himself hit Hightman. "I have been where that guy has been, I have almost hit people. You have to pay attention, it's your responsibility to pay attention and look out for things on the road and not hurt people."

Croasdale urged people to be safe when they're taking photos and video of bike lane obstructions, and insisted that "this is not an attack on the cops." (See: @copsinbikelanes.)

"If the NYPD engages the cycling community in a positive and constructive way and the city approaches the more prominent figures in the cycling community, they'll find people willing to work with them to create a infrastructure that is safe and sustainable," Croasdale said.

"Right now, the NYPD seems to be front and center obstructing. They're not really being helpful."

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