Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street on Monday night to mourn a bike messenger who was struck and killed by a truck driver there that morning.
Robyn Hightman, 20, was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018.
Chris Bammanen said he knew Hightman from their time in Richmond, Virginia, where they both worked for a delivery service called Quickness, and was in town for a bike race this past weekend (Hightman preferred they/them pronouns). Hightman had just recently moved to New York to start working for Samurai Messenger Service.
“They were definitely the hardest-working person in the company. Really generous,” Bammamen said. “I got in an accident three weeks ago and they gave me their front wheel. Just a really hardworking person, incredibly nice.”
“We were supposed to hang out tonight,” Bammanen added, as he held back tears.
Police said that Hightman and the truck driver were both traveling north on 6th Avenue when the driver struck Hightman. The driver, Antonio Garcia, then kept driving. “We didn’t know we hit someone,” he told Streetsblog.
Sixth Avenue has a protected bike lane on the block where Hightman was killed, and according to preliminary reports they were not in the bike lane when they were struck.
The NYPD issued five summonses to Garcia, but a spokesperson said they were all related to truck inspection violations, not the fatal collision.
Mourners gathered in the 6th Avenue bike lane shortly after 7 p.m. and began chanting “Stop killing us!” and “No ticket, drove away!”
“NO TICKET, DROVE AWAY” pic.twitter.com/FsjySs8y7Z
— Scott Heins (@scottheins) June 24, 2019
Throughout the evening, cyclists dismounted their bikes to lay bouquets of flowers, candles, photographs, and handwritten memories of Hightman. Shortly before 8 p.m., NYPD officers arranged barricades to separate the crowd from the busy evening traffic.
One NYPD vehicle was also parked in the bike lane, infuriating at least one vigil attendee, Dan Miller, who said, "Some cops were assigned to crowd control, and not only did they drive there in an SUV, they parked in the fucking bike lane."
(Courtesy Dan Miller)
Rosemary Bolich, who is on the same cycling team as Hightman, said she left work early on Monday because she was too distraught.
“They were so young. No one deserves to be killed in traffic,” Bolich said. “I just feel it was especially unfair, they had so much talent and was so warm and loving to everybody. Everyone who knew them is saying what a light they were and that’s how I feel they were, too. They would come up here from Richmond because that’s how much they wanted to do it. I absolutely cannot believe it.”
Bolich added, “Now they’re going to ticket cyclists as part of Vision Zero. That’s what they do after someone’s killed.”
After Hightman’s death, Transportation Alternatives said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan “remains in a crisis.”
“It is beyond time to get serious about the terrifying role trucks play on city streets,” the group said in a statement. “Local distribution hubs and safe solutions to last mile delivery, including smaller sprinter vans and e-cargo bikes that are employed by major cities around the globe, and real enforcement of 53 foot trailer laws, would save countless lives.”
— AlisonTea (@Alison_Tea) June 25, 2019
Yesterday: A cyclist killed on 6th Avenue.
Today on 6th Avenue...
No regard for the life of pedestrians or #bikenyc because we have highways in the city. @NYCSpeakerCoJo @NY1 pic.twitter.com/Jo58wvYBPr
— Sam Bleiberg (@SamBleiberg) June 25, 2019
Mayor de Blasio told NY1 on Monday night that he disagreed with that assessment, and called Vision Zero “a living, breathing idea, and it keeps growing.”
“We do not take it lightly, we have to keep fighting with everything we’ve got,” de Blasio said. “More enforcement, more bike lanes, which are on the way—a whole host of things.”
Hightman was the second bike messenger to be killed in 2019, after Aurilla Lawrence was struck and killed by a hit and run driver in Williamsburg. The police still have not made any arrests in Lawrence’s case.
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This is not the story we wanted to share. When we created our team’s Ambassador Program, the goal was to get more involved in cycling at the grassroots level, to connect with women who rode bikes for any reason at all in their daily lives, and to have our riders share the world of pro cycling with our ambassadors while learning more about what women experience every day in their cycling lives. Today we received devastating insight into a terrible reality of cycling: our ambassador Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck while working as a bike messenger in NYC. Robyn, who used they/their as their pronouns, was only 20 years old. Robyn’s application to our program was the most passionate, in-depth one we’ve received out of hundreds of applications. They wrote many times about the impact cycling had on their life: “As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect, my first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes. My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space. My bicycle enabled me to leave our encampment every day to access education, seek out food, and fulfill my basic needs. Eventually, my bicycle allowed me to provide for myself when I began working a full time job at the age of fourteen. My bicycle provided me with the socioeconomic mobility necessary to escape. My bicycle saved my life.” [continued below in comments]
Supermint, a women’s professional cycling team, posted portions of Hightman’s application to their Ambassador Program, which is “designed to connect women at all levels of cycling with our professional riders and sponsors.”
“As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect, my first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes,” Hightman wrote.
My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space. My bicycle enabled me to leave our encampment every day to access education, seek out food, and fulfill my basic needs. Eventually, my bicycle allowed me to provide for myself when I began working a full time job at the age of fourteen. My bicycle provided me with the socioeconomic mobility necessary to escape. My bicycle saved my life.