Cyclist’s death in Chelsea is city’s 12th this year

BY GABE HERMAN | A bicycle messenger died in Chelsea on Monday morning after being hit by a truck on Sixth Ave., just north of W. 23rd St.

The messenger, 20-year-old Robyn Hightman, was found by police laying on the street, unconscious and unresponsive, with head trauma.

An E.M.S. ambulance transported Hightman to Bellevue Hospital, where the young cyclist was pronounced dead.

Robyn Hightman died on Monday after being hit by a truck on Sixth Ave. in Chelsea. (Courtesy Instagram-“supermintusa”)

A Virginia native, Hightman reportedly preferred to identify by the pronouns “they/them.”

Hightman was hit by a white Freightliner delivery truck, according to police. The truck initially left the scene but then returned.

The driver, 54-year-old Antonio Garcia, reportedly said he did not know he had hit someone until several blocks later when he was told by a witness.

“I’m driving no more than 20 [miles per hour], no down to 15,” he told CBS, of his speed. “I don’t see nothing. The passenger told me, ‘Somebody hit you in the back.’”

The driver was issued five summonses at the scene, for equipment violations related to the truck that were unrelated to the incident.

Police said Hightman and the truck were both traveling uptown on Sixth Ave. when they collided. Witnesses said Hightman was riding outside the bike lane when the incident occurred.

It is fairly common for riders to go outside of the bike lane briefly at that intersection, to avoid large crowds and congestion, according to fellow bike messenger Mike Pach, who was at a memorial for Hightman near the intersection on Monday afternoon.

“The bike lane becomes untenable even a block away,” said Pach, who has been a messenger for three years. He said it’s usually easier to ride with the cars until getting midway up the next block, between W. 23rd and 24th Sts.

A cyclist on Sixth Ave. briefly avoided the bike lane between 23rd and 24th Sts. before turning back onto it midway up the next block. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Monday afternoon, several cyclists could be seen doing what Pach described, veering out into car lanes near the intersection to avoid heavy pedestrian traffic and slower bicycles, and then turning back into the bike lane midway up the block.

Hightman made deliveries around the city for Capsule. Monday was the cyclist’s first day also working for Samurai, a company that Pach said only hires very good bike messengers.

Pach called Hightman “a total sweetheart” who was involved with the cycling organization Spin Peaks, including participating in its Gold Sprint fundraising races.

Hightman was also an ambassador for the women’s cycling team Hagens Berman-Supermint, which posted a tribute on Instagram. The post shared some of Hightman’s application to join the group, and called it “the most passionate, in-depth one we’ve received out of hundreds.”

“As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect,” Hightman wrote, in part, on the application, “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.”

Hightman continued, “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.”

A memorial on Sixth Ave. near the site of Robyn Hightman’s death. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

By Monday afternoon, a memorial had been posted on Sixth Ave. just north of 23rd St., including flowers and tributes written on a piece of cardboard.

A vigil was held there on Monday evening, which drew hundreds of mourners. Twelve cyclists have now died through about six months of 2019 on New York City’s streets, compared to 1o deaths in all of 2018.

Pach said the city should have a more complete bike lane infrastructure, but right now just installs them “willy-nilly,” in some places and not others.

And he said it would help for police to do better enforcement for the bike lanes, such as keeping cars out of both them and the buffer areas beside them, where a car door could open and smash into a cyclist.

Pach said police focus too much on ticketing cyclists, and that he recently got a ticket for not having a reflector.

The day after Hightman’s death, police were reportedly ticketing cyclists near the intersection. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, responded on Twitter, “I am disturbed by reports of a NYPD crackdown on cyclists near the intersection where cyclist Robyn Hightman was killed yesterday by traffic violence. Trucks and cars are the cause of the overwhelming number of traffic fatalities in our city.”

Part of the memorial to Robyn Hightman included a piece of cardboard with messages written for the young cyclist. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Johnson added in another post, “Robyn‘s death is a tragedy and so is the number of cyclist deaths so far this year. Let’s get serious about making our streets safer for everyone.”

Pach said of Hightman’s cycling during the tragic incident, “This wasn’t luxury, she was doing her job.”

He added that this incident in the wake of the city’s mounting numbers of cycling deaths is overwhelming.

“This year I’m starting to get numb,” he said. “It’s hard to be constantly outraged.”

8 Responses to Cyclist’s death in Chelsea is city’s 12th this year

  1. Susan M. Silver

    The unbearable waste that is the death of this promising young woman should, at the very least, spur stricter enforcement of current laws for both cars and cycles, as well as possible bicycling-law revision. Ride in peace, Robyn.

  2. Her death, is of course, a tragedy. But in the article it mentions that the bikers as going out of the bike lane in that location, quoting a bike messenger.

    “The bike lane becomes untenable even a block away,” said Pach, who has been a messenger for three years. He said it’s usually easier to ride with the cars until getting midway up the next block, between W. 23rd and 24th Sts.

    Even when a protected bike lane is provided bicyclists find an excuse not to use it, and then traffic chaos happens, sometimes tragically. Note to bicyclists: Follow the law. It's safer.

    Let's also compare this reaction from the bikers to the one afforded the woman who was hit by an e-bike, went into a coma and died on 57th street. Hit by the delivery guy going the wrong way, and through a red light. Do you remember any such vigil? Do you remember that any pedestrians went on a rampage and hit bikes with a stick like one of the bikers at the protest mayhem (as reported by CBS) where this person was whacking cars left and right where the bikers blocked traffic at 23rd and 6th?

    Of course not.

    Meanwhile our city is subject to these 2 wheeled terrorists on the streets and the sidewalks. Of course for their "safety."

    But what about ours?

    • Normally I don't respond to such a thoughtless comment but I wanted to find out if you are just a misinformed person or a troll just trying to be negative. First, cyclists are NOT REQUIRED to ride in the bike lane. So there is nothing wrong with a bike messenger who needs to ride 40-60 miles a day in NYC for his job to ride with traffic. Second, walk two, three blocks in the city and tell me if the bike lane is free or blocked. Very likely you will find a delivery truck, a regular car or quite frequently an NYPD patrol car in the bike lane. Lastly, who stopped a vigil from occurring when that woman was hit by the ebike (which is really more moped scooter than bicycle)?

      • It's pretty rare for bike lanes on Avenues to be blocked.

        • And, for the sake of argument, let's say that within a 10 block stretch, there's a thirty-foot obstruction. It's still far safer to use the bike lane and cautiously ride in the car lane for that thirty feet, than to ride the entire ten blocks in car lanes.

  3. I meant that bikers hit CARS with a stick – watch the CBS link for the video of it, linked in the article.

  4. This is excellent reportage. I applaud The Villager for giving a human face and voice to Robyn Hightman, and not letting her go down as an anonymous statistic. The reducing of people to ciphers is a part of what normalizes this carnage. The hatred hurled at bicyclists in this thread is truly ugly. We will never back down, now how many of us you kill. We are the future, if there is one for this planet. Deal with it.

  5. * no matter how many of us you kill.

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