After Cyclist Was Killed, City Wrote 40 Percent of its Blitz Tix to … Cyclists!

Writing condolences at the vigil for dead cyclist Robyn Hightman. Photo: Yosef Kessler
Writing condolences at the vigil for dead cyclist Robyn Hightman. Photo: Yosef Kessler

Cyclists received more than 37 percent of the summonses issued in a traffic enforcement blitz following Monday’s killing of cyclist Robyn Hightman — a statistical outrage that has yet again earned the NYPD scorn from a grieving bike-riding community that wants the agency to focus its resources on the genuine source of road fatalities: car drivers.

New York’s Finest said they had written 77 moving violation tickets between the time when Hightman’s blood was washed off the street and Wednesday morning — 29 tickets went to bikers and 48 to drivers of cars and trucks. Police —who had been positioned near the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street where Hightman was killed by 54-year-old Antonio Garcia — did not immediately specify what the tickets were for. Cyclists represent a tiny portion of the overall traffic on that corridor.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s crackdown is nothing new. The NYPD typically launches ticket blitzes for three days following all manner of fatal collisions, but such blitzes overwhelmingly target cyclists — even when a cyclist has been killed. No one can understand why the NYPD does this — though police officials routinely say they do it to ensure that all road users are following the rules.

“It’s hard for me to understand this bizarre practice [but] advocates feel it’s motivated by nothing more than animus toward people who happen to get from A to B by pedaling on two wheels,” wrote safe-streets advocate Doug Gordon in a blistering op-ed in the Daily News begging Mayor de Blasio to actually do something to prevent another death instead of issuing tickets. 

Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander also blasted the NYPD for targeting the victims of road violence rather than drivers.

“Robyn Hightman deserved better, in life and in death. Want to talk about enforcement? Crack down on reckless drivers,” Lander wrote on Twitter.

Garcia himself walked away without so much as a ticket for recklessness — even though he told Streetsblog that he and his passenger “didn’t know we hit someone,” pretty clear evidence that Garcia was failing to exercise due care, at the very least.

Instead, he received only minor summonses for violations related to the truck itself — none for actually killing Hightman. A Streetsblog video shows a police officer actually consoling Garcia — who had killed someone — before leaving the crash scene.

But the targeted enforcement against cyclists didn’t stop with just tickets — police also blamed Hightman, who preferred the pronouns they/them, for their own death, telling Gothamist that Hightman was riding outside of the bike lane.

“As far as the female [sic] who passed away unfortunately, yesterday, I believe she was riding off the bike lane, you know,” Officer Carlos Negron told Gothamist. “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.”

Police were also out in force after a hit-and-run driver killed cyclist Chaim Joseph on Eighth Avenue back in February, even ticketing a biker for not wearing a helmet, which is not against the law. Police eventually arrested the hit-and-run driver who killed Joseph, but not for the “hit” or “run” part. And just a month later, cops did the same enforcement in Williamsburg after another hit-and-run truck driver killed 25-year-old Aurilla Lawrence. That driver has not been found.

None of the ticket sprees has magically prevented the next death — so why keep making cyclists feel even more powerless and like their lives don’t matter as much as drivers on the road?

“Whatever the reasoning, multiple instances of this enforcement strategy being implemented after the previous 11 deaths did nothing to prevent the 12th,” Gordon wrote in his op-ed. “Without a drastic change in how the city approaches cycling safety, the number of cyclists killed on our streets will continue to rise. What can be done?”

NYPD spokeswoman Det. Sophia Mason said the “NYPD vigorously supports Vision Zero and enthusiastically promotes safe driving by motorists and bicyclists,” citing data that overall fatalities have gone down over the last five years — though cyclists deaths are up dramatically this year. Hightman was the 12 cyclist killed versus 10 all of last year. 

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio can claim their enforcement is working — but the numbers don’t lie. Vision Zero is in crisis, said Transportation Alternative’s Marco Conner.

“This NYPD practice has nothing to do with Vision Zero. NYPD enforcement against cyclists is inexcusably disproportionate. The Mayor … should right this harmful enforcement practice right now,” Conner said. “We hope the City Council will step in to secure data-based effective, fair and equitable traffic enforcement.”