Cville Couple's Crusade for Bike Safety

Nov 16, 2019

Friends and supporters of cyclist Robyn Hightman are preparing to rally in Richmond this week.  Robyn rode to New York City last summer and was working as a bike messenger when the 20-year-old was struck by a box truck and killed. 

Virginia cyclist Robyn Hightman was killed while riding in New York City.
Credit Jay Hightman

Robyn Hightman’s death sparked a violent protest against cars in the city – fellow messengers noting that a dozen cyclists had been killed there this year. Since then the number has risen to 27.  At the CBS affiliate, reporter Matt Kozar told viewers:

“Several dozen riders have gone on a riding rampage tonite, blocking streets and intersections. Angry cyclists upset over yet another biker death on city streets blocked traffic and led police on a chase through Midtown.”

Robyn's grieving father in Charlottesville began to think about how to  prevent future tragedies of this kind here in Virginia. 

“Those that are on the road seem to be paying more attention to the devices in their hand than that which is on the road, “ says Jay Hightman. 

He wants this state to ban the use of cell phones and tablets while driving, noting distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.

“You don’t want to be the parent that I am, having lost a child,” he adds.

Robyn's father, Jay Hightman, and his wife Lindsay Hawn are hoping to make Virginia roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Credit RadioIQ

His wife, Lindsay Hawn, thinks our cities need more protected bike lanes, although she reminds drivers that cyclists may need to use the road.

“The perception is, ‘Oh, there’s a bike lane.  I don’t have to worry anymore,’ but bike lanes suddenly disappear and often cyclists have to get out of the bike lane because there’s debris, there’s glass in the bike lane that’s blocking them,” she  explains.

And Robyn’s dad adds that speed cameras could slow drivers down, making a collision less likely.

“If you’re driving an excessive speed,  you’re  not going to see that child on the bike.”

He drives around with a white bicycle on the roof of his van.  The so-called ghost bike has been used at many memorials for cyclists killed on the road.

Ghost bikes pay tribute to cyclists killed on the road and promote greater driver safety
Credit Jay Hightman

“It has provided the opportunity to speak to others about both the tragedies but also things that could be done.”

This state also loses pedestrians – 118 of them in 2018, up from 74 nine years earlier. Hightman wants a way to honor them – perhaps using a pair of Robyn’s shoes as a model for white memorials that could be hung along city streets.

“A professor who is with the archeology department at VCU has a high resolution scanner, and so one of the intentions is to scan Robyn’s shoes so as to make those available to others," he says. 

Together, the couple joined Families for Safe Streets, which supports and advocates for people who’ve been injured or killed while riding or walking on public streets.  The group plans a rally in Richmond on Monday, November 18th from 6-8 in front of the Library of Virginia at 8th and Broad.

The federal government says 12 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in Virginia last year.