Cyclist deaths across New York City inspire benefit for messenger emergency fund 

Cyclist deaths across New York City inspire benefit for messenger emergency fund 
Comic Danny Felts decided to organize the fundraiser after the June 24 death of bike messenger Robyn Hightman.

Comic Danny Felts decided to organize the fundraiser after the June 24 death of bike messenger Robyn Hightman.

As the cycling community reels from a spike in traffic deaths this year, a group of comedians want to use their skills to help raise funds.

On July 17, comedians and bicyclists will put on a night of stand-up to benefit the Bike Messenger Emergency Fund at Bushwick’s Haven Cycles shop. The showcase will feature comics who bike around the city regularly like Danny Felts, who has been on HBO’s "High Maintenance" and IFC’s "Portlandia," Jake Flores, who co-hosts the "the gothic socialist" podcast "Pod Damn America," and Ian Fidance, who is on weekly on SiriusXM Comedy Central Radio’s "You Up?" with Nikki Glaser. There is no set ticket price — all they ask is that you donate what you can to the Bike Messenger Emergency Fund.

The nonprofit organization’s mission is to provide emergency compensation (currently $500) to bicycle messengers who are hurt on the job anywhere in the world. 

"The fund is trying to help people by doing a little thing to help alleviate some of the problems cyclists are having and it’s bringing to light a whole other issue — if you’re hurt on your bike, the debt might be really insane," Felts told amNewYork on Tuesday.

Danny Felts, left, and Ian Fidance, among other comics, will perform stand-up to benefit the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund.
Danny Felts, left, and Ian Fidance, among other comics, will perform stand-up to benefit the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund. Photo Credit: Danny Felts / Phil Provencio

Felts decided to organize the night of stand-up comedy after 20-year-old bike courier Robyn Hightman was struck and killed in midtown on June 24. Since then, two more cyclists have been killed on city streets.

Already in 2019, there have been 15 cyclist deaths, surpassing 2018’s total of 10 cycling deaths, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. Tensions are so high that cyclists planned a “mass die-in” for Tuesday evening in Washington Square Park to protest the recent deaths and a lack of infrastructure for cyclists.

"Robyn Hightman’s death was definitely a flashpoint for sure," Felts said. "I’ve always been pretty cognizant that overall New York is more dangerous for cyclists in general. When you ride in the city it’s dangerous, and all those little injustices blend into your day for the most part, but when more details came out — it was really messed up. She was incredibly young."

Felts, 31, works as a bike messenger during the day and had previously worked as a food delivery worker, so he’s had close calls on the street, from having car doors opened on him to road rage from motorists.

He believes the city’s politicians have dealt with the "toxic" car culture "the same way somebody would plug a leak coming out of a dam by poking their finger in it."

"The only thing you can really do is to try to keep the people you’re adjacent to informed about the situation and keep public advocacy for cycling high and try to really endorse it and bring it up to voices who have a say in the future of it," he added.

The show is his and his fellow comedians’ way of working in solidarity to benefit the cycling community.

"Nothing can truly mend the feeling of loss one experiences when a colleague dies," he said. "We hope this night can help future cyclists around the world if they are ever injured doing the only job that doesn’t suck."

If you go: The event begins at 8 p.m. July 17 at Haven Cycles, 1546 Dekalb Ave., in Brooklyn. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Visit eventbrite.com for more information.

Shaye Weaver