Plunger-Protected Bike Lanes #Winning

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In many cities, concern for bicycle infrastructure is improving. (That’s in spite of distressing political moves to eliminate healthful, people-friendly, air-friendly transportation options such as bicycling.) In other cities, it is more difficult to change those settings due to to the car-centric mindset of the residents and policymakers there. However, promoting change with inexpensive, innovative barriers has helped a few cities to shift toward two-wheeled, pedal-powered transport. Here are two examples of such an approach, followed by an explanation:

The Providence Journal reported that the city of Providence began installing flexible white poles to separate the lanes from parking spots. The city was “encouraged” by a local bicyclist’s handiwork, which drove the issue home immediately. His clever utilitarian work illustrated the transportation improvement with a simple plunger.

The short-term posts make a difference. The posts make it visually apparent where people are (and aren’t) supposed to park cars. Streetsblog reports that posts cost about approximately $60 apiece (the ones in the second picture, not the plungers).

Here’s more from The Providence Journal regarding the plungers report: “The plungers — 72 in all, their tips wrapped in reflective tape — are the handiwork of Jeffrey Leary, who installed them on Fountain Street to draw attention to the problem of cars blocking city bike lanes.” Indeed, Leary made good use of plungers ($1.00 each) to separate the bicycle lanes. Not a long-term solution, but they show how well separated lanes attract bicyclists.

Leary’s work was not singular to Providence. Others in Omaha also used the idea, and activists in Wichita, Kansas, had the most success.

“One of the advocates in Omaha, Stuart Nottingham, said he and seven fellow cyclists stuck the reflective tape-wrapped plungers to painted bike lane lines to demonstrate that protected bike lanes would slow traffic and make the street safer for everybody who uses it.” In Omaha, it seems the conversation was limited and has not found enough success (yet).

Omaha World Herald continues, “The plungers stayed up long enough to make a social media splash until the City Public Works Department removed them about four hours later as road obstructions.” That blocked collecting any meaningful observations about how transport on the roadway changed.

“The plan was to leave them out for 36 hours so people could see what a protected bike lane could do,” Nottingham said.

In Wichita, the plunger deployment led to city officials installing protective posts along a stretch of a bike lane, the Wichita Eagle reported in March. “A sign at the site labeled the plunger-posting as ‘Plungers for a Safer Aksarben.'” It is often the local community activists who bring such conversations to the city planning. Have you heard of any such campaigns in your area?

Some activists in San Francisco have taken a different but again innovative route for drawing attention to road safety issues. Reminiscent of guerilla gardeners, there are now guerilla street safety experts and traffic engineers. Some vigilant activists have formed human walls as protection on streets where drivers often ignore bike/ped markings. Streetsblog reports: “They’ve literally been standing in the streets themselves to call attention to the number of people who try to pull across unprotected curbside bike lanes in their cars. That, too, has prompted local politicians to call for permanent physical protection.” Is that what we need to do to get more protected bike lanes?

“Maureen Persico, a lead organizer of the San Francisco effort, said direct, fun local actions like these can be powerful during a time of national political turmoil because they can open a ‘little crack’ in people’s walls of cynicism or isolation.”


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Images via The Providence Journal and Streetsblog

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Cynthia Shahan

Cynthia Shahan, started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. Words can be used improperly depending on the culture you are in. (Several unrelated publications) She has a degree in Education, Anthropology, Creative Writing, and was tutored in Art as a young child thanks to her father the Doctor. Pronouns: She/Her

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