An Idea That Sticks: Another Plunger-Protected Bike Lane Goes Permanent

Tactical urbanism projects are prompting cities to improve the bike-riding environment.

Fountain Street in Providence, R.I., last month. Photo: James Kennedy of Transport Providence.
Fountain Street in Providence, R.I., last month. Photo: James Kennedy of Transport Providence.

There’s been something in the air this spring. Can you smell it?

Two of 2017’s three cheekiest guerrilla bike lanes have now been made permanent.

The Providence Journal reported Tuesday that the city of Providence, RI, has taken a local group’s civic action to heart and started installing flexible plastic posts where a row of plungers had been set up, separating a “floating” parking lane from a curbside bike lane on downtown’s Fountain Street.

Similar plunger-bike-lane installations this year came in Wichita and Omaha. Wichita, too, made its short stretch of plunger protection permanent two weeks later.

Parking-protected bike lanes have become common across the United States. But practices differ on whether to include plastic posts. Posts cost about $60 apiece, including installation time, but they make it more obvious where people are (and aren’t) supposed to park cars.

The Journal reported that the new posts can be removed during the winter, if necessary, to keep the street plowed.

Organizer Jeffrey Leary, 49, told the paper he spent $72 on the Providence demonstration: $1 per plunger.

Martina Haggerty, a projects manager with the Providence planning department, said the city had always planned to improve the Fountain Street bike lane “incrementally” but that the plungers “certainly gave a new sense of urgency to it, which is great.”

“I think it’s a really effective way of bringing about change and bringing things to the attention of officials,” she said.

A national trend: hyperlocal activism

Maureen Persico of San Francisco, organizer of a temporary person-protected bike lane. Photo: Roger Rudick, Streetsblog SF.

Meanwhile, across the continent in San Francisco, residents are conducting a slightly different campaign: 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.

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.

“It’s cheap, and it’s pretty easy to get people together,” she said. “And there’s a lot of people interested in the issue. Everybody knows somebody who’s been hit by a car.”

PlacesForBikes is a PeopleForBikes program to help U.S. communities build better biking, faster. You can follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for their weekly news digest about building all-ages biking networks.

  • redbike

    These activists should be flushed with pride.

  • kclo3

    Meanwhile, as more pedestrians and cyclists die on the streets of Philadelphia without any concrete plan, our complete streets director reacts quite differently

    “We welcome continued discussion,” she said, “but we don’t want people putting up cones or making their own traffic changes, as it can create an unsafe environment.”

    http://www.philly.com/philly/living/How-a-Philly-guy-fed-up-with-crashes-built-his-own-bike-lane.html

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yes running into a cone might cause a fender bender. That is American “safety” in a nutshell: Protcting property and reducing liabitiy is uch more important thansaving lives.

    In Europe it is common practice to protect pedestrians on busy streets with metal or concrete posts. ( London Bridge is a notable exception. I walked across it last summer on a visit and it felt uncomfortable.) These increase the likelihood of minor accidents, and for drivers to be more attentive. So they reduce the risk to pedestrians by slowing cars as they leave the driving lane and by forcing drivers to watch the road to avoid scratching their fenders.

  • dat

    I doff my hat to you sir or madam.

  • AMH

    It’s really poo-riffic.

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A row of plungers now keeps cars out of this bike lane in downtown Providence. Photo: WJAR-TV

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Keeping cars out of bike lanes can seem like a Sisyphean task, particularly when a street design makes it easy for drivers to go where they shouldn't. But do-it-yourself attempts to stop automobile incursions have proven to be invaluable demonstrations of how simple steps can make a real impact -- from flowers in Boston to traffic cones in Brooklyn to human barriers in San Francisco.