Providence Will Keep DIY Plungers in Place to Prevent Cars From Clogging Bike Lane

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

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.

Most recently, advocates in Providence have taken a page from Wichita, Kansas, by installing plungers to unclog a bike lane — leading city officials to come up with a permanent fix.

Last fall, Providence got its first parking-protected bike lane on a short stretch of Fountain Street, which brings riders from the city’s west side into downtown. But the extra-wide bike lane, which is painted between a row of parked vehicles and the curb, is often full of cars whose drivers are either making right turns or double-parked.

Jeffrey Leary, fed up with car congestion in the bike lane, decided to fix the problem. He bought 72 plungers for a dollar each, attached reflective tape to the top, and dropped them along the edge of the bike lane.

Leary told the Providence Journal that he did it because he’d like the streets to be safe enough for his 9-year-old daughter to ride her bike. “There’s a lot of great stuff in Providence,” he said, “[but] I certainly would never allow her to ride in the streets in Providence. That would scare me to death.”

Often, city governments remove unauthorized bike lane barriers, but Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has decided to keep them until his administration comes up with a solution.

“The plunger installation is a creative way to draw attention to an important issue,” said Elorza spokesperson Emily Crowell. “The City won’t remove them unless they impede traffic on the street. This summer the City is looking into ways to better delineate the lanes such as painting, flower beds and flexible posts.”

  • Corvus Corax

    Let’s trade Mayor Lee for Mayor Elorza.

  • Jeff Gonzales

    Does “The City won’t remove them unless they impede traffic on the street” mean much though? It’s pretty clear they are impeding some types of traffic from driving in the bike lane. Which we find to be a good thing, but it’s still impedance.

  • Rhode Islander

    I think, in practice, it’s quite symbolic. By the next day, half the plungers had disappeared in various ways, and by today, they’ve all disappeared. But it is a way for the mayor to signal that the city wants to cooperate with changing this design, which is good.

    A big ask in Jeff Leary’s press release was that the mayor commit city money to bike infrastructure, and that remains to be seen. Minneapolis put $6 million forward over several years to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes. In a city the size of Providence, such a commitment could go even further to connecting neighborhoods. A usual Providence streets bond runs around $40 million (the last one was under Mayor Taveras, and the result was some painted sharrows). Committing $6 million, like what Minneapolis put forward, would be a 15% commitment from the bond, in a city that has a 23% non-driving rate. I hope that Mayor Elorza sticks to this goal, as well as to the smaller and more symbolic one of fixing Fountain Street itself.

    On the flip side, Gov. Raimondo and her RIDOT Director, Peter Alviti, have been very hostile to urban concerns around transportation. Rhode island recently became a state that raids bike funding, which had never been the case before. Raimondo and Alviti also tabled the 6/10 Boulevard, which would have removed the 6/10 Connector highway. Ironically, Gov. Raimondo ran in 2014 in part on a cutesy ad where she rides a bike with her daughter and husband through downtown Providence. So a big push would also be getting different state level leadership and priorities.