The guerilla cyclists solving urban problems | Kieran Smith

The guerilla cyclists solving urban problems | Kieran Smith

From pop-up bike lanes to painted potholes, here are the imaginative ways frustrated cyclists are taking action to create a safer environment

Fri 11 May 2018 01.30 EDT Last modified on Fri 11 May 2018 01.43 EDT

Across the world, transport planning and infrastructure tends to favour the car, and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians are an afterthought. In response, frustrated urban cyclists have thrown caution to the wind and written their own will into the fabric of the city, overturning the dominance of the car and creating a safer environment for cycling in imaginative ways.

Cycling has the power to turn individuals into a community and communities have the power to improve our cities. These examples show how activism can be a real solution to urban problems.

After two cyclists were killed on the road in San Francisco, a collective of concerned citizens built their own temporary bike paths demarcated by flowers and traffic cones. A quick, cheap and easy improvement with a clear message: safer infrastructure is needed to prevent future deaths.

The result of this unsanctioned urban experiment was permanent change: several of the experimental bike lanes built by street safety group SFMTrA were sanctioned by the city, at least until it can build its own version.

Similar interventions have happened across the world, including in Kansas, where a bike lane protected by toilet plungers sprang up overnight. The council then recognised its utility and decided to invest, opting to replace the plungers with posts and help unclog the roads permanently.

Potholes can exasperate even the most patient of motorists, but for cyclists they can be lethal. As the death toll rises, so does activism. Groups such as Cycling UK have campaigned for road surface improvements for years, but sometimes the best way to get things fixed is to draw attention to them. A graffiti vigilante known as Wanksy has taken an innovative approach: painting penises around potholes and documenting his work anonymously on social media. The council has responded with condemnation, but it seems the potholes are being fixed.

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In the same vein, Swiss designer Florian Born created a device he calls Auto-Complain: a spray tank connected to a smartphone app that highlights the need for renovation by automatically painting over dips and ridges in the road surface as you ride.

At a slightly more organised level, small businesses have helped cyclists by taking traffic calming into their own hands. Vancouver safety group Preventable is one of several to have used 3D pavement art to deter vehicles from speeding. The hologram of a child fetching a ball appears to rise up from a distance, but fades as you approach. While some have lauded the scheme’s innovation, others have criticised it for potentially desensitising motorists to real dangers.

In the UK, the Environmental Transport Association has constructed its own zebra crossings from recycled linoleum to help slow traffic outside schools. This was a response to the petitioning of parents, whose concerns had been overlooked by the local council.

As levels of cycling grow, existing infrastructure can be reimagined to meet changing demands. Empty parking spaces can be converted into urban rest stops: public spaces that might include seating, planting and bike parking.

These were initiated by another San Franciscan group, design firm Rebar, which set up an impromptu intervention using a bench, grass turf and potted plants. The project took advantage of a legal loophole that meant the space could be used for purposes other than parking as long the meter was fed.

And how did the city respond to this defiance? It wanted more. The Department for City Greening encouraged the initiative, which has since bloomed into a global movement: Park(ing) Day, a 24-hour peaceful takeover of parking spaces all over the world.

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The “spontaneous unorganised” movement of hundreds of cyclists is not to be underestimated. Monthly rides like Critical Mass are not only a defiant celebration of the presence of bikes, but a glorious reclamation of space from the monopoly of the car. Although some consider it an unlawful nuisance, since emerging from San Francisco in the early 90s it has grown into a worldwide movement and spawned several variants including Courteous Mass (a politer version in Dayton, Ohio) and Clitoral Mass (for women), as well as similar events like the World Naked Bike Ride.

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