When it comes to cyclist safety, physical barriers like parked cars or plastic bollards are a clear step up from painted white lines. Vigilante urbanists have taken this to heart in the past, erecting makeshift barriers from potted plants or traffic cones. Recently, a mysterious Wichita do-gooder took a similar approach — this time, with toilet plungers.
Last weekend, local cyclist Todd Ramsey was riding downtown when he noticed what he believed to be white posts sticking out of the ground between the bike lane and the rest of the street, KSN.com reports. The “posts” had reflective tape on them, but as Ramsey approached them he realized they were actually plungers stuck to the ground.
The plungers’ backstory is shrouded in mystery. KSN approached the city of Wichita to see if they were part of an official campaign, but a city spokesperson said he didn’t know who’d erected them. The plungers were reportedly removed by Tuesday morning, but the spokesperson said he didn’t know who had removed them. Wichita police said that whoever put them up could get a ticket for littering.
Ramsey told the news source that at the spot where the plungers went up, the bike lane often becomes a de facto turn lane for drivers, even though that’s not technically legal. The problem of drivers merging into bike lanes at intersections is certainly not unique to Wichita — it was the inspiration for a similar effort in Boston in 2015. That make-shift bike lane was erected by Jonathan Fertig, who put down potted flowers and traffic cones after reading a book about tactical urbanism.
Last year, a Philadelphia man tried something similar, also near a dangerous intersection where cars routinely drifted into the bike lane to turn. His lane drew from stray traffic cones left around the city from Verizon, PGW and the Philadelphia Water Department, according to Philly.com.
If enthusiastic (or, perhaps, desperate) citizens can buy flowers, collect stray cones and elusively stick plungers to ground at the risk of littering fines, maybe their cities could invest in some simple barriers.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.