You’ll recall that last week I wrote about the 63rd & Shirley intersection and its problems with traffic. Well, this week something was done about it, albeit in an unusual way.
In an effort to draw attention to the issues on this stretch of road, a group of cyclists decided to demonstrate the benefits of a protected bike lane. The plan for the project was to delineate the painted lanes already there and measure traffic speed and behavior over a 36 hour period. The delineation tool of choice: bathroom plungers.
Yep, you read that right: the plunger. A tool commonly used to remove clogs in drains was going to be used by this group to improve overall flow through the neighborhood. This “method” of tactical urbanism has been used before, most recently in Wichita KS. The group gathered the plungers (120 of them) and other supplies, and laid out their plan. This plan included meeting with members of the neighborhood who were also concerned that the city might remove the existing lanes (which, as I point out last week, would be pointless.)
This past Monday morning, under cover of full daylight, a small group of these guerilla advocates swooped down on the blocks where the bike lanes waited. Working quickly and stealthily (or as stealthily as one can under the morning sun), they completed their task around 10:30am. After taking a few car speed readings, they departed and waited for reaction.
Reaction came shortly after lunch when, as spokesman for the group, I got my first call from the media (KMTV News.) Riding my trusty Trucker to the site, I found that the city had already removed our project. The reporter from KMTV confirmed that Public Works had just finished pulling up the plungers and left, which meant that our demonstration was over in less than four hours (not the 36 we had hoped for.) At this point I figured that this would be our one and only interview.
Fortunately, I was wrong. Laura came to pick me up (to go out for dinner,) and while we were talking to a couple of cyclists who happened by about the project, KETV showed up. While that interview was happening, WOWT came along to finish up the major networks trifecta (sorry Fox; I still don’t count you as major.) Pell Duvall, the Executive Director of Omaha Bikes, made an appearance and offered a counterpoint to our project. Finally, as we drove away, the Omaha World Herald called for a quick interview. Media coverage complete.
Since then, the story has been share on social media. Other news organizations have picked it up and, most importantly, people are talking about it. Even though its life was short, Plungers for a Safer Aksarben has started folks thinking about new ways to view transportation infrastructure. Sure, there are the stalwart naysayers (particularly on in Public Works) who say that there’s no place in Omaha for protected bike lanes. But there’s just as many, if not more who see the value in providing safer transportation options for all.
Will this be the last of our tactical urbanism efforts? I don’t know, but probably not. If we see another opportunity to raise awareness, we’ll take it. I’ve provided links below my signoff to some of the stories about PSA. Until next time…