Cyclists Use Toilet Plungers to Create Their Own Bike Lane Barriers in NYC

Cyclists Use Toilet Plungers to Create Their Own Bike Lane Barriers in NYC

We’ve stressed the importance of bike lane barriers countless times in our blog – they make cyclists feel safer, reduce collisions between motorists and bikers, and so forth. To further drive home the importance of bike lane barriers, we thought we’d share this eye-catching story about how cyclists in NYC have employed toilet plungers, of all things, to create bike lane barriers.

Meet the “Transformation Dept,” a group of bikers and activists who reside in New York City. These are the crafty geniuses behind the idea to use plungers as bike lane barriers. The plungers were placed in several locations around the West Village in south-central Manhattan.

In particular, the plungers were placed in “mixing zones.” These are areas in which bikers are forced to share the road with trucks, cars, mopeds, and all of the other vehicles that crowd the congested streets of New York City. Mixing zones have led to a number of biker deaths, hence the Transformation Dept’s sense of urgency to do something about the problem.

The Problem with Mixing Zones

In 2018, ten bikers were killed in New York City. That number has increased in 2019 with a total of fifteen biker deaths, and the year isn’t even over. 

The Department of Transportation (DOT) claims the design of the mixing zones is not to blame for the death of bikers in the area. Many others beg to differ. Cyclists argue that by making these mixed areas less mixed, the risks could be greatly reduced.

“It’s a perfect storm every two blocks, and my experience is, I’m scared to death. I don’t know why the DOT thinks it’s safe,” explained Reed Rubey, an Upper West Side resident who recently presented his opinion at a Community Board 3 Transportation Committee meeting.

Rubey suggests adding designated, protected bike lanes with physical barriers that shield cyclists from turning vehicles. The new plan would require cars to turn using a different turning lane at a tighter radius, which would force them to be more careful and yield to oncoming bikes. As it is now, they simply merge into a shared space, making it easy for accidents to come about.

In part thanks to Rubey’s suggestions, the local uptown community board is backing the resolution, requesting that DOT reassess the intersections and consider making some changes to help physically separate bikers from automobiles.

Toilet Plungers to the Rescue

In the meantime, cyclists needed a way to feel safer, while also making a statement and asserting their share of the road. This is how toilet plungers came to line the roadway, offering a temporary physical barrier.

The Transformation Dept posted a video to Twitter showing how well the institution of plungers has worked. In the video, you can see the cars and bikes on Fifth Avenue moving in different lanes. You see a line of cars waiting for bikers to pass before they make a turn.

“This kept turning drivers out of the path of cyclists,” the Transformation Dept. said in a tweet. 

https://twitter.com/NYC_DOTr/status/1148935544837197826?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1148935544837197826&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2FNYC_DOTr%2Fstatus%2F1148935544837197826

This isn’t the first time the Transformation Dept has done something like this. In 2015, they installed traffic cones at intersections to promote cars to make wider turns. While the action reduced traffic speed, the cones were taken down shortly after they went up.

The group was at it again in 2016 when they added traffic cones again, but this time they added sunflowers to the center of each cone – hoping this would grab more peoples’ attention and prompt the cones to stay in place longer.

Now, they’ve turned to toilet plungers – not as pretty as sunflower-adorned cones, but perhaps a bigger statement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is on track to create Vision Zero, a plan that would add protected bike lanes, intersection cameras and speed humps all around the city. The ultimate goal? To make NYC more biker friendly and eliminate biker deaths all together.

As of 2018, the city had added around 16 miles of protected bike lanes. In 2019, even more protected bike lanes were added, creating 20.9 miles of protected bike lanes that weave throughout the city.

Activists say it’s still not enough. Recently, many participated in a “die-in” in Washington Square Park, where thousands of people demanded city officials do more to protect bikers.

In a tweet by the Transformation Dept, they group wrote: “This is how easy it is to protect cyclists and keep drivers from hitting them. A set of toilet plungers at $4.99 each. How much are people’s lives worth? #demandmore from @NYC_DOT @Pollytrott @NYCMayor”

Heavy Duty Bike Lane Barriers by TerraCast

Looking for something stronger than toilet plungers to protect bikers? At TerraCast Products, we make a host of products that offer a physical barrier between cyclists and motorists, like bollards, heavy-duty planters, and more.