Demand More Tactical Urbanism

The Maryland Avenue cycletrack is almost completely in place. This is fantastic news for anyone who wants people to be able to move safely through the city, which should be everyone. It takes a massive effort to shepherd an infrastructure project like this from inception to completion.

Bikemore first adopted the cycletrack as an advocacy priority back in 2011. Since then advocates had to overcome many bureaucratic hurdles, from finding funding and passing lengthy reviews to managing redesigns and balancing contradictory design standards. The result is a government-sanctioned, well-constructed piece of bike infrastructure Baltimore can be proud of. The only problem is it took half a decade to get there.

 There is another approach: just building it ourselves. Of course, this approach that doesn’t replace commendable work slog of working through traditional channels, but can complement it. Recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transformation Authority (SFMTrA) has been getting a lot of press for successfully creating DIY interventions on stretches of the city’s streets where cyclists and pedestrians have been killed, injured, or put in danger by drivers. The interventions, usually classified as tactical urbanism, are very low cost and direct. Sometimes are as simple as placing cones along an unprotected bike lane or using a few flowerpots to make a temporary bulb-out at an intersection. The idea is to immediately provide a safer environment while pressuring the local transportation agency to be more proactive about creating safer streets.

The SFMTrA isn’t alone in staging these forms of direct action. Groups in Seattle, New York, Denver, and Boston have been making similar efforts, some even using crowdfunding platforms to raise money for materials. A few years ago, a group in Baltimore installed some temporary lanes as well.

 The types of interventions have been successful on multiple fronts.

They make streets safer immediately. Drivers respond to the placement of barriers and lines by slowing down and staying in their lanes more often.

  1. They highlight the need and desire for these types of physical changes. Cyclists definitely notice when they are no longer buzzed careless drivers, and pedestrians feel the difference when crossing a street. Both groups get a better understanding of how things could change for the better.

  2. They demonstrate that streets can be improved both quickly and at a low cost. When residents see how quickly things can be upgraded they are more likely to pressure politicians and agencies to keep and build on these facilities (#DemandMore catalogs this effect).

 These effects add up to long term change. For instance, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced it will allow some guerrilla bike barriers to stand until it can install official ones.

 Tactical urbanism doesn’t always have to be unsanctioned guerilla efforts. Governments can use an action-oriented, low-cost, experimentally-minded approach, too. A more famous example is when NYC’s transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan oversaw the temporary transformation of Times Square into a pedestrian plaza using folding lawn chairs. Of course, the experiment showed the idea was both popular and not a disaster, so the change was made permanent. Baltimore’s own BCDOT made an attempt with it’s pop-up cycletrack that ran for a few blocks along East Pratt Street.

Unfortunately, the lane was only planned to be in place for three weeks even though it was completely functional. It would be nice to see more of these projects attempted but with more of a plan for making successful experiments permanent. Personally, I know that there is a faded bike lanes that would stand a little bit of guerrilla protection.

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