Toilet plungers can save lives. Stay with me.
The “Transformation Dept,” a group of biking activists based in New York City, installed toilet plungers to act as DIY bike lane barriers in several spots throughout the West Village in south-central Manhattan.
The toilet plungers were installed in “mixing zones,” or areas where bikers have to share road space with cars, trucks, mopeds, and every other vehicle allowed in New York City streets. Mixing zones are perilous to bikers, and have sometimes resulted in biker deaths.
In total, fifteen bikers have died in New York City this year. Compare that number to the ten biker deaths that occurred in New York City during all of 2018.
Videos shared by the Transformation Dept. show bikers and cars moving, in separate lanes, down Fifth Avenue. Occasionally, a bike briefly entered the street in order to pass another biker in the bike lane. One video shows a queue of cars in the streets waiting for bikes to pass through the bike land before making a turn. “This kept turning drivers out of the path of cyclists,” the Transformation Dept. said in a tweet.
The Transformation Dept. performed a similar action in 2015, which involved installing traffic cones at intersections to encourage cars to make wider turns. The action reportedly slowed down traffic, but the traffic cones were eventually removed. In 2016, the group put traffic cones along bike lane barriers and outfitted them with sunflowers.
Mayor and presidential candidate Bill de Blasio has promoted Vision Zero—a plan that involves adding protected bike lanes, speed humps, and intersection cameras throughout the city—as putting New York City on a path toward zero biker deaths. In 2018, New York City’s Department of Transportation claimed to have added about 16 miles of protected bike lanes. After protective barriers were added to several miles of bike lanes in 2019, this figure rose to 20.9 miles.
However, activists argue that Vision Zero isn’t saving bikers lives. A thousand cyclists participated in a “die-in” in Washington Square Park on Tuesday, demanding the city to do more to protect bikers.
“This is how easy it is to protect cyclists and keep drivers from hitting them,” the Transformation Dept. wrote in a tweet. “A set of toilet plungers at $4.99 each. How much are people’s lives worth? #demandmore from @NYC_DOT @Pollytrott @NYCMayor”
“This year’s recent cyclist fatalities are senseless tragedies on our roads, and our thoughts are with all of the victims’ friends and family,” Mayor de Blasio’s office said in an email. “We continue our Vision Zero efforts to engineer safer streets and add more bike lanes to our growing network, and details on the new cyclist safety plan we are working on will be released later this month.”
The Transformation Dept. did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.