Miraculous Safety Toilet Plungers Fix Fifth Avenue Mixing Zones For Just $4.99

Members of the Transformation Department put out plungers on Fifth Avenue to demonstrate the danger of unprotected mixing zones. Photo: Transformation Department
Members of the Transformation Department put out plungers on Fifth Avenue to demonstrate the danger of unprotected mixing zones. Photo: Transformation Department

It’s time to flush mixing zones down the toilet!

Activists “fixed” the city’s most controversial and dangerous intersection design in the simplest manner — deploying simple toilet plungers to keep cars out of a “mixing zone” on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday night — in the latest effort to highlight the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero shortcomings and symbolically deposit them in the bathroom fixture evoked.

Mixing zones have been deployed for several years by the city to, theoretically at least, let drivers safely turn through bike lanes and give cyclists space to veer around them, but in practice lead to drivers almost running into cyclists and in some cases killing them. So on Tuesday night, before Transportation Alternatives’ die-in in Washington Square Park, members of the  Transformation Department deployed some well-placed toilet plungers near 10th Street as a barrier to give cyclists and drivers safe, conflict-free passage.

The activists, who comprise Twitter’s best-loved rogue government agency, said they “wanted to show how easy and inexpensive it is to fix this known danger.”

This bit of tactical urbanism forced drivers to choose: drive over a bunch of stuck up plungers or drive around them, which meant stopping to let a series of cyclists moving up the street go through the intersection first. And as the video evidence shows, the drivers waited and the cyclists took the light (and hey for you prescriptivists out there, don’t forget the people going straight through the intersection have the right of way over people turning).

Look at that! Instead of “balancing” the desire of motorists to get where they’re going as fast as possible without any hitch or speed bump, human or otherwise, the more vulnerable road users got where they were going safely.

The good news is that the DOT is moving away from mixing zones along First and Second avenues in Manhattan and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, in favor of semi-protected offset crossings. It’s a switch that the Transformation Department told us is “a huge improvement,” with just one caveat: “The problem is the pace of these improvements,” the group said over a DM. “Where they are happening, it’s only as streets get repaved. There’s nothing stopping DOT from moving faster.”

Another caveat: Not all drivers know exactly what to do at an offset crossing, as many of them veer too far into the side street on turns, blocking cyclists as they proceed — with the right of way! — straight. And the city’s own report — “Cycling at a Crossroads” [PDF] — is very clear that all intersections have shortcomings. One thing is certain: Cyclists say they feel more “comfortable” at offset crossings, the report showed.

  • Jack Hughes

    Don’t forget the part where the idea behind stripping separated bikeway designs from the design manuals was based on the actual experience showing that the designs created hazards greater than those they were trying to prevent.

  • Jame

    You are a long time cyclist who has been riding in adverse conditions. For you, v.c. is the native answer. You have lost your beginners mindset with experience.

    For someone who is new to urban cycling, taking the lane, where other vehicles are going 35mph, or passing closely because you are pedaling too slow for them, and having to be hyper vigilant about cars making sudden turns or lane changes, isn’t really for the faint of heart.

    Taking the lane on a neighborhood road, at neighborhood speeds is fairly accessible, but even then you will likely need to cross a high speed major road or arterial. And that may not be very comfortable for you.

    Right now cycling is only accessible to people who are comfortable mixing it up cars regularly. That is the mindset of v.c. – act like a vehicle and go forth like you are in a car. I prefer the vulnerable user mindset, that gives you more protection, and more room for errors.

    Mixing it up in the car infrastructure means watching out for doors, car speeds, and sudden maneuvering. A miss can lead to serious injury or worse. That is too much risk for a lot of people. And those people aren’t riding bikes and debating the merits of v.c. on Streetsblog.

  • Jack Hughes

    Thank you for your reply, Jame.
    I note that you did not answer my question–where did you ever get the idea that v.c. strategies depend on superior speed and handling skills?
    The vulnerable user mindset you advocate, if that is the right word, leads to the very sort of dangerous mistakes that a very small amount of training will prevent. I recall speaking with a cyclist on a bike path in Albuquerque next to a 40-mph roadway. He was having trouble crossing at intersections. “If this is so dangerous, I can’t imagine it being safe in the street!” We had a brief discussion about the dynamics of intersections and correct roadway positioning and we rode some intersections to illustrate how to cross safely on the bike path and how to position himself in the roadway when not on the bikepath. After just a few minutes, he could see that he had options that would make him safer. The fact of the matter is that his riding on the bike path in his manner of riding on the bike path was more dangerous in fact than riding on the parallel street would have been. Once he had just a few minutes of instruction, he was able to ride more safely on the bike path AND more confidently on the streets.
    So it isn’t about speed and it isn’t about bike handling skills and it isn’t about sheer bravery; it’s about learning what is safer to do and why and less safe to do and why not. Anyone can learn these things.
    Where did you get that notion that v.cycling is for the speedy person with superior handling skills?
    Give this a read and perhaps go with a friend and practice: http://bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/index.htm

  • If “taking the lane” is taught as the default approach, that’s an ideology.

  • Jame

    Here is a helpful framework on the types of cyclists. While these stats are for my city, it is pretty similar in most place. A tiny percentage of people in a given community want to rely on vehicular cycling techniques to take up pedaling around their city.
    https://imgur.com/a/tFfjPg0

    You are missing the point, 95% of people aren’t interested in additional training to be a “safer” vehicular cyclist – because it is intimidating and scary. Do we want to continue to see a fraction of a percentage of ridership gains or actual full percentage points? Preaching V.C. means seeing cycling grow from 2.2% of trips to 3.5% of trips. Better, separated infrastructure is a better way to move the needle from 3% to 10%.

    I’ll tell you about my commute today. I was biking on fairly quiet residential street, with a sharrow. There was a red light and I heard a car behind me. I was riding a few inches from the center of the lane, so I moved a few inches closer to the center line, to make it abundantly obvious to the car behind me that it wasn’t safe to pass me through the intersection (a car was also making a left turn from the opposite side. I finished up the intersection, taking the lane. And the car behind me decided to pass as close as possible – 1 foot from me, because they were irritated I was taking the lane. They had plenty of space to pass safely with 3 feet – there were no cars on the road for several blocks. Sure I could have moved even closer to the center line and really just straddled that, forcing the driver completely into the opposing lane. But you know I assumed being 2/3s of the way over in the lane would be a sufficient hint. More than 1 of these close passes in a ride means I am going to start shopping for a different calmer route. I don’t want the extra stress on my ride. I want calm streets with limited car traffic so I can focus on the meditative aspect of pedaling, and not worry about aggro drivers.

    V.C. people are adamant there is always a nice position in the road the limits bad interactions with drivers. In reality, for most people zero bad interactions is the bar. And V.C. doesn’t cut it for that.

  • Jack Hughes

    Thanks again for the reply. Once again, let me ask you — where did you get the notion that v.c. techniques require superior speed and handling skills? I’d really like to know where you get this impression of what is needed to ride effectively. Who told you this or how did you come to that conclusion?

    Believe me–I am very familiar with the “types of cyclists” notion and the lengths to which some will stretch the point to advocate for dangerous facilities in place of sensible ones or sensible rider training!

    To put a better point on my earlier story, zero bad interactions at intersections was what my “student’ on the bike path ended up with after a few minutes education while many bad interactions were the result of his riding the bike path without the instructions. A bike path, like a bike lane, like a “protected’ bike lane–to ride one safely requires a greater level of skill and situational awareness that riding on a quiet street without them. That is a fact supported by the kinds and frequency of accidents that occur with them.

  • Jack Hughes

    Maybe “ideology” doesn’t mean what you think it means! “Taking the lane” is one strategy of many.

  • Jack Hughes

    “there aren’t actually any facilities solutions beyond sharrows that vehicular cyclists support”
    That is, purely and simply, a lie.

  • Yes, this is the next talking point on the list after inevitably being called out on obstructing progress. Despite that claim being made, it turns out that rail-trails are generally the only type of bike-specific infrastructure that vehicular cyclists are willing to support. Obviously, those aren’t a viable option in the vast majority of places since for starters, there aren’t any rails in the first place.

  • Hasn’t been forgotten, but the same people still continue to insist that they are problematic despite decades of continued research that has identified designs and strategies that address the shortcomings identified. Furthermore, even when those are addressed (e.g. with traffic signals), they complain that it’s going to delay motorists. I can’t think of a more clear sign of dominance of “Motordom” than holding bicyclist safety hostage to a desire to keep drivers from having to stop.

  • Jack Hughes

    Ah, that’s the thing; subjectivity. Those bumping along sidewalks are feeling safe–perceived safety is a thing, bicycle facility boosters keep telling me–and the research tells them they’d be safer in the streets even without “protected” bike lanes with “protected” intersections. Now, do we have a blood bath on the sidewalks? No. Do we have a blood bath on the roadway? No. Biking is pretty darned safe–so much so that bad practices that “feel” safe are safe enough still that taking 2 to 10 times the risk of riding in the roadway following the rules of the road doesn’t really register with people as too risky. Nevertheless, I can’t see myself actually advocating that we should spend lots of money constructing facilities to encourage people to ride more dangerously than the way they could ride more safely.

  • Jack Hughes

    Ha. Strawman argument again. You’ve said “just one” and named one kind, then you’ve said “just one” and named another. Perhaps you can name a third “just one” after some reflection?

    I, a vehicular cyclist, a certified cycling safety trainer, aside from arguing against erecting facilities that make cycling more dangerous even if possibly more attractive to the neophyte, also advocate for facilities that make cycling more accessible, fun, practical, and safe.

    I can name “completely segregated facilities with no intersections with other roadways”; bike lanes painted to the left of right-turn-only lanes to better guide cyclists and motorists to safer road positions; bike lanes that end well before intersections to allow proper traffic mixing; the “cyclovia” streets with low speed limits to better allow safe mixing of cyclist and motorist traffic; bicycle-specific signals at intersections to better allow crossing and/or prevent right-hook accidents; traffic circles on residential neighborhood streets …

    I could go on for a long while. So could many of my fellows.

    So when I said “purely and simply a lie,” and you said, “yes,” I suppose we are in agreement. I know you are not ignorant of these sorts of things. You are just willing to misrepresent.

  • Jack Hughes

    Still wondering where Jame got the odd idea about vehicular cycling.

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