The Story of the Mysterious Plungers

We did it.

On the morning of Saturday, February 18, members of the Yellowbrick Street Team set out to draw attention to the poorly-designed intersection of 1st & Washington – notorious in the cycling community for cars improperly using the bike lane as a right turn lane, endangering and discomforting both cyclists and car drivers. We took a dozen toilet plungers wrapped with reflective tape and secured them to each side of the bike lane with masonry adhesive.

We knew they would not last. By the following Monday, they had each been knocked down or removed. The intervention went viral on social media, though, and was picked up later in the week by local NBC affiliate KSN TV. But it didn’t stop there – national media such as Next City and CityLab ran stories, and the story was shared by countless individuals and organizations worldwide, among them: Tactical UrbanismStrong TownsPeopleForBikes.orgPlanetizenStreetsblog; the OU Institute for Quality CommunitiesCycling Todayroad.ccBike Walk WichitaCoasters Bicycle Club; and others. Then it broke out of the urbanism world and into the wider public, featured on social media by mental_floss and UberFacts.


The "mysterious plungers" lined each side of the bike lane at the intersection of 1st & Washington to prevent drivers from illegally encroaching on the bike lane to make a right turn. 

 

The original KSN story was shared over 3,000 times on Facebook. Our best estimate at the total potential reach of the story: over 25 million.

While the story was being shared from Ireland to Auckland, we were lobbying behind the scenes for the city to place permanent delineator posts at the intersection. We are thankful to live in a city that is progressive and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Over the past several years, the city of Wichita has installed more than thirty miles of bike paths and on-street lanes, bringing the total system to over 100 miles. More than 100 additional miles of bike infrastructure are included in the Bicycle Master Plan.

Simply having bike infrastructure is not enough, though – the system must be designed appropriately and provide useful connections at both a micro- and macro-scale if we are to create a viable transportation alternative for all Wichitans, not just road warriors clad in spandex. Protected on-street lanes are a critical component of a system that is appealing to men and women, old and young, and we will continue to lobby both for improved protection to existing lanes and the highest possible level of protection for new bike infrastructure.

Today the city officially sanctioned our tactical urbanism, placing vertical delineators along the 1st Street bike lane approaching Washington – the first protected on-street lane in Wichita. We realize there are further design improvements to be made at this intersection and will continue to work with the city for a solution that is safe and comfortable for all street users.

While this is a victory for livability, our work is far from done. We will continue to use creative interventions to relentlessly promote the power of public spaces and people-first urban design as prerequisite components of quality in life in Wichita. We encourage those of like mind to follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@yellowbrickICT), and at www.yellowbrickstreetteam.org and to support our future projects in any way possible.

In the meantime, please send the littering fine to:

Yellowbrick Street Team
c/o Alex Pemberton
219 S Fountain
Wichita, KS 67218