Guerrilla Bike Lanes Show Cities How Easy It Is To Make Streets Safer

Since the city won’t keep bikers safe, a group of San Francisco bikers is taking matters into its own hands, using a very simple tool–traffic cones.

One night in June, a driver sped through the wrong lane of traffic in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco—trying to pass another car—and killed a cyclist riding legally in the other direction. A couple of hours later, another driver in the city’s SOMA neighborhood sped through a red light and killed a 26-year-old woman on a bike.


The next day, the director of transportation at the SFMTA told a reporter that “the best bike infrastructure in the world would not have prevented these collisions.” Bike and pedestrian advocates disagree, and since the city hasn’t done much to help, they’re taking action themselves–temporarily redesigning local bike lanes themselves.

“I think many of us have recognized as pedestrians and bikers that the city is not doing very much, and when they do something, they do it in these very half-measured ways,” says one of the guerrilla bike activists, who wants to be anonymous. “So they put in some of these plastic posts and they paint the asphalt, and they say, ‘Hey, we’ve made these improvements,’ and they move on to something else.”

When the posts are run over and ignored by drivers, or the paint fades, the city hasn’t moved to more substantial, permanent solutions. A recent executive order from the mayor called for some new solutions, but advocates say the city could go much farther–and make those improvements now.

In a few recent interventions, the activists demonstrated how much better design can help. On Golden Gate Avenue, for example, a new painted bike lane was ignored by cars, and it was filled with traffic. When the activists put up simple orange construction cones, cars immediately started staying in their own lane.

“Orange cones are really a great prototyping tool,” says the activist. “They put something on the ground that’s visible. Cars really slow down around orange cones–it’s really a remarkable feat of psychology.”

The cones, inspired by groups in New York City and elsewhere that have tested similar temporary interventions, are meant to point out that bike lanes really need to be separated to be safe.


“It’s not that we want the police to write tickets for people driving down bike lanes,” he says. “We want it so people can’t possibly drive down bike lanes, or can’t possibly zoom around corners and cut off pedestrians—because it’s physically impossible. I want the city to take it much more seriously.”

The interventions are also designed to point out how simple it is to make adjustments that can have true impact–if the city is truly committed to its goal of reducing traffic deaths to zero in less than a decade. A more permanent solution could be as simple as adding bollards or planters along existing lanes.

“We’d love the city gov to pick this up from us,” he says. “We’re doing this as a showcase of how cheap and easy this is to do, and we’re wondering why in the world the city isn’t following our lead.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.