Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Urban Repair Squad

There's an interesting group of urban cyclists in Toronto who are practicing a form of "street art". They call themselves the "Urban Repair Squad", and a website showcasing their work can be found here. The manifesto of the URS goes something like this:


To encourage bicycling as an antidote
to the poison that is car culture.

To invert the status structure of the commons,
returning priority to pedestrians and bicyclists over cars.

To create an infrastructure
that promotes polite sharing of the roadway.

To employ the concept of Critical Mass,
encouraging cyclists to bond together
and more safely take back their rightful place
on the public roadways.

To encourage citizens to reclaim
ownership and stewardship of their public space.

To actively construct a positive future
of what urban transporation could be
by installing it NOW.

Your city is broken.
Don't wait for the bureaucrats to fix it.
So, what doe the Urban Repair Squad do, exactly? They surreptitiously paint bike lanes and sharrows. This is usually done under cover of darkness ("rush hour bike lanes.") Tom Vanderbilt, in his blog, notes that they do this while "disguised as municipal workers." This is an interesting and amusing (if true) twist on the term "street theatre", entertainment not only in the street but in fact changing it. Vanderbilt notes that they have painted over 6kms of bike lanes in Toronto.

If you download and read the URS manual, it outlines (sometime in amusing hand-drawn comics) the process and results of this urban guerrilla activity. I think that, as long as the bike lanes are well-chosen and well-executed, this is a laudable activity, although it raises some potentially difficult questions, e.g. what happens if a cyclist is struck by a motorist while in a guerrilla bike lane? Is the liability of the motorist somehow reduced because of the illegality of this urban infrastructure? (I'm reading a book on the legalties of cycling, which I will post on in the near future, that will hopefully point the way to some answers on this.)

PS. The URS website linked above is claimed to be not an "official" web site. It is maintained by a photographer named Martin Reis who claims to be only a "fan" and documenter of the URS activities and not a participant (sure, Martin, sure! :)

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