CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Wichita Gets Safer Bike Lanes Thanks to Toilet Plungers

iStock
iStock

Many cities lack the infrastructure needed to really keep cyclists safe on urban roads, but in Wichita, Kansas, some cyclists are striking back against cars creeping into their dedicated lanes. With toilet plungers.

According to CityLab and KSN, a mystery bicycling activist recently set up toilet plungers with reflective tape along the edge of a bike lane in downtown Wichita in a moment of DIY urban design. The plungers act like the bollards that some cities use to create a physical barrier between bikes and vehicle traffic, giving drivers a visual reminder that they’re not legally allowed to cross over into the bike lane. From a legal standpoint, plunging the roads is technically littering, but it was for a good cause.

Bike lanes can have a major impact on traffic safety in a city. Riders tend to be safest when riding in protected lanes, meaning lanes that have a physical barrier between the bike lane and other traffic. When New York City installed the first protected bike lane in the U.S. in 2009, the city saw a 58 percent decrease in injuries—among pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers—on those streets [PDF]. Intersections tend to be particularly dangerous, because drivers don’t always see cyclists while turning: in 2014, about a third of the bicycle fatalities in the U.S. occurred at an intersection.

While Wichita has been taking some steps to create new bike lanes and make cycling safer for its residents, an anonymous bike lover is just prodding drivers to stay in their lane. This kind of guerrilla bike infrastructure isn’t unheard of; cycling and pedestrian safety activists have previously set up cones, traffic delineators, flower pots, and more to stake their territory on traffic-clogged streets. Occasionally, these makeshifts even become permanent. Wichita's plungers were only a temporary installation—though there were still some left up a week after the intervention—but perhaps the city will notice that cyclists enjoy the extra protection.

[h/t CityLab]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
arrow
History
How a Makeshift Bicycle Saved Curious George From the Nazis
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

Curious George, the beloved star of children’s literature, might not exist if not for an empty bicycle shop and a handy artist.

As a new video from Great Big Story explains, the cartoon monkey was the brainchild of Hans and Margret Rey, a Jewish-German couple who lived in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s. The two pet monkeys that the writer/illustrator duo kept there soon became the inspiration for a character they called Fifi: an impish, inquisitive monkey.

The Reys later moved to Paris, but when the Nazis invaded France, they were forced to flee, taking their manuscripts with them. When they tried to make their escape, though, they discovered that no more trains were leaving the city.

The desperate couple located a bicycle store, only to find no available bikes. Making do with what was available, Hans Rey used spare parts to jerry-rig two makeshift bikes to carry them—and the story of the monkey who would later become Curious George—to Lisbon, Portugal, where a ship to New York awaited them.

Hear the amazing true story of the Reys' journey (and learn how Fifi evolved into the George we know today) by watching the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
fun
The Netherlands Is Paving Its Roads With Recycled Toilet Paper
iStock
iStock

There are plenty of bike lanes in the notoriously pro-cycling country that is the Netherlands, but only one is made of toilet paper. In the country's northwest province of Friesland, a 0.6-mile bike path connecting two towns is the first to be paved with recycled toilet paper, according to CityLab.

The TP helps maintain traction on slippery roads, as one expert told CityLab. The recycled toilet paper is used to add cellulose into open-graded asphalt friction course (OGFC), a type of water-permeable blacktop. This type of paving material is better at draining water, an especially important characteristic for surfaces in the Netherlands, where flood control is a necessary precaution. The cellulose helps stabilize the mixture that makes up the asphalt, known as OGAF. The recycling technology used to build the bike lane was developed by the Dutch consultants KNN and the wastewater tech company CirTec.

Two men stand on a paving machine in front of an asphalt bike lane.

There are plenty of materials that contain cellulose, but paving roads is a pretty good use for the one type of recycled cellulose that can’t be incorporated into a lot of other products: the kind that comes into regular contact with poop.

The recycled toilet paper in this case is collected during wastewater processing, where it’s separated out from all that excrement and then sterilized, bleached, and dried for reuse. People tend to not want to come in contact with things that have touched poop, though, so no amount of sterilization makes it OK to turn the product into recycled napkins or other paper products. But since toilet paper is typically a source of high-quality cellulose fibers (from wood chips or recycled paper), it would be a shame to waste it. Hence the pavement, which is mixed at such high temperatures that the manufacturing process would kill off any remaining pathogens that might possibly lurk within the post-treatment TP.

Friesland’s toilet paper asphalt has been around for about a year now, and according to CityLab writer Tiffany R. Jansen, it looks almost identical to the rest of the bike path. The toilet paper-laced asphalt has since been used to pave a parking lot and a dyke in the region, too.

As long as we’re wiping our butts with paper, we might as well recycle the results. Yes, toilet paper grows on trees, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it. Though the cellulose from the toilet paper only makes up about 5 percent of the pavement mixture with this technology, it’s still a good way to make a dent in city waste. Until everyone gets on the bidet train, that is.

[h/t CityLab]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios