Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding

Chapter 11 - Reclaim the Streets

Across the world people are taking to the streets, demanding an end to stinking concrete car culture. Direct action against cars, and for increased mobility and safety for cyclists and pedestrians, can take many forms. The emphasis is on celebration.

Critical Mass Bicycle Rides

These are gatherings of cyclists who ride together, en masse, taking control of the road space. Critical mass is pure inspiration, for those who ride and have seen their streets temporarily transformed from a transport sewer into a peaceful space for the living. Around thirty towns and cities in Britain have a regular ride, and the number is growing. Spontaneity, flexibility and freedom are what it is about. It is not just a demonstration, but people riding their bikes together, each with their own motivation.

photo - protest cycle rally

Making it happen doesn't require centralised organisation or leaders. Just talk to likely people. Pick a safe car-free meeting space in a central location, set a regular convenient time (e.g. 5.30 pm on the last Friday of every month) and then make some fliers. Hand these out to passing cyclists, flypost them, put them in cycle shops and on notice boards. Don't include names of individuals, groups or any telephone numbers on the flier.

On the day, anybody can suggest a route. Be ready to adapt and keep together, even if that involves those at the back going through a red light. If there are only five of you don't try to take up the whole road as this will be too risky. The police may ask who is in charge. The correct answer is - NOBODY. Most encounters with car drivers should be friendly, don't forget to wear a smile. Have leaflets printed up to give out to pedestrians and drivers explaining what is going on.

At traffic lights and junctions, outriders, sometimes known as "corkers", can block waiting cars so that drivers won't be tempted to drive into the critical mass. When you meet the odd nutter, you'll usually do better with a sense of humour and proportion than a hostile attitude. Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy the calm created by lots of push bikes and bells. For more information see Critical Mass: How To (see Chapter xx), and have a browse through the World Wide Website -

Street Party

Traditional street party celebrations were once a regular occurrence in Britain's towns and cities. They have all but died out; another casualty of the motor car. Showing how things could be different is fun and inspiring. Ideally, street parties can temporarily recreate a sense of community that has been all but lost to the pollution and danger of cars. There are different levels of defiance. Community groups may want to make a noise about traffic calming in their neighbourhood by holding a legal street party. You will need to get police permission, invite the whole community and local councillors. If you are refused permission, keep trying and then consider holding an illegal party. If planning an illegal party, the location will have to be kept secret to all but a few. Advertise a meeting place elsewhere and then take people on a mystery tour to the party.


Location group -
About four people who decide the party location. The location must remain secret until the blockade is in place.

Blockading groups -
These groups quickly put a section of the blockade in place. Only one person in each blockading group needs to know the location, and groups don't need to know what the others are doing. They need to liaise with their support group, and should acquire and store their equipment in advance. There are many different ways of blocking a road to traffic. For example, you could stage a mock car crash, erect scaffolding tripods, hold a critical mass or a pedestrian procession carrying banners. These tactics will work if the blockade is quick and unexpected. Other ideas might include street theatre, redirecting traffic with mock road signs or groups of people continuously walking across zebra crossings. A combination of these, plus your own ideas, should establish a temporary blockade.

Blockading support groups -
These groups reinforce the initial blockade. They assemble somewhere else, waiting for a signal from the blockading group, before moving quickly to the location. The police are likely to be monitoring support groups.

Traffic redirectors -
Deal with traffic until the police arrive. Explain what is happening, suggest alternative routes and invite motorists to join in.

Guides -
When the blockade is in place, making the party a success relies on getting a large number of people there quickly from the publicised meeting place. The meeting point should be a public space from which a large number of people can move relatively quickly to the target location, either on foot or by public transport. Guides should be easily identifiable and their identifying feature must be networked through the crowd at the last minute. For example, a legal briefing leaflet distributed at the meeting place could also include a message saying something like, "Follow the people in wigs, holding helium-filled balloons".

Press liaison -
It may be worth setting a time and place to meet the media. Press releases should NOT include the location of the Street Party even if you embargo it.

Police liaison -
This is optional. One person could take on the role of approaching the police to give them just enough information to keep them off your back. Don't tell them anything useful, especially the secret location. If they think they know what is going on, then they are less likely to over-react. For example, give them a finish time and tell them that there will be an army of litter pickers. Use a false name. If you hear anyone saying too much, step in and chat about the weather.

photo - reclaim the streets

Other Factors

Mobile phones in each group are the ideal means of communication but be careful what you say. Don't specify the location until the blockades are in place. Consider using code names for people and locations. Mobile phones can be tapped and you don't know who is listening nearby.

Information leaflets will help to spread the message of what the party is about. Separate, appropriately styled leaflets for pedestrians and motorists are ideal.

Organise some legal support to advise on the legal implications of the action and to take care of anyone arrested. Breach of the Peace and Obstruction of the Highway are the most likely charges if you block a road. Prepare bust cards and set up a team of action observers.

Now celebrate the car free space and show its possibilities. Groups can take on setting up a safe children's play area, sandpit, cafe, music (acoustic and amplified), banners between lamp-posts (for climbing them, see lamp-post prussiking in the Appendix), street decoration (eg. painting, tree planting), information stalls and theatre. These things can take up to two months to organise, as you have to book performers and persuade them to take part for free. Be sensitive to local residents - think about noise pollution and general disturbance.

Ending The Party

Tell the police (don't ask them, tell them) that the party will end at a certain time - the music will stop, the banners will come down and litter will be cleared. It is a good idea to have a procession to somewhere else - a park or indoor venue - where partying can carry on, or where people can disperse. Telling the police this, may persuade them to let you end the party, rather than them breaking it up by force. Protect expensive equipment, like sound systems, from being impounded by the police. It is important to communicate clearly that leaving at a certain time is the intention of the people who planned the party - not a concession to the police. The end of the party is the point where the police may wade in heavily against stragglers. They create violent scenes which can then be used to discredit what has actually been a wonderful day. Think about what state you want the street to be in when you leave; impassable to motor vehicles, colourfully decorated, a vegetable garden, or a beer can graveyard. The above was written with experience from London street parties. The largest party of 1996 saw 8,000 people reclaim, redecorate and plant trees in a six-lane motorway.

Cycle Lane Painting

Painting your own cycle lanes on roads is a way of gradually reclaiming road space back from aggressive motorists. In London, various councils stated that they would create a network of cycle lanes throughout the city. When they failed to keep to their deadline, activists went out and finished the job. Make a good stencil from lino or cardboard, copy the official bike symbol and use the right paint. Busy junctions and traffic lights are especially good target areas.

Car Bouncing Bonanza

Radical pedestrians have taken to direct action against cars parked on pavements. Choose a street near you where cars regularly park on the pavement, make some stickers saying something like "Pavements are for People", and get bouncing! It takes about 10 people to bounce them into the road. Be gentle on your backs.

This book is now out of print. You might be able to get a copy from a UK library by ordering on the inter-library loans scheme.

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