Direct motion for journey activism

The perspective stays that biking campaigners ought to respect the regulation and the police regardless of being continually offered with proof that the right order of issues really consists of utterly expelling cyclists, pedestrians and different uncontrollable components from the carriageway.

This perspective aligns with a elementary understanding of ‘the street’ as a spot the place everybody’s pursuits are equally revered by the powers that be, and a view that our security would enhance if everybody adopted the foundations. 


This perception is anachronistic particularly when put next with the remainder of biking campaigning, which is mostly very switched-on to social justice, targeted on being efficient and making adjustments in the actual world. Is that this reluctance to rock the boat with regard to the regulation holding us again in assembly our goals?

Prefigurative direct actions, like portray a zebra crossing on the street, actually ‘image a scenario beforehand’ – they carry a fascinating scenario into being earlier than the state has acted on it, and in so doing each present an instantaneous answer and push the state to behave. 

They’re a terrific marketing campaign tactic as a result of they’ve this twin goal: saying to your neighbours ‘what in the event you might cross safely right here?’ and bodily displaying the council what you need them to construct. 

The downside is, some prefigurative actions are unlawful. A concern of breaking the regulation, or of ruining relationships with the native police power, shouldn’t cease biking campaigners from taking the actions we have to push our campaigns ahead.

Local weather actions for transport

A spicy new world marketing campaign has emerged from the local weather motion: bands of ‘Tyre Extinguishers’ exit at evening and let the air out of SUV tyres. They go away leaflets on the windscreen to clarify why – and in order that the driving force doesn’t attempt to transfer the automobile earlier than reinflating the tyres.

Those that help this type of ation declare it’s comparatively low-risk, enjoyable and has an instantaneous impression. There is no such thing as a perminant harm to the automotive. The necessity to reinflate the tyres is an inconvenience, which is able to ‘nudge’ the proprietor to purchase a much less dangerous mannequin of automotive.

Not like the prefigurative zebra crossing, tyre extinguishing is extra like pure disruption than provision of latest infrastructure.

Regardless of jarring in opposition to the structural focuses of each actions, this no harm sabotage motion in opposition to particular person vehicles have their deserves too, as they go on to the supply of the hazard (vehicles), and cut back their capacity to hurt. They make the ubiquity of on-street parking a vulnerability, somewhat than an asset. 

Though its impetus has come from local weather activism, it’s transferable to biking and strolling campaigns. From the local weather facet, these are exceptionally polluting vehicles; and from the biking facet, SUVs have a redoubled impression on the city setting, cyclists and kids.


Though biking and strolling activists are sometimes motivated by a have to cease local weather change, the local weather motion has, in latest many years, not been targeted on transport targets. 

Whereas centrist local weather activism is about people’ vitality consumption, left-wing local weather activism has, appropriately, targeted on vitality manufacturing. 

It has made divestment calls for on a number of assault factors – central authorities, fossil free campaigns on college campuses, pension funds and shareholder activism, and protests at banks. 

It has focused vitality manufacturing at its supply, by local weather camps at energy stations, Germany’s vital Ende Gelände camps, and January 2023’s actions at Lützerath, targeted on coal mining.

The local weather motion’s give attention to vitality manufacturing is improbable and mandatory, however it signifies that it has been creating on a special trajectory from energetic journey actions, leaving the previous with no clear argument in opposition to vehicles, and creating tensions, resembling that over HS2, or over electrical vehicles of their early days.


It’s constructive to see a productive tactic which unites the 2 actions of their hatred of SUVs, however the framing can be barely otherwise if taken up by biking and strolling activists. 

Though the concept began in 2019, the variety of Tyre Extinguishers elevated in 2021 after Andreas Malm showcased them in his newest ebook, How To Blow Up A Pipeline, as a tactic to “make the possession of those vehicles successfully unattainable”. 

From an energetic journey marketing campaign perspective, somewhat than a local weather one, the aim can be to ‘make the use of those vehicles successfully unattainable’ – as an SUV which is owned however by no means leaves its non-public storage is neither right here nor there. 

Because of this, the latest Bristol spray painting action “THIS MACHINE KILLS KIDS”, whereas being a real message and possibly costing the proprietor extra to remediate, doesn’t make as a lot sense because the Tyre Extinguishers’ motion, as a result of it doesn’t cease the automotive transferring.

One other spray portray motion, in Leigh, close to Manchester, painted “MOVE” on a row of vehicles parked on the pavement. It is a highly effective exhibition of the fashion pedestrians really feel – and is reminiscient of the unconventional Reclaim the Streets action of bodily pushing vehicles off the pavement in 1995.

As one of many protestors stated: “That is direct motion that the police needs to be doing, not us.” 

However many activistis really feel that if the last word purpose is to cease individuals utilizing SUVs, somewhat than simply making the house owners offended, then Tyre Extinguishers get nearer, and faster.

Transport ways for transport targets

I posit that we should always use transport-related ways for transport-related targets. To date, left-wing actions have used transport-related ways for all kinds of causes, however not a lot to do with transport. 

Essentially the most well-known of those, the Important Mass cycle rides, are actually for enjoyable solely, and whereas particular mass protest rides have been organised to make factors on different points, like civil liberties (the London 2012 Important Mass experience is exemplary), and Bikes Up Knives Down, this isn’t frequent observe amongst biking campaigns. 

Solely the Kiddical Mass demos of the previous few years are particularly aimed toward biking targets. Kiddical Mass is a family-oriented mass cycle experience, taking place in cities around the globe for the previous few years, with an inventory of calls for for biking infrastructure. 

The website states the progressive goals: “The imaginative and prescient of Kiddical Mass is that every one youngsters and younger individuals can safely and independently use cycles as a mode of journey.” 


The advantages of the mass experience tactic on this case are displaying that youngsters can bodily cycle, however it’s the hostile street setting which prevents them from doing so usually.

When Insulate Britain protestors selected to dam roads for his or her weeks-long marketing campaign in October 2021, they adopted the most effective observe playbook for methodologically sound disruption: they selected logistically necessary websites and instances of day, blocked strategic roads, and had easy, economically-just calls for. 

However what’s attention-grabbing is that regardless of the clear messaging from the group, actually referred to as “Insulate Britain”, the standout reminiscence from that marketing campaign is the transport implications. 

Regardless of Insulate Britain’s targets having nothing to do with transport, the tactic of blocking roads introduced transport into the body, because the harshest violence in opposition to Insulate Britain protestors was from different extraordinary individuals who had been held up in visitors by the protests.

Movies present drivers pulling protestors from the street by their ankles, they calmly stroll again into the street and sit down once more in entrance of the vehicles.


Most famously, footage of the “Vary Rover mum” who “nudged” protestors along with her SUV, shifted the dialog’s focus onto driver entitlement, the ethics of SUVs, and to some extent, ‘street rage’.  

The intense emotional impression on drivers of being prevented from driving for a couple of minutes couldn’t assist however drag the dialog in direction of transport points, so suppose how highly effective transport-related ways might be in the event that they have been used for transport-related calls for. 

The easy, humorous ‘Just A Minute’ protests in California might be a great entry level for UK biking activists – they maintain up drivers whereas a automotive is stopped within the cycle lane for ‘only a minute,’ to permit cyclists to soundly overtake it’. 

And the group declare success: after a number of days of the video showing on-line, the native authorities “launched an replace a number of days later declaring that totally protected bike lanes will likely be put in on Valencia St. by the tip of the yr.” These lanes are actually seen on Google StreetView capture

Blocking roads by ‘enjoying lifeless’ in them is an outdated tactic – whether or not it’s in opposition to the Health and Social Care cuts Bill, or exterior Westminster on the eve of the vote to bomb Syria in 2015, these have been actual problems with life and dying. 


However when this tactic is utilized by biking campaigns, it takes on a special resonance. Marketing campaign group Cease Killing Cyclists argue for protected house for cyclists at junctions, by blocking junctions the place there was a latest dying, recalling the previous in addition to pre-warning a grim future.

The few instances that London Biking Marketing campaign has blocked roads, it’s been at Holborn junction in London the place eight individuals have died and 13 individuals have been severely injured since 2008.  

Malm suggests timing the sabotage of oil infrastructure to happen simply after a serious local weather occasion, when public sympathy will likely be at its highest: “Subsequent time wildfires burn by the forests of Europe, take out a digger”.

Biking activists haven’t any scarcity of tragic occasions at junctions to benefit from. As a tactic, blocking roads has significant urgency for biking activism particularly, as a result of it pauses life as ordinary by stopping the very visitors that harms cyclists. 

It’s, as Dalia Gabriel says, “actually necessary to your ways to speak the politics of what you’re doing, to focus on and to border themselves across the story of energy that you simply’re making an attempt to inform.” 

The story of blocking roads goes ‘the way in which we reside now can not proceed, so your journey can not proceed’.

Balancing ends and means

One in all my favorite energetic journey direct actions is the Make The Lane demonstrations, occurring on primary roads the place distinctive numbers of cyclists have been killed and severely injured, and arguing for bodily safety on the cycle lane.

Make the Lane protests include a human-protected cycle lane, the place  a bunch of fellow cyclists stand with their bikes alongside the painted line of the cycle lane, and ‘make the lane’: forming a barrier of human safety for cyclists utilizing the lane. 

They’re prefigurative, illustrating now the infrastructure wanted to guard cyclists sooner or later, and in that very act making the argument for its building. 

One other demonstration of solidarity in vulnerability is the Lewes Road Bike Train, which ran every day group rides to the college campuses in Brighton, from 2010 till they succeeded in convincing the council to assemble a partially-segregated cycle lane along the road, over two years later. 

It’s a time-intensive tactic, requiring dedicated and dependable volunteers, an issue a number of the recent Friday group rides to colleges, have run into.


As with all wrestle, success is under no circumstances assured: Make the Lane areas nonetheless have unprotected cycle lanes, and regardless of London Biking Marketing campaign’s quite a few petitions, plans, and conferences with council officers, the grand whole of change at Holborn junction has been solely a partial win. 

However what’s invaluable about prefigurative actions is that they’re productive of protected situations for biking or strolling within the meantime, so even when they don’t obtain their targets, they’ve a minimum of achieved one thing. 

There’s a threat, with productive actions, that they’ll really be so efficient at offering another that they develop into a alternative for state motion, and actually a justification for state inmotion – as an illustration, meals banks ‘fixing’ meals poverty.

However for energetic journey activism, it’s unavoidable that campaigns make calls for on the state, as a result of there is just one street community. 

We will’t arrange our personal various, impartial roads like we might another vitality supply, or meals supply; you’ll be able to’t go off-grid with transport. 


By necessity, energetic journey campaigns’ prefigurative ways instantly have an effect on present allocations of bodily house. This may occasionally frustrate drivers, however when the state is taking too lengthy to behave on our calls for, generally now we have to make the protected infrastructure ourselves.

It’s miserable to examine Reclaim the Streets movements within the Nineties, as a result of they’re making the identical arguments over 25 years in the past as biking and strolling campaigners are actually, however the scenario we’re in now in local weather phrases is far, a lot worse. 

The truth that some activists have given up many years of evenings to writing detailed session responses, doesn’t imply they’re not making an attempt laborious sufficient, it merely means they’ve been repeatedly defeated by forces stronger than the motion.

Getting some fundamental biking or strolling infrastructure constructed within the UK is like getting blood from a stone. Malm raises the query, “at what level will we escalate?”

Meaning utilizing standard lobbying ways together with conferences, petitions, session responses alongside different extra ‘direct’ ways. 


Typical teams generally really feel turning to non-violent resistance will bitter the tenuous relations they’ve constructed with state establishments like native councils and the police, and so are reluctant to interrupt the regulation or trigger disruption. 

Jack Shenker suggests {that a} ‘respectable’ wing of a motion can depend on a extra radical wing “to make themselves and their calls for seem extra palatable to powerbrokers.” 

So, if energetic journey activism adopted a cautious technique, a brand new programme of direct motion might, removed from jeopardising the nice favour of the council, present it, in Malms phrases, with “a bit unrequested help”.

There’s a couple of approach to make calls for on the state, in addition to asking properly, and I’ve mentioned a number of sorts of direct motion right here: prefigurative infrastructure, sabotage of autos, and mass rides and demonstrations. 

In addition to being helpful for attaining marketing campaign targets, taking bodily direct motion as a bunch will be great for group cohesion. Biking repeatedly collectively is already a quite common a part of biking activist teams, for the needs of socialising, to display to themselves the empowerment of cyclists in numbers, and to collectively be aware gaps in infrastructure.


However to go one step additional than this, organising a direct motion the place you all use your our bodies collectively to make a political level, requires a better affinity to ensure everybody feels protected. 

Some cyclists really feel that they already make a political level with their physique day by day simply by biking. However by planning and finishing up an motion collectively, everybody learns the best way to act as a caring group: like by transferring in direction of any aggressive drivers to supply a denser crowd, or checking that your buddy is okay throughout a roadblock. 

These rules don’t simply make the actions work higher, in addition they imply everybody within the group is aware of they will depend on the others within the group – for the size of the motion, and hopefully past that. 

So we will take a lead from local weather activists’ look after the earth, and consider the method of caring for one another as an funding sooner or later, particularly within the unsure world of a altering local weather.

This Writer

Pearl Ahrens is a transport planner and an energetic member of London Renters Union and London Biking Marketing campaign.


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