Tactical Urbanism goes mainstream

pop-up zebra protest

Cities around the world are waking up to the fact that cycling has a role to play in the tackling of the coronavirus pandemic. Research reveals that air pollution exacerbates the symptoms of covid-19, so space is being taken from cars overnight and given over to walking and cycling. As a result, key workers can continue to travel in safety.

Tactical Urbanism describes any dynamic, interim measure to promote active travel. And New Zealand is cutting red tape by making it official policy. Cities there can now apply for 90% funding to widen pavements and create temporary cycleways quickly. This means infrastructure can be installed over the course of days as opposed to months. Inspired by the policy, councils in London, Manchester and Brighton are now drawing up proposals to ban motorised traffic to convert roads into temporary cycle lanes.ETA cycle insurance

Guerilla urbanism

For as long as there have been cars, folk have protested against them. English philosopher C. E. M. Joad captured the public mood of the early twentieth century when he described driving as “one of the most contemptible soul-destroying and devitalising pursuits that the ill-fortune of misguided humanity has ever imposed upon its credulity.”

Over the last century, groups both large and small have been forced to take matters into their own hands to fight against the domination of car culture.

road danger, protest, people power

People Power: Dutch folk protesting against road danger in the early 1970s

Perhaps most famously, the Stop de Kindermoord movement sparked radical change in the Netherlands. And as a result, the Dutch now have a transport system that is the envy of the world. However, over the years, smaller smaller examples of guerilla urbanism has flourished: Community groups in America place tethered helium-filled balloons in the middle of streets to calm traffic where children play; Villages in England have built fake speed cameras to slow approaching cars; New Yorkers created their own concrete curb extensions to slow traffic speeds on corners and a resident in Northern California painted their own zebra crossing when the local authority refused to install one.

Pop-up zebra crossing

We were involved in a little guerilla urbanism ourselves when we designed our own pop-up zebra crossing – a project made possible by all those who have bought insurance from us. We were established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Thirty years later, we continue to offer cycle insurance, travel insurance breakdown cover and home insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

ETA cycle insurance


Reclaiming road space in favour of people

In the 1970s, San Francisco became the birthplace of the parklet – a way of reclaiming road space in favour of people. The first one-day parklet was created in 2005 when a group fed a parking meter with coins, rolled out a length of turf and installed a potted tree.

We know all about creative reclaiming of road space. We created guerrilla on-street cycle parking when we built a pretend skip.  The angry reaction to the launch of our so-called Biskiple offered a glimpse of how some motorists are under the misapprehension that they own the roads.

The problem is perennial and one that Winston Churchill attempted to tackle in the 1920s when he abolished Road Tax for fear it was giving drivers a false sense of entitlement. Fearing motorists would lay claim to roads by dint of paying for a small portion of their repair costs, he wrote: “It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

However, the Dutch are less beholden to the car. The concept of the parklet has evolved into permanent extensions to their pavements. Temporary bicycle platforms are being introduced to see whether there is support to replace an increasing number of car parking spaces with cycle parking.

The bicycle platforms feature space for 8 bicycles. If there are no serious objections from residents after 3 months, the platform is removed and replaced by a wider pavement with permanent bicycle brackets. The temporary bicycle platform then moves to another street where a request has been made. The Hague has 10 ready.


Our own vision of the parklet is pedal powered. It can be towed into place using an electric cargo trike and once installed, provides visitors with a place to sit, free WiFi and birdsong played through a small wooden bird box.

Cycle insurance animation

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover  and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.


  1. James Burdass


    I found this article a bit depressing. We have had over 100 years of cars and they are on the verge of the biggest improvement in their history – the electric powertrain.

    Yet the Eco warriors suddenly focus on pollution, when the future car is pollution free.

    I don’t get that.

    • The ETA


      Nobody can know what personal transport will be like in the future, but for now, the fact that electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions does not mean they are ‘pollution free’. The environmental impact of electric cars extends beyond the damage associated with their manufacture – including batteries and all consumables – and eventual disposal. Electric cars produce the same tyre noise, brake pad dust air pollution, road danger and congestion as conventional cars. The folk you term ‘eco warriers’ want nothing more than a safe and clean transport system that benefits everyone – no matter how they travel



      Many residential areas have far more private cars than there is legal parking space for. And less than half of adults own one.

      Illegal obstructive parking is rife, and is known to discourage walking, cycling and is a major problem for people with disabilities.

      Electric vehicles do nothing to tackle the epidemic of overweight, obesity and sedentary behaviour as active travel does.

      Greater use of electric car clubs, centrally located in residential areas, rather than private cars hogging all the space perhaps?

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