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Riga Goes Guerrilla: How Cycling Lanes Appeared Overnight

By Frantiska Blazkova

You know how they say that if you want to get something done you should just do it yourself? Well, that was apparently the mind-set of the Latvian capital’s cycling activists who decided they have enough of fruitless city hall promises.

Riga’s Brīvības Iela is a busy mains street going through the city’s heart and a battle is currently being fought there. A battle for space among pedestrians, cyclists, and cars. For years now, city officials have been insisting that there’s no room for dedicated lanes and somebody run out of patience and simply painted them on.

To be fair, after countless negotiation attempts and sustained lobbying by pro-bike and pro-pedestrian activists, the city did adapt some measures towards a more cycling-friendly environment by marking a few bike lanes in the suburbs, but the downtown, to which the commuters cycle the most, remains untouched. In 2015, Riga’s officials commissioned a full-scale strategic plan to improve cycling infrastructure once and for all, but according to one of the plan’s designers, it might have been just a temporary duct tape over activists’ mouths.

But back to events that, supposedly, took place in the early morning hours of Friday 26th May. Decently-sized cycle lanes were put in place by unknown urban activists and people on bikes started using them right away. No group in particular came forward to claim the authorship but Riga, allegedly, has a large and loosely connected network of activists. The rumor has it, that the lines were executed so well that a few locals took time to write the city’s mayor to compliment him on the job well done, when in fact he had zero to do with them. Ironically, the city workers removed them almost immediately.

Those who may object to this guerrilla happening being an endangering act or vandalism, because the removal cost some money from the city’s budget, can be calmed down by the fact that this particular stretch of the road is due to be renovated during June so any alteration wouldn’t last long. Another reason why is this topic so frustrating for some people involved is that Riga’s streets are usually flat and broad so they can be transformed into a more inclusive place quite easily.

As they say, where there’s will, there’s a way. And Riga’s city council will now have even harder time proving that they’re really working on finding that will.