How to Level a Curb

Let’s get concrete! The purpose of this action is to provoke town authorities (and public opinion) to start building bike lanes, or to improve old ones. It can be a good tool for activists in the cities of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, where it was successfully tested in Zagreb, Croatia.

High (non-leveled) curbs are the main obstacle for continuous bike transportation, and curb leveling is a precondition for bike lanes. [Ed. note: This is true only where the bike lane is above street level. However, the tactic is also useful for facilitating wheelchair access to side-walks (pavements).] If curbs aren’t leveled, the authorities have an excuse not to continue bike lanes across pavements and streets.

Leveling hundreds of curbs will require xx thousand euros from city funds. In the case of Zagreb, the city had to pay EUR 400 to level a single curb! curb1

Remember an important detail about this action in the media and public eyes: activists don’t destroy, or just talk, or demand change; they actually affect quick and visible change (something positive) – at least at one intersection. Maybe that would be a welcome change in your town’s public life.

What Do You Need for This Action?

First, you need to choose a significant intersection, such as one frequently used by cyclists or in the vicinity of a school, university, town centre, etc. It is best if you can level a curb that obstructs a bike lane (if you have such a situation) to make it more functional.

When you find a good spot for your action, check what the curbs are made of, as some types of concrete or stone are harder than others. Avoid curbs made of stone. Try to level two curbs on each side of the street. curb2

You will also need tools, cement and some gravel or sand (please check and bring all the tools shown here). The approximate cost for all of this is EUR 50-70. Use a sturdy bike trailer or handcart to bring supplies to the location.

Don’t forget to invite the press as your action may make a headline or a spot on the evening news! But be careful how you invite them because you don’t want the police to stop the action before you have even started.

The Action!

Remember that you have to be quick and well organised. If necessary, practice in your backyard before the real action. But even if you finish within an hour, you will probably have to deal with the police for the first 10 minutes. So make sure your group has enough members: two to four people for breaking the old concrete (remember you have two curbs to do!); another one or two people to mix new concrete; one person to talk to the press during the action, and; lastly, one person who is good at talking to the police.

Don’t stop car traffic while you work.

Did I mention that in most countries you can’t get official permission for a curb leveling action? So, you have to be quick, and kind to police officers, too. Ideas for negotiation might be that “we have the right to provide our means of transportation,” or “we are saving public funds.”

A couple of things can help in these situations. Making your group known to the media or dressing up in “workers’ uniforms” (or similar police-puzzling tactics) will buy you more time. curb3

Curbstone can be removed by loosening its connection to the pavement and adjacent curbs (with a hammer and chisel), or by breaking it into pieces. Try combining both methods. Breaking cement into pieces is very hard to do. It demands a three- to five-kilogram hammer or pick and the strongest person in your group.

Use heavy leather (or, better yet, rubber, if you’re vegetarian) protective gloves to avoid hand injuries. Also, only use chisels with rubber protective shields. If traffic is heavy, a protective mask is suggested.

While the first pair of activists break the curbs, the second pair should mix the cement and sand/gravel. A concrete mixture with very little water is recommended for faster drying and hardening. At least someone from your group should be familiar with this job. curb4

Then, make a small slope (approx. 40-40 degrees) with thick concrete, as shown in the picture. Make sure you mix enough concrete.Iy you run out, put pieces of old curbstone inside the fresh concrete. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, only functional.

Also, an easier way of executing the action is that instead of breaking the curbs, just add a concrete slope (if possible) with a concrete mixture previously mixed elsewhere and brought to the spot. This way everything could conceivably be done before the police arrive.

When you’re done, put some warning signs for pedestrians and drivers, so that your hard work is not ruined.

What then?

Your message for the media could be “if a group of individuals can make bike infrastructure, our town can do it too.”

Take note of the authorities’ reaction in the media. Don’t run into negotiations and discussion panels immediately, as that could drain your energy.

Keep your distance, plan new actions, and try to involve other NGOs and groups. If needed, repeat this action until authorities make the promise (to the media) or sign documents to build bike lanes. If that happens, have a good party, and then monitor the work.

Good luck, and have fun.

Written by Ivan Gregov, an environmental activist and storybook illustrator in Zagreb, Croatia.

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