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Behold Mr. Barricade: The Urban Planning Daddy We Deserve

Civil-engineer-turned-TikTok-star Vignesh Swaminathan is trying to bring us closer to better functioning cities with every viral twist of his beautiful, perfectly-waxed mustache

All this week, join us for a delightfully unwell celebration of our Internet Boyfriends. They’re sweet, beautiful men we’ve never met, and we can’t wait to share the fully formed relationships we have with each of them.

In an app full of beautiful people preening, dancing and agitating for their personal causes, there’s no one quite like Mr. Barricade, the mustachioed daddy of urban planning and perfectly fitted suits

Mr. Barricade is the alter ego of Vignesh Swaminathan, a Bay Area native who runs his own civil engineering firm, Crossroad Lab in Cupertino, California. Through his day job, he’s helped build miles of bike lanes and erected protected street corners that reduce collisions between pedestrians and turning cars, often working in cities that don’t have the planning resources to broach such projects otherwise. Swaminathan was even charged with designing all of the bike lanes in and around the Facebook campus in Menlo Park. 

It’s through this work that he first earned his nickname. “I was the guy who managed the cones and barriers and I’d draw diagrams of how to set them up,” Swaminathan told the Mercury News in 2021. “I worked with event coordinators to see what they needed to shut down the streets downtown. People at that point started to call me Mr. Barricade.”

He started a TikTok account in September 2020, focusing mostly on being handsome and goofy in his room. But then he started shooting content in open-channel drains, and it seems the intersection of male thottery and public infrastructure was enough to catch the algorithm wave. Over the course of the pandemic, Mr. Barricade has become one of the most recognizable and beloved figures on the app, tripling his follower count. He’s now watched by 1.4 million people, attracting views through a beguiling mix of charismatic thirst traps, informative explainers and clever twists on TikTok trends. 

Is there anything that Mr. Barricade can’t do (and/or flex on)? Here we see Swaminathan posing on top of a floodwall, hyping us up with the signature flourish of his mustache rub. Here he is popping up to help a confused young man understand how bridges are built in bodies of water. Here he is, uhh, about to eat a burrito while lip-synching! No matter the exact content, his commitment to vibing hard and asserting the masculine force of his facial hair has cultivated a core group of fans that identify themselves as Mr. Barricade’s #DrainGang. 

A typical selection of fan reactions to Mr. Barricade 

What is falling in love with the #DrainGang really about? I can only speak for myself, but I think it’s about progressing the promise of safe streets and infrastructure that works. I think it’s about trash-talking the automobile hegemony we live in and fighting anti-pedestrian propaganda, one twist of the mustache at a time. I think it’s reveling in the joys of himbo and shitposter energy, interwoven with actual facts that blow your mind. Most of all, it’s about fighting for change while looking hot and having fun, even if the task at hand is, errr, technical urban planning strategy. 

Against the odds, Mr. Barricade has danced and stunted his way to a loyal fanbase, radicalizing young people into caring about how the built environment affects our world and society. In return, they’ve created a running gag in his honor, repeating the comment, “It’s simply amazing how this man has managed to master the balance between niche industry-specific content and trending content,” or some riff on it, on every video. 

It may be a joke, but that exact meme strikes at the heart of what makes Mr. Barricade so lovable and unique in the first place. Luckily for us, there’s no shortage of public infrastructure problems in California — and Swaminathan will be ready to strike in his perfectly fitted suits, inspiring the #DrainGang and finding a way to make trending pop audio into a referendum on safe streets.