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On July 25th, a historical event took place here in Tampa — the city’s first Critical Mass ride. Our sister city on the other side of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, has had a CM ride for at least a year now…but like so many bike-friendly things, the folks on the Tampa side of the Bay lag behind.

Our friends from the Tampa Bicycle Co-op helped get this event up and running. Well over 50 cyclists showed up, from kids to mothers, senior citizens, punks and everyone in between — a nice mix from all cycling disciplines. The ride began at the Lowry Park Zoo and the route took the group from there to Channelside, Ybor City and other city highlights before looping back.

The group begins to gather and tires are pumped…
a little pre-ride maintenance

We had to wait out a bit of rain before getting underway — and that was a good time for the group to mingle and catch up with each other. I ran into some familiar faces and met a bunch of new folks (even some faithful Bikecommuters.com readers!). When the thunder and lightning died down, Co-op cofounder and CM ride “leader” Lily Richeson said a few words, encouraging participants to be friendly and courteous to motorists, to be safe and to have FUN. Then we were off.

Florida Ave.

The chosen route was a good one — multiple travel lanes in both directions. That way, the group could use a full road lane and still leave at least one other lane for cars. This seemed to work out well, and we didn’t have any incidents. In fact, I was surprised at the positive reaction from motorists; we got a lot of “hello” honks, whistling and cheering from passing vehicles. Who knows? Maybe we blew their minds — Tampa motorists are notorious for not really knowing what is going on around them. Perhaps they thought we were some sort of Tour de France parade or something!

route
(photo by Inertialily)

And now for a little commentary: As you can see from the photos, the group took up an entire lane. Is this in violation of Florida’s “two abreast law? Yes. At intersections with stop lights, did “corking” take place to keep the group together? Yes. Did we stop at every stop sign? No. Is the world going to come crashing to a halt because of this? Absolutely not. Naysayers can say what they want, but it has been my experience that in EVERY group ride, club ride and charity event I’ve ever ridden in for the past 25 years (literally HUNDREDS of rides), the very same actions take place. These “bendings” of traffic laws are not unique to Critical Mass rides, despite the many negative press articles about CM events. In some circumstances, bending the rules keeps the group together, thereby safer. Think of it as one really l-o-n-g vehicle than 60 or more individual vehicles.

Does it make me uncomfortable to bend (or break) traffic laws? Sure it does…nevertheless, I strongly feel that this group didn’t go out of their way to interfere with traffic flow like so many other CM rides I’ve heard about do. There was plenty of hand-waving and shouts of “thanks” in spots where traffic was briefly held up to allow the group to pass through major intersections, and I feel that motorists probably appreciated that if they gave it any thought. Bottom line is — I firmly believe this group is on the right track in terms of road behavior. Certainly, as the subsequent monthly rides attract more and more cyclists, there will come a time when things could get out of hand — it takes only one stupid incident to ruin the “vibe” for everyone. Let’s pray that the organizers (whose hearts are firmly in the right place) continue to encourage participants to get out there and do the right thing — otherwise, motorist hostility, police crackdowns and all those other negative aspects come into play.

rain rollin'
(photo by Inertialily)

I’m already looking forward to next month’s ride!