Critical Juncture for Critical Mass?
In the first CM ride of the year, things got a little contentious just as we got to Orange Ave. OPD herded riders into a single lane and instructed them to follow the law and stop at red lights. Over the PA came the unassailable statement that bicycles are vehicles and riders must follow the rules. I can’t argue with that, can you?
But it caused quite a bit of chaos as riders got separated from the group, some ran red lights to try and catch up and others found themselves in a sea of cars. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the problem of novice riders suddenly becoming isolated in traffic. Or a few motorists finding themselves in a sea of cyclists, for that matter.
Lisa and I stopped at the red light at Colonial along with a handful of other riders. When the light turned green, they were all over the map — some stayed in the lane, some rode in and out of parking spaces, some got on the sidewalk. Because that red light is so long, there was dense car traffic in all 4 lanes, making it impossible to merge to the left lane, which is where these riders eventually needed to be. I’m not sure where it went from there because we bailed, making a box turn on Livingston, and went to T-flats for dinner.
Yesterday afternoon, when I sat down with Officer Bill Edgar to look at some video and animation, he told me of the dilemma currently faced by OPD regarding CM. Here are the issues:
- Motorists are complaining about it (yeah, I know). This has been building for a while and it is causing increased pressure on OPD. When complaints are filed, OPD is caught in a no-win situation. They are required to go out and write tickets for red light violations.
- It is illegal to cork intersections. It is illegal to go through a red light, even if the intersection is corked for you (by another rider). There’s no gray area here and no way around it. Police are the only people allowed to cork intersections.
- It’s not legal to ride more than 2-abreast, and it’s certainly bad form to take all three lanes on Orange and Rosalind. I think a case can be made for taking 2 lanes to keep the group as compact a possible. When OPD has attempted to squeeze the group into one lane, it only increases the impact by making it last longer. Also, since the group is making a left turn on Anderson, they should use the left lane(s) all the way down Orange so they are not merging across the traffic compressed into the lane(s) they are not using. Also, I think a case can be made to use both lanes on Robinson because the lanes are extremely narrow and the group makes a left turn on Mills. It’s certainly worth a discussion.
- The group gets strung out on Mills. The corking can be really disruptive there and that is where most of the animosity occurs. Solutions?
OPD does not want to shut the ride down. but they need the riders and promoters of this ride to help them out. There are various options that can be discussed and worked out. Solutions could involve getting a permit (inexpensive), hiring an escort (expensive), and/or modifying the group behavior (about as easy as herding cats). But if the group shows that it is making an effort to help OPD out with their dilemma, it will go a long way to fostering good will and cooperation.
If nothing is done, there is likely to be political pressure to shut the ride down. I don’t think anyone wants that (other than a few whiny motorists). CM is good for this community. In pure numbers, I’d be willing to bet there are more members of the community on bicycles doing the ride than there are in cars affected by it. But the bottom line is, if OPD is forced, politically, to crack down, CM will either cease to exist, or only exist as an outlaw protest ride. Gone will be the diversity, community solidarity and joyful social aspect that has made Orlando’s CM special.
A number of officers are interested in working on our behalf to find solutions, if you’d like to meet with them, please step up. We can put you in touch with them and a meeting can be set up.
If you have thoughts on CM, please share them in comments. We always enjoy a lively (respectful) discussion