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 🙂

28 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    Critical Mass began as a ride to promote cycling as a viable means of transportation…yada, yada, yada. I stopped riding in it when it becal apparent that the only attention being brought was negative attention.

    I’ll rip a page out of Atlanta Intown Cycling ( They started Courteous Mass in which they follow all the rules of the road. I’m not sure how they handle the above mentioned problems, but will look back in their website.

    Point one: Motorists will always complain. If there are complaints about a group of cyclists on the road and “in my way”, it could be an educational moment for the motorist when he/she calls the police to complain and learns that no laws are being broken.

    Point two: corking would not be necessary if there is an established route and the majority of riders know the route (as it exists now). If you have to break into smaller groups and many riders know the route, then you end up in the same place and still have groups together.

    Point three: Using one lane is just an educational process. Many of the riders currently participating are used to taking the entire road. It seems as though there is an “anti-car” mentality that has taken over to the point where drivers of cars are harrassed for trying to get through in one lane. (August 2009 ride on Corrine Dr)

    Point four: Most people come with another person or persons and are conversing as they ride. You can still do this in one lane.

    Bottom line: Change the name or start a new ride called Courteous Mass. We do want to bring positive attention to cycling as an alternative form of transportation and at the same time educate others on proper bicycle driving.

    Another possible help would be re-evaluating the current route. I know we want exposure to the motoring public, but maybe adjusting to slightly less travelled roads would still accomplish the same purpose with less impact. Or would that be whimping out?

    • Scott
      Scott says:

      Are they going to start requiring groups of 50 or more cars traveling in the same direction to get a parade permit too? What about pedestrians? You can’t just single out one mode of transportation.

      As long as the CM’ers don’t cork intersections or otherwise exhibit group behavior then, ultimately, it’s just a bunch of people on bikes heading in the same direction. If that constitutes a “parade” then the cops need to go crack down on all those “protest marches” that happen on the sidewalks every morning and afternoon.

      • Bikin Bill
        Bikin Bill says:

        Individuals – autos or peds going the same direction and as a group not breaking laws does not equal a parade.

        E-mails, web pages, hand-outs, window postings, phone calls or word of mouth to meet up and ride at same / split-up time, same or different direction, does basically somewhat equal a parade/assembly. Then on top of all of that, as we ride, we break all kinds of laws and harass drivers.

        Permits are granted all the time for all kinds of gatherings, we just don’t know about all of them.

        Remember: We want to work together, not against each other.

  2. Lyle
    Lyle says:

    No offense meant, but I disagree that “Critical Mass began as a ride to promote cycling as a viable means of transportation”. As I recall, Critical Mass began as a rolling protest. The intent certainly was to be as in-your-face as possible.

    To effectively “Do something about” a protest movement requires a particularly creative response by the police. I only hope that somebody at the OPD has the courage to be that enlightened and patient, and wise enough to understand the true dynamics at work.

    Simple law enforcement will not stop a committed protest — lawbreaking is THE essence of civil disobedience. Only overwhelming force will crush a protest. But that would certainly backfire.

    The answer is that someone should get the parade permit, the city should have the good sense not to be jerks about granting them, and the OPD should provide a free escort. That way the whole thing can be brought under the cover of law without showing up on the nightly news.

    Of course, they could always go the other direction and come out in full riot gear with water cannon, tasers, dogs and such. Lose-lose-lose. But great for ratings.

  3. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Great cases Rick. I like the Courteous Mass. I am a organizer for Brevard’s CM. My intention along with the other creators was to provide a time and place to build a community for cyclists to engage in safe cycling practices and socialize.
    I would suggest that you divide rides into categories. First, a longer mass route at popular times of the day to illustrate bicycle awareness and then promote it as a fast paced ride with escorts. If the OPD can volunteer 2 or 3 motorcycle/ bicycle cops to help “cork” the intersections then it can be a cheap and safe way to exercise the rally.
    Another ride could be more about a slower pace on a fixed route with the intention to be more social. Perhaps on a weekend morning on less busy roads.
    Finally, a family ride in a closed public space like a park with a mile loop that can get the even slower crowd with children and grandparents to get out and encourage biking for fitness.
    As long as each participant is feeling their need is met and cycling is happening safer and more often, we are bringing cycling into everyday life. And our vision for safer riding and education is being fulfilled.
    I am excited that these discussions are happening more frequently. It makes me proud to be a full time cyclist who shares the road responsibly and needs it to be safer for my own well being.

    Cheers and gears!

  4. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    There have always been a variety of agendas among CM riders. But what’s ultimately more important is what agenda non-participants _believe_ the agenda to be — or to believe there is an agenda at all.

    A Courteous Mass ride would probably not look like it even had an agenda to most people. If everyone is obeying the law (though some will think riding two-abreast in the right lane is a violation) then it just looks like any old bike ride. And maybe that’s the best thing. A subliminal message of “Hey, we’re just normal folks out riding our bikes” might be the best message we can project.

  5. rodney
    rodney says:

    On a smaller scale, I guess Critical Mess could return back to its original intent.

    As evident in the issues OPD faces, human nature takes over and the “herd” gets out of control. Sorta like….go with the flow, if you will. Large groups foster nothing but a recipe for chaos. Have the ride permitted, cite the scofflaws, and arrest as required.

    Allowing Critical Mess to continue without responsibility creates nothing but negative fodder for motorists to keep cyclists off the road and out of the way.

    This event is counter-intuitive to the end goal of being accepted as operators of legal vehicles on public roads. As a commuter and utility cyclist, I am appalled at the scofflaw behavior during such “rides” and will never participate in one.

  6. Rick
    Rick says:

    Lyle, you probably have more experience with CM than I do. I was first invited about 18 months ago and was told that it was to promote cycling etc. What I saw was more “in your face” than I was comfortable with. I still went when I could, but after a cyclist was hit and there was major road rage and major police presence, I didn’t feel it was something I wanted to be a part of. That said, I still have the urge to go, but also haven’t had time.

  7. Ken
    Ken says:

    I agree with everyone else, that people are going to complain no matter what and it will back up traffic no matter what. Critical Mass is named as such because the traffic “bunches up” at the intersections until the backlog reaches a “critical mass”. I was always under the impression that Critical Mass events should be viewed as a celebration and occur as spontaneous gatherings, and not as protests or organized demonstrations. That is how most Critical Mass rides in other cities can argue a legal position that its events occur without advance notice of local police. I know that it would take more organization to move the start location around from month to month, but if legally it got the group free of the existing laws, it may be worth a shot. I am definitely willing to meet with police or with other group members to discuss options in riding formations or in legitimizing the ride.

  8. MikeOnBike
    MikeOnBike says:

    The irony is that the term “critical mass” suggests a minimum number of cyclists need to be bunched together. In this case, the bunch is apparently too big to be treated as normal traffic. I guess the ride has exceeded critical mass?

    If the bunch has to stay together, then it becomes a parade, with all that entails (permits, police escorts, etc).

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      Minimum number to accomplish what? The idea came from China, where and American saw cyclists gathering at an uncontrolled intersection (no signal). They were trying to get across the intersection, but the number and speed of the cars wouldn’t allow it. Finally,when they got to be a large enough group, they could muscle their way into the intersection. The whole point was to exceed critical mass.

      In the US it became a minimum number to control a lane or the entire roadway, as well as all the intersections. (Though a knowledgeable and confident solo cyclist can control a lane; so for that purpose the critical mass can be as low as one.)

      Many CM proponents have said it communicates “messages” about “sharing the road” or “we need facilities,” but I’ve never understood how a bunch of riders without signs or handouts can communicate such messages to a handful of people in cars with rolled up windows.

      • MikeOnBike
        MikeOnBike says:

        Mighk asks “Minimum number to accomplish what?”

        I don’t know. But there’s apparently a reason why the bunch can’t be broken up, ride at each person’s own pace, regroup after the next intersection, etc.

        “Herding cats”, with each cyclist going their own way at their own pace, might solve the problem. Then the bunch is no longer a parade/procession and is just a collection of individuals heading in the same general direction at about the same time. Leave some “catnip” at a few checkpoints so they’ll all regroup now and again.

  9. bencott
    bencott says:

    yeah, i think i’m done riding CM. it was awesome when i started going a little over a year ago. it was a fairly large group, but not to the extent that it is now. almost all the reactions i saw from onlookers were positive, and there was never a police presence. it was a brief moment to forget about all the animosity and disrespect that we endure on a daily basis. we were the majority on the road at that moment, so everyone else had to deal with it. if any motorists decided to do something stupid to “teach us a lesson,” there would be dozens of witnesses and no easy means of escape. i like those odds a lot better than my daily commute, where i feel nearly everyone on the road – including law enforcement – is against me. if the concept of a huge mass of cyclists taking over the streets briefly once a month is too radical for the community to let continue, then so be it.

  10. Angie
    Angie says:

    This is exactly why I’ve yet to join up on a CM ride. I always assumed the “point” to be a protest of sorts, which is cool. Unfortunately, though, I just can’t get behind something that consistently involves breaking laws. While that might be less of a big deal in other locales, I feel like we already have enough work ahead of us without increasing tensions.

    I wish I had suggestions. I love that CM brings so many people from so many walks of life. I don’t know how you control it better while still keeping that kind of draw.

  11. Bikin Bill
    Bikin Bill says:

    Whatever the original reason for crtitical mass, we have the opportunity to really make a difference here in Orlando. Choices are: 1. We can make CM a place where a few can get out of control, be unruly, take the whole road, threaten drivers and break laws. Then others will follow thinking it’s safety in numbers and get penalized for following someone else’s agenda. I think this is where Orlnado’s CM is headed. This continued action will eventually cause City Hall and OPD get involved. There involvement will only make it harder on all cyclists and lighten the wallet of those involved. Do we really want this? OR 2. We can make our own Courteous Mass and do the right thing, it can become a place where all are welcome, be diverse, be social, be legal, get more respect and show that bikes do have a legal right to the roads. It’s up to us to make the difference!

  12. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    I agree that CM is at a crossroads. The fact that Orlando’s CM has encouraged novice cyclists to get out on their bikes and enjoy a short ride through the heart of Orlando is an incredible feat if you ask me. I like Mighk’s and others’ ideas about a Courteous Mass ride and Keri’s suggestions about positioning of cyclists at certain areas along Orange and Robinson.

    I do agree with those that have said getting a permit and law enforcement involved sort of defeats the purpose to an extent. If the ride takes a little longer and spreads things out, but there’s no red light running and the group stays in one lane, I really don’t see too much of a problem.

    I want to see the City embrace cycling and don’t want it to become an us vs them scenario. That will require a little give and take from both sides.

    • Bikin Bill
      Bikin Bill says:

      I agree, novice cyclists getting out on their bikes and enjoying a short ride through the heart of Orlando. But this is also the people we will be scaring off if it doesn’t change.

      In the article above, Keri writes working with the Police.

      “OPD does not want to shut the ride down. but they need the riders and promoters of this ride to help them out.”
      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.
      This is exactly what I want to happen.

      It’s up to us to make the difference!

  13. Lyndy
    Lyndy says:

    I usually work the opposite side of town Friday nights, so have not been to a CM ride. January, I was off and able to go watch so I could make a decision before riding. I was early, so sat in my car on a side street between ride start & Orange Ave waiting and watching. The first two riders I saw ran the red light @ Orange/Princeton and went to 7-11. I then headed east on Princeton from Orange and had 2 riders ride on each side of me in my lane and 3 riders riding east bound in the west bound lane. 4 of the 5 ran the red light at Alden. The one that didn’t did loops in the lane where we waited. He rode around my car three loops waiting for the light to change. Next I watched from just south of Princeton on Mills. Bike, car, bike car in the left turn only lane – vehicular cycling turns. I was impressed! The next light cycle though, five riders came from the right edge of the road crossing the two lanes and into the left turn only lane causing 3 cars to slam on brakes to avoid them. These bikes turned left onto Princeton from the left side of the left turn only lane ON A RED LIGHT. The next ones turned left onto Princeton from the left thru lane of northbound Mills in front of motorists waiting in the left turn only lane. The next two bikes were at the southern crosswalk area on Mills @ Princeton waiting for the light to change. They gave up, went to the north crosswalk area and crossed against the traffic signal and caused southbound traffic to slam on brakes. I couldn’t handle it any more. I went around to the art museum and waited in the lot to watch from the back of the group as they left. They turned right/west onto Princeton at the light and took up ALL THE LANES. At the signal on Alden, about 75 of the riders, 8-9 abreast, ran the red light. By this time I was dumbfounded. At the next light on Princeton/Orange ALL but the first 20 or so of the riders ran the red light and were across all four lanes (three through & one left turn only), at least 16-18 abreast. I sat in the left turn lane but could not get up to the stop bar due to 3 cyclists who did NOT run the light doing circles in the turn lane waiting for the light to change to turn south on Orange Ave. Two behind me were doing circles in the lane too. Motorists were just looking around dumbfounded. I was embarrassed to have a Share the Road tag on my car, especially one that says IBIKE. The light changed, we headed south on Orange Ave and the riders behind me went around me, between me and parked cars, to catch up to the ones that had been in front of me before the turn. As we got to Vanderbilt, a group of about 10 riders ran that stop sign at Orange and turned north. The cars ahead of me stopped abruptly as they crossed. I continuted to shake my head. The riders in front of me SIGNALLED (surprise), turned right and I headed home. I couldn’t believe it; I still don’t….and this isn’t even all that I observed that night.

  14. Cole NeSmith
    Cole NeSmith says:

    I’ve been going to CM for about two years now. It’s been incredible to see it grow from 40 to several hundred, but there are obviously logistical issues associated with that.

    Here are the things I love about CM
    1. Getting to ride with lots of other riders.
    2. Seeing people in the bike community that I really only get to see once a month.
    3. The overwhelming positive reaction from motorists and onlookers (there really are very few problems or altercations).
    4. It’s a fun ride that welcomes all riders of all types.

    And I’ve been thankful for the kindness of OPD has met us with over the last few months.

    I think this is an opportunity for our city to set an example for the other cities of the world that riders and law enforcement can work together to promote alternate forms of transportation.

    One problem is that CM is community led. There aren’t named leaders. So, I don’t know if anyone will step up to say, “I’m in charge.” But, I know that if officers on bicycles showed up Friday to help with the ride, they’d be welcomed as a cyclist, and valued in their contribution.

    If there’s anything I can do to help, feel free to let me know.

  15. Velo67
    Velo67 says:

    I would like to thank Keri for posting this thread after what happened at CM in January. I was the individual that the police officers stopped to question after running a red light. Although I had the oppurtunity to evade the officers through approaching side streets I decided that as a responsible cyclist I’d show respect and came to a complete stop along with others who were close to me. How I felt after being pulled over was nothing short of shame. As a 43yr old cyclist I kinda take pride in the fact that I’ve been in cycling since I was a tadpole. Having experience in all facets or disciplines of biking.

    How I feel about CM right now? Kinda confused. I think the message it promotes is positive and enlightening but the delivery is weak. Frankly I place the responsibility of that delivery and it’s consequences on the planners of CM. A responsibility that needs to be re-addressed to them so that future CM’s flow without any discrepancies.

    Since the early to mid eighties I’ve commuted to just about everywhere the wind took me. Within those rides I’ve witnessed the careless behavior of motorists against cyclist. I have to admit that because today’s society is concerned about health issues and the advantages of staying fit, we now have more respect from motorist than I witnessed back in those days. Cyclist were far and few out in the streets compared to nowadays.

    It is nice to see that many young riders are jumping on the bandwagon of cycling or to put it simply on the wagon of the single/fixie scene that is currently taking Orlando by storm. A scene that has been around other major cities since the 70’s and 80’s. So what if O-Town got the bug decades later. What matters most is that people are out riding. Whether fixed, single, geared, track, roadie, mountain, beach or bmx. People are ridin’.

    Now it’s up to us to make things right. If we want the respect of motorist and be accepted as part of the daily transit then we have to follow the rules and law of the road. Period….! It took some of us old fogeys a lifetime to earn that respect. To have that respect tarnished by ignorant individuals and they’re adolescent cause just to follow a fad would be totally hipocritical.

  16. Velo67
    Velo67 says:

    Wow…this just happened at the last CM in February. I understand the necessity of some communication between CM and local law enforcement. But when you put riders safety to enforce a law it pretty much makes you look like a hipocrite. Officer “Trigger Happy” would you mind enforcing the law with a little more courtesy that you don’t put others in danger. Technically you are practicing a little vehicular brutality. Why not send some of those wonderfully trained healthy looking bike cops to enforce the law?;

  17. Velo67
    Velo67 says:

    Wow…this just happened at the last CM in February. I understand the necessity of some communication between CM and local law enforcement. But when you put riders safety in danger to enforce that law it pretty much makes you look like a hipocrite. Officer “Trigger Happy” would you mind enforcing the law with a little more courtesy that you don’t put others in danger. Technically you are practicing a little vehicular brutality. Why not send some of those wonderfully trained healthy looking bike cops to enforce the law?;

  18. Joe Mizereck
    Joe Mizereck says:

    My work at Safe Cycling, LLC is focused on making cycling safer for everyone. One of my initiatives,, is founded on a simple, bold and polite request for motorists to give cyclists at least three feet clearance when passing from the rear. In 15 states at least 3 feet clearance is required by law…in other states and elsewhere around the world it’s a request for courtesy. One critical mass adventure can easily turn hundreds of motorists against cyclists by souring them and erasing any hope of them being courteous and respectful…setting efforts like mine and many others back and making cycling less safe, contributing to more injuries and deaths rather than fewer. Why don’t CMers get this? How can they be so blind to the negative consequences of their actions? How can these CMers possibly think they are making any positive difference? How is it that they are so disconnected from reality?

    Look, if you are a CMer, you must come to understand that what you are doing does not make cycling safer. I implore you to stop and find more effective ways to celebrate cycling…ways that truly celebrate the joys, the uses and the value of cycling. Ways that help make cycling more enjoyable and safer for everyone. Please. Our lives…your lives are at stake.

    Joe Mizereck

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