World Car-Free Day celebrations coming to Tampa, St. Pete

World Car-Free Day, a rallying call for people to put down the car keys and walk, bike or use public transit, takes place annually in some 2,000 cities in 46 countries. This year, for the first time, Tampa joins the crowd.

Though World Car-Free Day officially falls on September 22nd, Tampa will celebrate on Saturday, the 23rd from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The city teamed with Walk Bike Tampa, a road safety advocacy group for bicyclists and pedestrians, and other partners to hold celebrations in three different locations: Midtown Commons, 3659 Midtown Drive; Ybor City Centennial Park, 1800 E. 8th Ave.; and Marion Street downtown between Polk and Kennedy.

At one or more locations, event-goers can play putt-putt golf, cornhole and giant Jenga and join in street mural painting by numbers. They can visit the “Bicycles from the Heart’’ collection and repairs, a ministry of Sacred Heart Catholic Church that provides bicycles for people who can’t afford one. They can get food and merchandise from vendors or nearby restaurants and pose for a photo with a life-size poster of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

Sunshine Market will be at Midtown Commons and Ybor’s regular Saturday Market will be taking place in Centennial Park. Information will be available at tables attended by representatives of the City of Tampa, Walk Bike Tampa and the other partners: Pedal Power Promoters, Sidewalk Stompers, the Tampa Downtown Partnership and the Westshore Alliance.

“It is not a day to be critical or shaming of anyone driving in a car,” says Christine Acosta, a board member of Walk Bike Tampa and founder of Pedal Power Promoters. “It is instead a day to illuminate the other modes of transportation that are becoming more and more popular that are healthy and sustainable in Tampa.’’

Across the bay, Car-Free St. Pete is holding its World Car-Free Day celebration, Car-Free St. Pete, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, at Green Bench Brewing, 1133 N. Baum Ave. Baum Avenue will be closed from 11th Street to 13th Street during that time, says St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership Community Engagement Manager Nicole Roberts. That organization sponsors the Car-Free St. Pete initiative.

St. Petersburg celebrates World Car-Free Day on Friday, September 22nd, at Green Bench Brewing.“PSTA will be bringing out one of their buses to show off,” she says. “We have Veo Ride electric scooter representatives coming and they’re going to be doing a safety demonstration. If you haven’t tried one of their scooters yet and are interested, that’s a great way to go test it out with the professionals.”

All PSTA routes will also be free on the 22nd. 

“The centerpiece of this is premiering the Car-Free St. Pete commercial at the event,’’ Roberts says.

It shows the various options besides cars that people can use to get around St. Petersburg, she says, and it’s “just really encouraging people to join the movement and try to go car-free when they can.’’

In Tampa, bicyclists, e-bike and e-scooter riders and others can follow a map and marked routes between Midtown Commons, downtown and Ybor City.

“We are going to be installing signage along the route,’’ says Acosta. “We are also going to use some street paint to put arrows down."

World Car-Free Day was four years in the making in Tampa, Acosta says. Each year bicycle advocates gather for Fancy Women’s Bike Ride, which happens the Sunday before Car-Free Day all over the world. It serves as a plea to city leaders to make the streets safer so women – and children – can safely bike around town. Last year, Mayor Castor granted their request to hold World Car-Free Day in Tampa this year.
For Fancy Women’s Bike Ride, which took place on September 17th, “everybody’s in their dresses, heels, hats,’’ Acosta says. 

“You would think you were going to a Mardi Gras Sunday brunch,” she says.

Anyone is welcome at the annual event, says Walk Bike Tampa board member Paula Flores, who says she was the “troublemaker’’ who started the ride in Tampa four years ago.

On Sunday, Sept. 17th, more than 50 dressed-up women left at 10 a.m. from Perry Harvey Sr. Park and rode for an hour and a half to Water Street, the University of Tampa and around Hyde Park. They ended with a picnic lunch back at Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

“One of the key points that we make about this ride is that you should be dressed for the destination,” Flores says. "Where are you going? Are you going to school? Are you going to work? Are you going to a party?’’

For more information about Tampa’s event, go to Walk Bike Tampa.
For more information about St. Petersburg’s event, go to Car Free St Pete

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Philip Morgan.

Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.