Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Accessibility Review: Tampa Riverwalk

Kyle is wearing a white, button-down shirt and black, thick-rimmed glasses. He smiles into for the camera. Seated in his wheelchair, he is in front of two palm trees and a series of benches, all of which are in front of a large, grey building. Windows line the top of the building's wall, with an overhang mounted on posts in front of it. A sign on the building reads: "Tamp River Center."

Accessibility Grade: A

Winding its way along the iconic Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk ushers visitors through a number of scenic parks, museums, restaurants, and art installations that are located around Downtown Tampa. To say that there's a lot to see is a massive understatement! During our time, we only had the chance to go through a portion of the waterfront path's expansive 2.6 mile length. Come with us as we journey along some of the most picturesque parts of the Downtown Tampa area, accessible to us because of the Tampa Riverwalk.

A blue minivan is backed into an accessible parking spot. There is another spot, which is empty, located closer to the camera and on the opposite side of the unloading zone. There is a sidewalk that runs behind the minivan, a series of trees behind it, and then a fenced in field that's located behind that.
As we usually do, let's start things off by talking a little about the parking situation. Since Riverwalk covers such a wide area, there are a few places that you can park; however, accessible parking isn't always the easiest to find in Downtown Tampa. This rings especially true if you are on the hunt for parking that's both free and accessible. While it's possible to secure a free spot at Armature Works, which is a location that I'll mention further along in this Review, there's no guarantee that you'll find accessible parking in their lot. Having multiple options will give you the best chance to find accessible parking. On this trip, we ended up finding free, accessible parking at the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

An empty, accessible parking spot. To the left is an unloading zone, and to the right are some shrubs, which stand in front of a small, grey, concrete bricked wall. In the background is a series of trees. To the right of them is a pavilion with a number of picnic tables and benches.
When we arrived, we noticed that there were a decent amount of spaces. Even though this is the case, during events, they tend to fill up quickly. If you're attending a festival, celebration, etc. at the park, I'd recommend showing up earlier in the day. This location seemed to be pretty central to a lot of the restaurants, parks, etc. Since this was the case, this parking lot ended up being the perfect place to begin our excursion through the Downtown Tampa area.

Kyle is shown, driving his wheelchair. on the right side of the picture. In front of him is an art installation. It is three pillars, aligned in a triangle formation. At the top of each pillar are a series of metal-looking rings, extend upward and towards each other.

The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a number of beautiful, art installations, such as the one pictured above. It greeted us as as we exited our vehicle, which set the tone for the rest of our trip. Moving further into the park, I noticed that the paths were all very smooth. The sidewalks were very wide, which is always great for manual and power chair users, as well as other people who use mobility devices like walkers or canes. This area felt really easy to get around, also making it great for caregivers, family, and friends, who push and/or assist people who use dependent mobility devices. As I mentioned above, we went to the Riverfront Park during a time that wasn't crowded. If you find yourself there at a peak time, such as during a busy event or on the weekend, please know that accessible parking spaces may appear more limited than during the time of our visit. This detail may be important, especially for individuals who experience high amounts of social anxiety, or those who have high sensory sensitivity.

Kyle is shown in his black wheelchair, looking to his right, at a "Welcome" sign for the Juilian B. Lane Riverfront Park. There is a tall post to the left of that. At the top of it is a blue sign, with a wheelchair symbol. Underneath it are the words "West Riverwalk & Boathouse." Beneath that is an arrow pointing to the left. Behind the signs is a path of pebbles and a series of benches along it.
While the Riverfront Park's lot can be a good place to park during the day, 
if you are planning to visit Riverwalk during the evening, make sure to find a different location. The public park is open from sunrise until 10:00 P.M., which also means that you'll only be able to leave your vehicle in this lot during those hours.

Kyle is driving his wheelchair along a curving section of sidewalk. There is thinning grass on either side of the sidewalk. Slightly behind him, and to his left, is a blue sign indicating an accessible route. It's pointing in the direction that he's facing, which is facing away from the camera. In the distance is a bridge and, beyond that, are a series of tall buildings in Downtown Tampa.
Within Riverfront Park, as well as along Riverwalk, there are a number of "accessible route" signs. These were really helpful, and pointed out the most accessible paths for visitors to take. These routes also featured wide sidewalks that were relatively smooth. While they aren't always wide enough to allow two wheelchair users to roll side-by-side, they are definitely wide enough to accommodate most types of mobility devices.

Kyle looks to his right, where the Hillsborough river meanders into the distance. He's parked, in his wheelchair, behind an aluminum fence. On the other side of it are some mangrove trees and rocks. Behind Kyle, you can see the boat ramp.

In front of the Tampa River Center, which is also shown in the first picture of this Accessibility Review, is a nice area that overlooks the Hillsborough River. There are a number of benches for people who aren't wheelchair users. In front of these benches is a fence, which  may be too tall for some manual wheelchair users to see over. Luckily, though it's kind of tough to tell in this picture, it's easy to see through this fence because it's made of thinly-dispersed cable. In this area, there is also a boat ramp and two docks, both of which can be accessed by two, large ramps.

As you make your way through the park, you'll notice a bunch of plaques, much like the one in the picture shown on the left. Each of these gives park goers a little information, telling a bit about some historical events that took place  either in the city of Tampa, or in the Tampa Bay area. Once you venture outside of the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, you'll pass a few more of these historical plaques, some of which also feature statues of the individuals that they are describing. As we make our way further down Riverwalk, I'll show a few of them a bit later in the article.

Two, unisex and accessible bathrooms are shown. They're in a small building, the outside of which is decorated with tile that is varying shades of green and white. To the left of the building are a few trashcans.

As we made our way through the park, we ended up coming across a couple of accessible, unisex bathrooms. From my own experience, finding accessible restrooms can be both nerve wracking and difficult. Needless to say, I was pretty relieved to find them. Though they were pretty roomy inside, these restrooms didn't have automatic doors. If you have difficulty getting in and out of doors (especially since these were kind of heavy), you may need assistance to enter and exit these bathrooms.

Kyle is looking toward an art installation, title 'Form of Wander,' that is situated on a walking path that extends over the Hillsborough River. It looks like a series of interwoven or tangled tree roots, and is light green in color.

Next to the Tampa River Center, an art installation decorates a concrete path that extends over the Hillsborough River. The piece is titled 'Form of Wander,' and was created by Marc Fornes and the art studio THEVERYMANY, who are based in New York.

A picture, taken across the Hillsborough River, of the Straz Center. The river extends in front of the large, grey building, which is surrounded by trees and other buildings located in Downtown Tampa.
This space offers a great view of some buildings located on the opposite side of the river. From here, it's easy to see some other landmarks, such as the renowned performing arts venue, the Straz Center. Of course, by turning around, you can also catch a great view of the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Kyle is driving his wheelchair along the walking path for an industrial-looking bridge. He's facing forward, looking over his right shoulder, back at the camera. The floor is grated metal.
Continuing onward, we crossed a bridge that allowed us to access more of the park, which extends to the opposite side of the river. Crossing the bridge takes you along a path  made of grated metal. My power wheelchair didn't have much trouble navigating it, though it was definitely a much bumpier ride than I expected. I imagine that the experience would be similar for somebody using a manual wheelchair, and that the bumpy surface may make it more difficult to propel yourself over. For those using other mobility devices, such as canes or walkers, this surface may  make it tough for you to walk over. The bumpy ride may be difficult for wheelchair users who have difficulty with their posture, including sitting up, or holding their head in an upright position.

Kyle drives past a red, modernist steel art piece, titled "America." It is located between two sidewalks that veer off in different direction. It's surrounded by a patch of green, waist-height ferns. To his right is a patch of grass and a light pole, which has to, blue banners that have the logo for Riverwalk.

Taking the bridge, you'll swing through another section of the park, featuring a number of sculptures and other art pieces. Even though these sidewalks weren't as wide, they led down to a path that ran right along the water's edge. Here, it was much easier to get around. Getting that close to the water was also a really nice experience, especially since I try to be careful with my wheelchair whenever I'm near any body of water.

Kyle drives his wheelchair on the right side of a wide sidewalk. To his right is a aluminum guardrail and, on the other side of that, is the Hillsborough River. the sidewalk extends into the distance, where some people can been seen walking on it. To the left is a long patch of grass and a long series of palm trees. A blue sign for Riverwalk hangs on a lamp post, to Kyle's left.
Even though this path was much wider, I'd like to mention that we saw a number of joggers and cyclists along the way. Because of that, while you're on this path, I'd recommend staying to the right. That way, people travelling at high speeds can pass you safely.

A bronze bust of an historical, Tampa figurehead. It rests atop a marble stand and has a plaque, detailing who the bust is based on. Behind the bust is the Hillsborough River. To the right are a few, white blocks that can be used as seats. Beyond them are a series of palm trees. A bridge can be seen in the distance.
As I mentioned above, there are a number of statues and plaques that dot the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Here, you'll find statues every so often, which feature historical figures that depict people who were prominent in Tampa's history.

Located under the Fortune Taylor Street Bridge, is an art piece, named 'Woven Waves.' This side of the piece has a series of swirls that are orange, yellow, and green, in varying patterns. The art piece is a high contrast to the bridge around it, which is grey.
If you're looking to cool off a bit, crossing beneath some of the bridges can be a great place to get out of the sun and catch the breeze. Much like the picture on the left, there are a number of fantastic art pieces that are feature through out all of Riverwalk. This one, located under the Fortune Taylor Street Bridge, is named 'Woven Waves' and was a collaboration between Re:Site and Metalab. Depending on where you view the piece, it can have a different appearance. Looking at it, from the other side, will also show a different design than the one shown in this picture.

Kyle is rolling over the light and dark gray, brick path. In the distance is a section of Armature Works. It's made of red brick, and has a sign over the door that reads, "Heights Public Market." To the left are sections of grass, broken up by section of mulch that have ferns and young trees growing out of them.

The end of our journey, along the Tampa Riverwalk, brought us to Armature Works. Whether you're looking to grab a coffee, get some food, or scratch your shopping itch, Tampa's Armature works is a great collection of local restaurants, bars, and stores. It also hosts different kinds of events and other forms of entertainment, featuring regular musicians and holiday celebrations.

If you've been searching for an interesting place to spend the afternoon, Tampa Riverwalk meanders through some great parks and even leads to some of the great food and beverage spots that Downtown Tampa has to offer. Whether you're looking to exercise, relax, grab dinner, or even attend a festival, Riverwalk is a fun and interesting way to pass the time.

Kyle Romano
Kyle's feature picture shows him in a black, power wheelchair, wearing a white, button down shirt, black pants, and black, thick-rimmed glasses. He is on astroturf, next to an oversized chess/checker board. There are people in the background, sitting at picnic tables.

Luis Rodriguez

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