People On Foot

Bike/Walk “America” Road Trip Adventures

By Emily Hanna, AICP, CPM

Executive Director, Bike/Walk Central Florida

What an interesting time for travel! My boyfriend Charlie and I are taking our 19-foot long RV from Florida to California, then up the west coast to Seattle. From Seattle we are headed to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, and then to points beyond. Sounds strange coming from somebody with an extensive planning background, but we have no timeline for this trip. We’re not doing everything at once, as we’ll store the RV at various locations. We’ll be flying back and forth and picking up where we left off. So, there will be starts and stops.

Being a bike/walk advocate, I’m excited to learn how different cities and towns incorporate walking and biking facilities into their transportation efforts, as well as how they are planning for post-COVID 19.

We’ll keep you posted along the way.


Stop #2: First Official Stop — San Antonio, Texas

Welcome to the River Walk! I love the openness along the water (no railing), the wide side path and the pedestrian appropriate blade sign hanging adjacent to a decorative awning.

We arrived in San Antonio, our first official stop following our detour to Beaumont for repairs. After getting settled into the city, we made our way down to the historic River Walk.

What a beautiful place! Interesting factoid; River Walk almost didn’t happen. After a hurricane came through the City in the 1920s, many local businesses advocated for the city to fill in the canals, citing flooding concerns. Enter Robert H.H. Hugman, who had the vision and drive to pursue the River Walk dream. Hugman brought his plans to the city, and even called upon the San Antonio Conservation Society to help. There were bumps along the way. The great depression halted much growth and development in the city.

After years of designing the plan, advocating for the vision, and pursuing a walkable thriving destination, there was finally movement. In 1936, federal dollars from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and monies from a local bond initiative finally funded the project’s construction–at a whopping $380,000 price tag!  In 1940, the construction was completed. Today, the River Walk is an economic engine. It draws more than 9.3 million visitors to just the River Walk alone, produces $2.4 billion in revenue and generates 31,000 jobs. If interested, you can learn more about the River Walk’s history on this video.

What’s the correlation to Central Florida? Not everything can be a San Antonio River Walk, but there are plenty of great things happening. Take for instance extensive building of rail to trail systems throughout our area, where former rail beds are made into top drawing walking and biking spots, such as the West Orange Trail and Cady Way Trail. How about taking a former I-4 borrow pit that filled in with water and turning it into a walkable park, as Altamonte Springs did at Cranes Roost? How about the U.S. 17/92 road transfer from the state to Sanford and Seminole County, so Sanford Riverwalk could be extended by utilizing the road’s right of way that runs along Lake Monroe? And, since I’m a former planner at the City of Casselberry, how about the walkway and park built around Lake Concord, just behind city hall? The area was in need of renewal, and Casselberry is reaping the benefits. My point? Walkable places are some of the best economic engines in cities! The San Antonio River Walk and local projects here are proof!

What makes this walk so interesting are all the details, from the block stem wall to the twisted brick column, along with the lush greenery all around. All the different textures make the space feel rich and inviting.

 

Another interesting characteristic of the walk is the changing of the side path’s pattern and material. Every change seemed to bring a different ambiance to what I would call “outdoor living rooms.” Each outdoor living room seems to have a theme, either in accordance with adjacent businesses or in keeping with the theme at that particular point of the walk.

 

What I would deem to be a big deal and makes this walkable place one of the best are the elevators positioned around the River Walk. The river is actually below grade, so you have to travel down a flight of stairs or through a building to get to the river below. I really enjoyed seeing the elevator additions (I would imagine not a part of Hugman’s original plan) and though an afterthought to the original concept, the elevator shafts are designed to integrate into the walk’s themes.

 

The COVID-19 perspective: The River Walk was virtually lifeless, with only a few people walking along the banks. What we did find (which I assume does not happen often) were cyclists enjoying a bike ride along the river.

 

I loved these colorful umbrellas along the river, they sat empty as the restaurants were still mostly closed. This was despite the fact that the governor allowed the state to reopen.

 

Keeping my distance as I stroll along the River Walk

 

Outside of the River Walk, San Antonio is a walkable city. I was impressed with their scooter parking, using curb extension areas at intersections to park them. Due to COVID, there was little traffic throughout the city, so biking in the lanes was easy.

 

Additional signage can be found on buildings for scooter parking! Various larger buildings around downtown offered shelter for scooters and bicycles!


Stop #1: Commercial Area in Beaumont, Texas (Just off Interstate 10)

It’s interesting how the scenery may change, but certain things remain the same, depending where in town you end up. Charlie and I needed to stop to get the RV aligned. Last night, it was pretty scary driving in a storm that came through all of the sudden. The RV, though small, is a mighty road warrior. But in the storm, it swayed across the road and was difficult to keep between the lines. So, on this day, we found a large vehicle repair shop in this small town. The alignment on the RV was going to take about an hour, so we decided to grab lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We saw it was only a 16-minute walk and thought of it as a welcome break after being in the RV for a long time.

So, off we went. We left the shop and immediately realized how automobile-centric this part of Beaumont really is. This is remarkably like certain areas in Central Florida. We walked down a new sidewalk, which appeared to be just poured in front of the shop; a typical five-foot wide slab next to a two-foot wide grass strip, next to a five-lane major road. In a short distance, things changed. No sidewalk. We walked through tall grass, through parking lots, along power lines and eventually made it to the restaurant. We had a lovely meal and walked the .8 miles back.

When we returned, the lady at the RV shop asked if we had walked, and we told her “yes.” She said she was so worried about our safety and said, “No one walks here, honey.” It’s interesting how location, geography, and time zones might change, but certain challenges remain the same.

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