JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city's parks department is responding to criticism that the soon-to-be-reopened Southbank Riverwalk is too narrow.
On Wednesday, Jacksonville City Councilman Don Redman told News4Jax the design of the riverwalk would make it difficult for walkers to pass if people are sitting on the benches provided.
The new riverwalk is build from concrete and narrower than the decades-old wooden boardwalk that runs just over 2 miles from the Acosta Bridge to the Duval County School Board building. It is designed to not be as wide and is build over the river rather than on the bulkhead with water showing on both sides. That way the city does not have to maintain a structure built on property it doesn't own.
But the narrower riverwalk limits the space people can walk, ride bicycles or push wheelchairs or strollers, especially in the shaded areas where curved benches are placed.
"My concern is there is simply not enough room to be safe," said Chris Burns, chairman of the City Council committee on pedestrian and bicycle safety. "There is not enough room for a person to be walking in one direction and for one person to be walking in another direction."
We caught up with city park department staff and the designers as they were doing an inspection.
After getting permission from city leadership, Tera Meeks of the parks department told us what they they were in the "punch list" phase, with the riverwalk expected to open late this month.
"We are walking down the riverwalk with (the) contractor to identify things that need to be improved, changed or finalized before we get to the end," Meeks said. "We talked about some minor tweaks, but I think when it's done its going to be great."
Meeks said one of the things they were inspecting was the width of the pedestrian walkway -- the concern of Rodman and Burns.
"That was one thing we are looking at today," Meeks said. "It think it is fine as it is, but I think if we give it more width, we would be able to accommodate more people, more activity going on in that area. That is one of things we talked about today on what to do with those benches."
The project's designer, Chris Flag, did not have permission of the builder, the Haskel Company, to answer questions, but News4Jax did get an email Flag sent to city engineers that addressed Redman's suggestion of replacing the curved benches with straight ones to open up more room to pass.
"A straight bench cannot work with the shade sail, as it present to many pedestrian hazards," Flag wrote.
As for not having limited room for bicycles, which will not be allowed, Flag responded: "It was always thought that the pedestrian would have the benefit of the right of way and that bikers would be considerate enough to dismount at high pedestrian use area."
The new riverwalk is scheduled to open in two weeks, and Meeks believes the public will be very happy with the end result.