TAMPA — Whether it was the novelty of walking under Kennedy Boulevard drawbridge or picture-postcard blue skies, thousands of people thronged to Riverwalk on the first full weekend after Friday’s official opening of the new segment close to Curtis Hixon Park.
All weekend, the walkway bustled with families taking a stroll, joggers and bicyclists. It also attracted more unconventional modes of transport too with Segway riders weaving around residents walking their dogs, even a bicycle-cab ferrying residents too weary to walk.
That mass of non-motorized traffic all moving at different speeds made for some sticky spots where bicyclists and joggers slowed to walking pace.
City officials did not conduct an official count but over the weekend more than 3,000 people bought drinks at The Plank, the pop-up bar installed to commemorate the opening of the Kennedy Plaza segment.
Shaun Drinkard, executive director of Friends of the Riverwalk, said it may take a few weeks for Riverwalk users to adjust to increased crowds.
“It was phenomenal. Considering it’s the first weekend, I think it’s a good problem to have,” Drinkard said. “Over time, people will engage and figure out how to use the space.”
Drinkard expects that serious joggers and cyclists will gravitate toward using Riverwalk early mornings and late in the evening when crowds are thinner. Riverwalk is designated as a trail so it is intended to be used for fitness as well as recreation.
There are no plans to stripe the granite pavers on Riverwalk to designate one side for bicyclists and the other for those out for a walk as was done on sections of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a 47-mile recreation trail in Pinellas County.
“There was a pent up anticipation; people have been waiting so long for it,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development administrator. “Right now, everyone seems to be getting along just fine. If we have issues, we would consider it.”
The influx of weekend crowds was a surprise for Matt Scott, a 38-year-old software consultant who relies on Riverwalk for his daily jog of four to seven miles that begins close to the Florida Aquarium.
“It was a little too much this weekend,” Scott said
But he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the new section, which means his daily exercise no longer includes a hazardous crossing of the Kennedy Boulevard-Ashley Drive intersection.
“This is what living in Tampa is all about,” he said.
The crowds were good for business, too.
The number of people showing up to rent water-bikes was higher than usual Sunday afternoon, said Dan Fleischbein, owner of the Tampa Bay Water Bike Company close to the Sail Pavilion at the Tampa Convention Center.
“People are making their way from one end of Riverwalk to the other,” Fleischbein said.
The crowds persuaded Keith Works, owner of Tampa Bay Bike Taxi Co., to leave his normal Ybor City haunt for the 1.8-mile Riverwalk. Demand for a ride on his pedi-cab, a rickshaw-like tricycle that carries up to four, was “decent,” he said.
“It’s a long distance,” he said. “After about half a mile, a lot of people don’t want to walk but they can rest their feet and still enjoy the river.”
At Monday lunchtime, dozens of residents took time out from work for a stroll along the new Riverwalk section, some siting on benches to enjoy their lunch.
Construction workers were still pressure-washing some stretches of pavers and a small boat crew worked on fitting under-deck lights.
Cycling on a mountain bike through the MacDill Park section, Sarah Malone said she’d rather be swerving around people than taking her chances on busy city roads.
“I’m on my brakes most of the time dodging people,” she said, “but it’s definitely safer.”