What’s the deal with this RiverWalk?

What’s the deal with this RiverWalk?

I mean, if you are in a wheelchair, or have difficulty walking, or climbing stairs, then visiting the famous San Antonio, Texas tourist attraction known as “The River Walk” will get you steamed.

“This is what would be called a challenge trail”, says Judy Babbitt, the Director for Access for the City of San Antonio. Judy is a wheelchair user, and recently I met with her, Jim Hurd, Superintendent of River Operations, and David Anthony Richelieu, Columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Judy said, “I don’t have any problems maneuvering. If you come along with me some time, I can show you how to have fun down here.”

With 7 million tourists coming to San Antonio, I do not think she can handle all the personal tour requests. Why not have maps showing people how to avoid the river walk trails that end with stairs and are otherwise dead ends?

dizABLED/ by John & Claire Lytle
Copyright ©1998 John Lytle – Comics are updated every Wednesday

What’s the deal with this Map?

“We have a map called “Your Accessible River Walk”, and we will send a map to anyone who requests one.”, Judy told me. (For online Requests: [email protected])

The map is pictured on this web site. Take a close look at this map. There are 25 “Wheelchair Willie” symbols, but look carefully. The River Walk is over 21 blocks long, but there are only five ramps, and five elevators going to street level, and most are on one side of the river. There is no direct route to get from the South Bank to the North Bank without returning to street level. People should not have to plan their sight seeing trip around the barriers and dead ends on the River Walk.

The map is very misleading. It looks like a person in a wheelchair could easily see the whole river. What this map does not show is that to continue to the next section, a person would have to return to street level via one of the ramps or elevators, and then cross several busy city streets, get to the next ramp, go to the end of the trail, then backtrack again to the point where he entered, then go to the end of the next section. The good news is you see everything twice. The bad news is you will be worn out by the time you finish.

What’s the deal with these River barges?

How about taking a trip on the picturesque barges? The contract for the river barge tours was decided a few years ago by the City Council. The current company, Yanaguana Cruises won the bid. One of the reasons Yanaguana Cruises was selected was that their barge design was the most accessible of the companies bidding. A few things should bother the vacationer who is “wheel enabled”.

First, if you eat at a restaurant on the “south bank” of the river, the trek to the boat dock that is accessible is enough to make most people give up before they complete the journey. Second, the person in the wheelchair is left in the back of the boat, next to the Compressed Natural Gas engine, and they don’t allow anyone to sit with the person in the chair. No buddy chair here. Third, the entrance ramp to the boat is a folded sheet of aluminum.

Follow these directions to get from the South Bank Riverboat dock to the Accessible dock at the Rivercenter Mall:

Return to Casa Rio Restaurant. Go up the ramp located between the main restaurant and the annex, leading to the parking lot. The lot is steep, however, with a little effort, you can make it! Once on street level, head west on Market Street, turning north on Alamo Street. Continue north on Alamo, until you hit Commerce Street, and enter the Rivercenter Mall. Go the length of the mall, through the food court, past Tony Roma’s restaurant, and just before you get to the Fox Foto store, you will see an exit that has a “switchback” trail going down to the boat ramp. Distance is almost a mile. Recently, work has begun on the new “Trolley Station”, and you may find yourself going a little further to navigate around this construction area.

What’s the deal with the income?

I don’t know if this is unique to San Antonio, but the city gets a commission for every ticket that Yanaguana Cruises sells. According to the Express News, the City’s share was $2,451,766.00 for fiscal 1996-97. That’s right, almost 2 and a half MILLION dollars. But wait, there’s more. They rent the sidewalk space to the restaurants! That brought in $88,614.00. They also get a spiff from the Paseo del Rio Association of $9,211.00. Of course the biggest share of the revenue was from taxes. $3,799,143.00 from liquor taxes were paid by the businesses on the River Walk, and another $11,696,190.00 was collected for the hotel occupancy tax collected by the eight River Walk hotels. Can’t say we don’t love tourists here. With an income of 18million plus dollars, I would not have thought that this city would ever say it, but sure enough, Mr. Hurd told me that the money to change the steps to ramps has to wait on community development block grants. This 18 million goes to the general fund!

I was always told that if I was not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem, so here is my solution.

Get over it City Council. Use your cash income from the boats for one year and make the entire River Walk barrier free!

We are not asking for the city to find funds, we feel the increased accessibility will be a boon to business. With the Republican convention bid coming up, and San Antonio going for it, they would be silly not to try to get this done before the year 2000. I have been told that it will be at least 10 years before the River Walk is 100% accessible, and in my opinion, that is too long to wait.

We understand that this is an historical site, and that it was built in the 1930’s, but we feel that if San Antonio wanted to be a truly first class Tourist City, it must be accessible to everyone who visits. The ADA is not the issue. Good business sense is at issue.

We have more questions. Drop in for another visit, and we will have more to say. We would love to hear from you.

What are your experiences on our River Walk?

Write me:

[email protected]

John Penry
13635 Scarsdale
San Antonio, Texas 78217