Walk or bike in downtown Tampa? New Greenway provides shade from Riverwalk to Ybor City

While motorists zip daily between Brandon, downtown and South Tampa along the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway, major new improvements underneath are carving out an inviting new route for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A new paved path running below the elevated east-west toll road between the Tampa Riverwalk and 19th Street promises to be the beginning of the city’s next exciting mobility project. The Selmon Greenway provides foot commuters a shaded path through the heart of downtown Tampa and will serve as a vital link between the downtown and Ybor City.

Locals can get their first official look at the Selmon Greenway in early May during Tampa’s annual Jane’s Walk event. Celebrated internationally in recognition of urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs, Jane’s Walk will be held on May 2 and coincide with the Tampa RiverFest. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. at Joseph Frye Park, where the Tampa Riverwalk and Selmon Greenway intersect. 

TIGER grant helps Selmon Greenway roar to life

Bob Frey, who serves as planning director for the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) is enthusiastic about the Selmon Greenway and the progress being made on mapping out a course for its future. 

“I like this project a lot because it helps to show off the flavor of Tampa. From downtown Tampa to Channelside to Ybor, pedestrian commuters will see the distinct flavors that each of those areas offers,” he says. “This is not suggesting that walking or biking is necessarily better than other forms of transportation. We want to provide as many transportation options for people as possible.” 

Frey emphasizes the vital role Tampa’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant played in ensuring the 1.7-mile, $1.9-million path came to fruition. 

“It’s important that people understand the importance of the TIGER funding and what it means to the City of Tampa. We want to continue building on the TIGER grant investments and show why it’s important we continue receiving them.” 

The $10.9 million TIGER grant, awarded to Tampa in 2012, also helped fund the completion of the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza gap of the Tampa Riverwalk that opened in March and will help pay the way for the Doyle Carlton segment yet to be completed.

Frey believes that Tampa’s commitment to building transportation projects like the Selmon Greenway path and the Tampa Riverwalk are why Tampa scored the infusion of federal money in 2012. 

“They’re connectivity projects that serve the community as more than just amenities,” he says. 

Now, Frey and the coalition of organizations involved in the project are seeking more money to continue seeing their dreams for the path come to a reality. 

“We’re looking to finish up a master plan and adding more aspects to the plan along the way as we build the project in the coming years,” he says. “What we have now is just a base plan. I look forward to working with the city, county, Ybor City, and other organizations in refining the plan.” 

Tweaks to the master plan will also be made contingent on what eventually unfolds on the 40 acres of prime real estate owned by local visionary and Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team Owner Jeff Vinik, Frey says. 

Greenway connects locals with their community 

Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, says the Selmon Greenway is a major step toward realizing the Partnership’s goal to create a vibrant city center, where people live, work and play 24/7. 

“The Selmon Greenway will provide a place for activities and green projects,” Kress says.

Plans call for up to 10 areas along the Greenway to be designated for pop-up parks, or places where temporary seating, tents, even movie screens, are situated. Pop-up parks are sprouting in major urban areas around the globe.

Pop-ups will help bring a greater sense of community to downtown Tampa, Kress says, and the Selmon Greenway will provide an ideal canvas for these innovative, ephemeral urban playgrounds. 

“We are partnering with the Urban Conga of Tampa to present a pop-up park with hopscotch, music, and other activities,” Kress says of the May 2 Jane’s Walk event. 

The pop-up park will come to life about a block east of where the day’s event will kick off near Brorein Street and Ashley Drive. The event will also include the Greenway Dream Space, an area Kress describes as a place where locals can sketch their visions for the path’s future.

“There will also be huge sheets of paper wrapped around the concrete pylons of the expressway,” she explains.

“We really want to use the Jane’s Walk as an opportunity to show people what it’s like to walk our city and see how quickly they can get from one point to another by walking the route.” Plans for the Ybor City end of the Greenway may tie into 21st and 22nd Streets, which are currently undergoing traffic calming projects.

“Get to know your Greenway’’ 

“Holding the official grand opening during Jane’s Walk is a great way to highlight the [Selmon] greenway,” says Sarah Howard, Curator of Public Art and Social Practice at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, which helped to organize the Jane’s Walk event. “The greenway will serve as a conduit between different parts of the city, activities happening in downtown Tampa and on the Riverwalk.” 

Howard says the overarching theme of the May 2 event will be “Get to know your Greenway.” One important way to facilitate that will be the guided walk, which will begin at Joseph Frye Park and end just past South Florida Avenue. Members of the Congress for New Urbanism Tampa Bay will guide attendees during part of the walk. Alana Brasier, who wrote her Master’s thesis on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway, will explain the project’s evolution during the guided walk. 

From the greenway path itself to the parks that will eventually arise along the Selmon route, Howard sums up the efforts this way: “This is about connectivity for the community.” 

Event: Get To Know Your Greenway @ Jane’s Walk Tampa
When: 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 2
Where: Event starts at Joseph Frye Park in downtown Tampa near E. Brorein Street and S. Ashley Drive.

Additional events are planned all day May 2nd and 3rd as part of Tampa’s first Riverfest.

Tampa Riverfest highlights include:
  • Mac & Cheese Fest, Curtis Hixon Park, Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 pm.
  • Bloody Mary Fest, Curtis Hixon Park, Sunday, 11 am to 4 p.m.
  • Tampa Jazz Fest, Waterworks Park, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Big Brothers/ Big Sisters Day Out, MacDill Park, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., including a special Wet Zone from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Downtown Carnival, Cotanchobee Park, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Chalk Art, USF/Anchor Park, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.