Experts are slated to weigh in on the recent idea of turning Birmingham’s 20th Street into a pedestrian and public transit corridor.
The Birmingham City Council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a grant agreement between the city and with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham for the 20th Street Pedestrian Mall Study Project.
The project, which has gained support from several city leaders, including council president Johnathan Austin, involves transforming portions of 20th Street into a pedestrian- and public transit-only corridor. A pedestrian street or mall is defined as one that essentially prohibits motor vehicle traffic, aside from emergency access and time-limited essential activities such as trash pick-up and service deliveries. This is different from a shared street or space, which allows motor vehicles to travel at low speeds.
Austin said pedestrian streets that eliminate all motor vehicle traffic have been successful in places that are thriving and have high volumes of pedestrians. Examples of successful pedestrian streets include Church Street in Burlington, Vermont; the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia; Maiden Lane in San Francisco; Occidental Street in Seattle; Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California; and, Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
Austin said there are a number of potential benefits to the project, especially if the center lane could be used to have the Magic City Connector downtown transit system run up and down the street.
“It will help retail along that street, and even encourage more businesses to locate there, if you are only seeing foot traffic,” Austin said. “And if we use that middle lane for the (Magic City) Connector, it encourages use of public transportation, and it encourages people to walk, which is healthy.”
Austin said closing the street would not mean cars could not cross the street at intersections, but would mean that cars would not be able to drive on 20th Street itself.
“I do not see this negatively affecting traffic at all,” Austin said. “Will it take some getting used to? Sure.”