We like to think of 20th Street North as Birmingham’s living room. It’s our main street, where people come together from all over the city, region, and even the country for a distinctive Birmingham experience.
In the best of times, useful outdoor spaces are key to a vibrant and successful urban environment; the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased their importance.
With that in mind, the City of Birmingham’s Department of Transportation and REV Birmingham are planning a refresh of 20th Street North that will better serve pedestrians as well as the businesses that line our main street.
20th Street North is technically one very wide lane, but it has always functioned more like two. Traffic typically moves on the left and lots of other uses—from valet to delivery to construction supply storage—happen on the right.
Now it’s time to formalize the flexible usage of that right lane with paint and policy. The creation of a flex lane is an exciting and tangible step in the implementation of the 20th Street refresh plan.
What’s a flex lane?
A flex lane is a section of roadway that can adapt to different uses based on the needs of the community. The idea of the flex lane is to formally sanction the “as needed” functions of 20th Street North’s right-hand lane. This will create a buffer to make pedestrians safer, reduce vehicle speeds, and allow businesses to make better use of this sidewalk adjacent space.
Remember Parking Day 2020? That was us testing just a slice of 20th Street North for plans that could be rolled out to the whole street! We surveyed passers-by that day, and 100 percent of survey respondents said they loved the flex lane concept for 20th. Take a look back at an early rendition of the 20th Street refresh on a quarter block!
Soon the first section of flex lane will be striped with colorful paint in a vibrant geometric pattern on both sides of 20th Street North between 1st and 3rd Avenue North. The flex-lane-testing area is compact but, of course, is larger than the quarter-block section we tested on Parking Day. Starting small allows us to develop best practices and respond to feedback on the potential design and uses as the City and REV continue to plan for the larger project footprint.
Here are some of the ways that the new flex lane can be used:
- Passenger pick–up and drop–off
- Curbside pick-up zones
- Outdoor dining, like 2020’s Eat in the Streets (Temporary Shared Space Permit required)
- Parking for food trucks (with permit)
- Valet parking stands
- Loading and unloading of goods (no longer than 10 minutes)
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