By: Jonathan Crain
REV Birmingham

Now more than ever, outdoor public spaces are the living rooms of our city. Well-designed and maintained streetscapes encourage people from all over the metro area to eat, shop, work, and exercise downtown.

As Birmingham mulls investment in its main street ahead of The World Games 2022, it should consider that a public realm that is intentionally focused on people – and their COVID-era space needs – creates the kind of vibrancy that makes a city attractive and exciting. Investment in more complete downtown streets not only provides quality of life improvements, but it’s also proven to produce significant, measurable economic impact,” said REV Birmingham CEO David Fleming. 

The City of Lancaster California has seen a sizeable return on its $11.6 million complete street investment in West Lancaster Boulevard. Two lanes of traffic were removed in favor of a rambla, which is a tree-lined median for gathering and parking. This took the street from four travel lanes to two which increased safety and comfort for pedestrians by providing more space, and slowing traffic speeds in front of businesses.

West Lancaster Boulevard pre-COVID.

According to the City of Lancaster, the project spurred $125 million in private investment and more than $273 million in total economic output, including 48 businesses and 1,902 new jobs (1,100 construction and 802 permanent jobs). 

Dubuque, Iowa used streetscape improvements to rehabilitate their Millwork District from a dilapidated post-industrial area into a vibrant, walkable, and economically viable multi-use neighborhood. The city made pedestrian-focused improvements including sidewalk replacement, bulb-outs, street lights, and mid-block crossings on four key streets in the district.

Millwork District

Since the project’s completion, The Millwork District has seen $34 million in private investment with another $150 million real estate investment in the pipeline. The neighborhood has become a destination for arts and nightlife. 

West Jefferson North Carolina, in partnership with the North Carolina DOT, spent $300,000 improving the streetscape on 3 blocks of its historic downtown. In order to calm traffic and make the area more welcoming to pedestrians, NCDOT replaced two signalized intersections with 4-way stops, added diagonal parking, curb extensions, high-visibility mid-block crossings, and street furniture. 

West Jefferson’s historic downtown

NCDOT studied the outcomes of the project and reported consistent travel times for vehicle traffic across the old and new street configurations, but saw a 24-percent decrease in vehicle crashes and a 53-percent reduction in vehicle-related injury

Local leaders specifically credit the slower traffic and improved pedestrian environment with bringing 10 new businesses, 55 new jobs and $500,000 worth of investment to their downtown. Jefferson Ave is a prime example of the wide range of interconnected benefits a pedestrian-focused streetscape project can yield. 

20th Street North is Birmingham’s main street. It should be an inviting place for people from all over the city to enjoy. Investment in Birmingham’s 20th Street North will help the city put its best foot forward on a global scale for the World Games, while also providing economic, safety, and aesthetic benefits to Birmingham residents far into the future. 


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