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Landscaping, bike lanes among changes on 20th Street in downtown Birmingham

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By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Construction began Monday in downtown on 20th Street with new landscaping and bike lanes, among other additions as part of the Birmingham Green Refresh from the City Center District Management Corporation (CCDMC) and REV Birmingham.

That modifications will make the street more pedestrian-focused, said City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn.

“There are a limited number of ways that [city government] can control costs of living, and mobility is one of those ways,” said O’Quinn, who represents district 5 where the street is located, “so moving the city in the direction of making it possible for people to consider not having to always use a car or even own a car is one of the things that we can do to improve quality of life and reduce cost of living.”

As part of the project, which is expected to be completed by next spring, the bike and flex lanes created on a portion of 20th Street will be expanded, from Morris Avenue to Linn Park. In addition, outdoor, “café-style” seating will be placed along the sidewalks, and native, drought-resistant landscaping will be added.

20th Street has been referred to as the Birmingham Green since the 1970s when similar improvement projects gave the street new sidewalks, lighting and the green medians that still separate traffic.

O’Quinn said he is a “huge fan of complete streets,” a term which refers to designing streets so they can accommodate a variety of uses, such as walking and biking, in addition to cars. A complete street “takes everyone into consideration,” unlike much of Birmingham’s streets, O’Quinn said.

“Most streets in Birmingham are built with vehicular traffic in mind, motorized traffic, and everyone else is secondary, so pedestrians often are left out because, in a lot of places, there aren’t any sidewalks,” he said.

Beyond pedestrians, the councilor said Birmingham’s streets ignore bicyclists, public transit users and people with disabilities. These streets have more potential than the city has used, according to O’Quinn.

“Our streets are more than just conveyances for automobiles. They’re public spaces, and there are huge opportunities for placemaking in those public spaces, and that’s a lot of what the 20th Street project is about,” he said, adding that improving streets for people not driving cars requires city leaders to “undo” a lot of old work in Birmingham.

“Let’s face it, people drive cars, because we’ve built the city over the last several decades…to make it easy, to really kind of cater to people who are driving cars,” O’Quinn said. “While we’ve done that, we haven’t made any sort of investment in getting people to do anything else but drive cars.”

For updates on the Birmingham Green Refresh project, visit http://revbirmingham.org/20thstreet/.