Birmingham adds new flex lanes along 20th Street North


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — If you’ve driven down 20th Street North in Birmingham lately, you’ve probably noticed some colorful changes.

The city has painted new flex lanes there, and leaders with REV Birmingham hope they’ll help businesses, pedestrians and cyclists.

The color-coded lanes are on 20th between 1st Avenue North and 3rd Avenue North. A green lane provides room for people on bicycles. Bus stops are marked in red. And a wide, multicolored lane is considered the flex lane, which can be used for various purposes including temporary parking.

The idea, according to REV Birmingham project coordinator Jonathan Crain, came out of a study several years ago that identified 20th Street as a main pedestrian thoroughfare. City leaders responded to that by coming up with ideas to make it more pedestrian friendly while adding vibrancy and life to the street. That eventually led them to the flex lane concept.

“Part of the idea of the flex lane was to create a template where, even as the uses on the street change, the flex lane can kind of adapt to those new uses,” Crain said.

Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the process. Restaurants were forced to adopt curbside options and the need for extra space became more urgent. Last month, the city painted the flex lanes, and they’ve been in use since.

“We saw this as responding to a need,” Crain said. “All of the restaurants and businesses need increased area for pickup and drop off.”

The current project is a pilot program. Ultimately, REV hopes to extend the flex lanes from Morris Avenue to Linn Park by the time the World Games come to Birmingham in July 2022.

“Getting this in before World Games comes to Birmingham and brings a lot of pedestrian activity to that street – that’s kind of another factor that’s kind of pushing this idea forward,” Crain said.

In the meantime, REV wants to gather information from the public about the flex lanes. They’ve created as survey to find out what people think. Crain said they plan to use the comments they get to help them decide how to move forward on the project.

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