See Birmingham’s first “flex” lanes and learn why it matters (photos)

Flex Lanes Birmingham
Flex lane on Birmingham’s 20th Street North. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

Have you driven toward downtown Birmingham on 20th Street between 1st Avenue North and 3rd Avenue North lately? The right lanes on both sides of the boulevard are colorfully painted green, orange and purple with the word “FLEX” painted on the street. What is it? Answer: Birmingham’s first permanent flex lanes. 

Importance of 20th Street

Flex Lanes Birmingham
Flex lanes on Birmingham’s 20th Street North. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

A little history. 20th Street is Birmingham’s Main Street. Beginning in the 1970s it was called the Birmingham Green. Thanks to the City of Birmingham’s Department of Transportation and REV Birmingham, this important gateway, with its new flex lanes, can now better serve pedestrians, cyclists, tourists and the businesses that line this historic street.

Earlier this month, the two groups, with the help of local volunteers, completed painting the new flex lanes between 1st Avenue North and 3rd Avenue North. 

“The flex lane installation on 20th Street is the culmination of two years of successful tactical urbanism projects…where we were able to test the concept and refine the design. It’s exciting to see a new, permanent design on 20th Street that prioritizes people and cyclists, while also supporting local businesses. This project truly was a collaborative effort between the City’s Department of Transportation and REV…along with many volunteers who came out to paint the street. 

Christina Argo, Projects and Program Implementation Division Manager, City of Birmingham Department of Transportation

Defining Flex Lane

Flex Lanes
Flex lane on Birmingham’s 20th Street North. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

How does a flex lane work? It’s a section of roadway that can adapt to different uses, such as:

  • Creating a buffer to make pedestrians safer
  • Reducing vehicle speeds
  • Allowing businesses to make better use of the sidewalk adjacent space. 

Our 20th Street flex also includes a bike lane (it is painted green).

Ways that the new flex lane can be used include: 

  • Passenger pick up and drop off
  • Curbside pick up
  • 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)

“The 20th Street flex lanes are an innovative way to look at public space and increase vibrancy downtown. There was an immediate need for pickup and delivery space, but we’re also working toward bigger-picture goals like becoming a more multimodal city, adding more color in our public realm and increasing pedestrian safety.”  

Jonathan Crain, Coordinator, REV Birmingham Project
Flex lanes Birmingham
Flex lane on Birmingham’s 20th Street North. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

Survey Available

If you have seen and used the new flex lanes downtown, the City of Birmingham and REV Birmingham would love to hear from you about its design and usage. This survey will help them determine how to move forward when they expand the initiative further along 20th Street.

TAKE THE SURVEY HERE.

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.