Should Birmingham’s Rainbow Viaduct remain pedestrian-only? We asked—YOU answered.

The Rainbow Viaduct
Birmingham’s Rainbow Viaduct is currently closed to vehicular traffic. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Last week, we posted a poll on our Facebook and Instagram channels asking our audience what they’d like to see happen with the Rainbow Viaduct in downtown Birmingham. Should it be restored for vehicle travel, remain pedestrian-only or be turned into something else entirely?

Keep reading to learn what our readers want to see happen with Birmingham’s Rainbow Viaduct!

A History Lesson on The Rainbow Viaduct

The Rainbow Viaduct
A plaque dedicated to veterans of the Rainbow Division. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

According to BhamWiki, the Rainbow Viaduct was constructed in 1918 and officially opened on May 19th, 1919. The viaduct spans the railroad reservation that runs through the city, and was the first major connection between Southside and downtown Birmingham.

Fun Fact: the Rainbow Viaduct was dedicated to veterans of Alabama’s 167th Infantry Division, who served as part of the decorated Rainbow Division in the First World War.

With three lanes of one-way traffic heading north, the Rainbow Viaduct is a main source of traffic into downtown Birmingham. Over the decades, the structure consistently decayed with heavy use. Despite the posted weight limit of three tons, heavy vehicles continued to use the viaduct and accelerated the deterioration.

In January 2022, the City of Birmingham officially closed the more-than-100-year-old Rainbow Bridge to motorists due to safety concerns. Luckily, the bridge remained open to pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and other forms of micro-transit.

So, what do Bham Now readers want?

Of the 89 comments we received across our Instagram and Facebook polls, roughly 21% were in favor of fixing the bridge in order to reopen for vehicle traffic, while roughly 39% preferred to keep it restricted to pedestrians. (roughly 39% of comments showed neither favor).

Here are some of the creative ideas that Bham Now readers came up with!

Add food options and other pop-up-shops.

“Just a thought in support of a pedestrian-only solution: create an “inverse London Bridge” with a semi-permanent food-truck / pop-up-shop row down the middle, and tables/chairs/walkways/plants down either side.

But yeah, also fix the infrastructure and make it safe.”

Paul E. Burt

Make the Rainbow Viaduct a #SelfieDestination in Birmingham.

“Rotate some art installations, add some low maintenance, hearty greenery, seating. Make it a selfie spot with downtown as the backdrop. Paint a large map of the Birmingham neighborhoods on it, similar to Vulcan’s plaza map”

Jordan Andrew Moore

Build an entirely new pedestrian-only bridge connecting Rotary Trail to downtown Birmingham.

“To me, better utilization of ground infrastructure would more desirable. For example, widening sidewalks on one-way avenues by removing an unecessary lane of traffic so that there can be sidewalk cafes and other uses. While we are very fortunate to have wide streets compared to so many cities like Nashville and Atlanta, most of our sidewalks are too narrow for anything other than pedestrian circulation.

[An] alternative is to place a purposefully designed pedestrian bridge at the one location there is no north/south connection- 23rd street. This happens to align with the one spot the Rotary Trail emerges to street level for a perfect connection to downtown, as if this was intended when the trail was designed”

Michael Eric Dale

On a personal note, I have to say I love all of these ideas to make Birmingham more pedestrian-friendly! How fun would it be to have a pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad reservation on 23rd Street? I’m sold!

Want to read the rest of our audience’s ideas? Check out the polls on our Instagram and Facebook accounts!

Future Plans for the Rainbow Viaduct

The Rainbow Viaduct
Have you taken a ride on a scooter along the viaduct? (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Although our audience came up with some very creative ideas for alternative uses for the Rainbow Viaduct, it doesn’t change the fact that the bridge will continue to deteriorate without major repairs—or replacement. According to City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, replacement of the Rainbow Viaduct is one of the city’s priorities.

“In the absence of major street traffic disruption, perhaps the most urgent reason to replace the bridge is the threat that it poses to the railway beneath it. The Alabama Great Southern (AGS) is one of the busiest rail corridors in the Southeast with multiple freight railroad companies and Amtrak operations contributing significantly to interstate commerce every day.  A bridge failure would be potentially catastrophic for a global supply chain already unable to keep pace with demand. So, it is still very much a situation that needs to be addressed. The closure to vehicular traffic dramatically reduced the risk of a failure and thus allows more time to determine how to proceed with a replacement of a historic landmark.”

City Councilor Darrel O’Quinn, Birmingham District 5

Councilor O’Quinn shared that rough estimates place the cost to replace the Rainbow Viaduct in the vicinity of $30M. With the closure of the Rainbow Viaduct to vehicle traffic, the city has additional time to identify where that money will come from.

In the meantime, the historic Rainbow Viaduct will remain open to pedestrians, scooters, bicyclists and others.

Have you utilized the Rainbow Viaduct as a pedestrian? Tag us @bhamnow with your favorite way to spend time on the viaduct!

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Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer with Bham Now | Originally from Tennessee, Nathan moved to The Magic City after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. Nathan is passionate about recognizing Birmingham's history and is thrilled to learn more about the big things planned for The Magic City's future.

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