Officials firming up ‘B Active Plan’ for better walking and bicycling in Birmingham area

Officials firming up ‘B Active Plan’ for better walking and bicycling in Birmingham area
A member of the group working on the B Active plan looks at one of the maps of the plan's proposed pedestrian and bicycle network at a recent meeting. (contributed)

Nine months into the process, expert planners, walking and biking enthusiasts, nonprofit leaders and others are making major headway toward developing a regional pedestrian and bicycling master plan for the Birmingham area.

Officials and citizens actively involved in the process gathered last week to take a first look at draft maps that provide a first, broad sketch of a regional walking and bicycling network that would link communities across Jefferson and Shelby counties and even stretch into portions of Blount and St. Clair counties. Dubbed the “B Active Plan,” a final proposal is expected to be ready by late spring 2018.

More than 1,000 people across the region have provided input into the plan so far, through public outreach and the B Active website, said Lindsay Puckett, with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB), which is coordinating the project. More public feedback was gathered Tuesday night during an open house at Cahaba Brewery in Birmingham.

“We went to the public to ask: where do you want to see better walking trails, off-road trails … sidewalks, and bicycle facilities,” Puckett said. Planners and experts then took that information and compared it with the existing road network, while also identifying the places – such as parks, local attractions, shopping and business centers – “where you would want to take your bike,” Puckett said.

The plan will ultimately provide a menu of options for municipal, county and state planners for creating better routes and improving existing roads in metro Birmingham, so they are more conducive for walkers and bikers. In addition, the plan will provide a big-picture roadmap for connecting walking- and biking-friendly routes across the multi-county region.

For now, the proposed maps show a 10,000-foot-view of a network of proposed routes across the region, spreading out from downtown Birmingham as far south as south Shelby County, north to northern Jefferson and southeast Blount County, and into western St. Clair County.

The plan incorporates many existing trails and sidewalks, such as those already identified as part of the partially built Red Rock Trail System in Jefferson County. But the plan goes beyond that – identifying potential walker- and biker-friendly routes that could ultimately connect more far-flung regional attractions, such as Oak Mountain State Park, Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain Park, Lake Purdy and Railroad Park, as well as town centers across the region.

Puckett said the draft network will be posted shortly on the B Active website, so the public can take a closer look.

RPCGB is working with Toole Design Group, a nationally known planning and engineering firm that specializes in bicycle and pedestrian transportation, to help finalize the plan.

Meanwhile, many cities and counties in the region are pressing on with their own bike and pedestrian master plans, and making progress in extending sidewalks, building trails and upgrading streets to be more bike- and walker-friendly.

During last week’s meeting, for example, officials with UAB provided details on plans to make more streets around the campus more bike- and pedestrian friendly. Utility work is already under way along a portion of 10th Street South, on the south end of the campus, in advance of work that will reduce automobile lanes on the street and add a bike lane.

Birmingham officials, meanwhile, are holding public meetings on a citywide transportation plan that would add more walker- and bike-friendly routes and better connect them to public transportation. Some of the ideas already being discussed are improvements along 20th Street downtown, and from Five Points South over Red Mountain to Homewood.

The city has scheduled three meetings: Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the downtown Birmingham Public Library; Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Birmingham Crossplex; and Monday, Feb. 12., from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 980 Huffman Road, to gather public input into the transportation plan.

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