Toward a Healthier, More Livable Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham. Photo: Dan Burden,
Downtown Birmingham. Photo: Dan Burden,

Today’s post is from Ryan Parker of the Health Action Partnership in Jefferson County, Alabama.

The City of Birmingham Planning Commission unanimously adopted a Complete Streets resolution (.pdf) at its regular monthly meeting on September 7, 2011. The resolution encourages the City to design and build roads in a manner that accommodates all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and individual automobiles.

”We’ve been studying the pros and cons of a Complete Streets policy for several months,” said Birmingham Planning Commissioner Brian Ruggs, who led the Complete Streets study committee. “I believe we’ve come up with a statement of principles that will help guide the city in a context sensitive manner that will keep all users in mind when designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining city streets.”

Part of a national trend, Complete Streets policies are a significant component of development and revitalization efforts in cities such as Charlotte, Louisville, and Nashville. The City of Birmingham is joining a growing number of cities in Alabama, including Fairhope and Prattville, to embrace the concept.

“We want to commend the Birmingham Planning Commission for giving the city the opportunity to achieve the triple bottom line of improving citizen, economic, and environmental health through this Complete Streets policy,” said Adam Snyder, executive director of the Conservation Alabama Foundation who has been leading the Complete Streets effort on behalf of the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership. “By giving citizens safe places to walk, Birmingham will improve access to jobs and businesses, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, and increase opportunities for physical activity.”

More cities in Jefferson County could adopt Complete Streets policies in the coming months. Elected officials and city staff from across Jefferson County participated in a workshop in April conducted by nationally renowned Complete Streets experts, including the National Complete Streets Coalition Executive Director Barbara McCann. This summer, the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area was cited as the 16th most dangerous for pedestrians, further highlighting the need to improve the way local roads are designed. Birmingham was also ranked as one of the three worst cities in America for bicycling in May 2010.

In 2010, Jefferson County received a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Birmingham Complete Streets resolution is the latest step in an effort to increase physical activity levels in a region with some of the highest rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases. With Jefferson County recently passing a SmartCode zoning ordinance that allows for village-style development and a countywide greenways master plan set to be unveiled in 2012, the built environment is becoming more favorable to alternative means of transportation.

“The health of our community depends in part on how easily people can get outside and be active – walking to lunch from the office, taking a walk with their family after work, or walking to buy a few groceries,” says Suzette Harris at the Jefferson County Department of Health. “The City of Birmingham is making a commitment to make these everyday activities possible. Having safe places to get active reduces the risk for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, so we are excited that Birmingham is the first city in our county to make healthy living easier for everyone who lives, works and visits the city.”

Complete Streets