AL: Birmingham moves to free up parking spaces, make the city more walkable

May 13, 2024
In an ongoing effort to make Birmingham a more walkable, bikeable place, the city council voted this week to eliminate required parking minimums for downtown businesses.

In an ongoing effort to make Birmingham a more walkable, bikeable place, the city council voted this week to eliminate required parking minimums for downtown businesses.

“Current parking standards required an overabundance of parking spaces, and this has had detrimental effects on our city and its residents,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin in a recent media release. “Birmingham is now on track to be more walkable, bikeable, and transit accessible. This means a better city for all of us.”

According to the release, Birmingham is the first southern city to make this change.

The decision was the latest step in the city’s Right Size Parking Initiative. The initiative launched in September as a collaboration between Birmingham’s planning, engineering and permits (PEP) department, the Birmingham Department of Transportation (BDOT), and the public. It aims to improve walkability, rent prices, urban sprawl, and environmental factors by reducing parking requirements.

“Significant portions of our population live day to day without reliable access to an automobile, yet the previous zoning requirements prioritized allocating land for storing privately owned automobiles and growing in a suburban fashion,” said PEP Director Katrina Thomas this week. “With the passage of this initiative, the city is primed to establish more affordable housing, infill development, and create a safer built environment for all of its residents.”

The release added that the vote would not mean a complete elimination of new business creating parking downtown.

“This simply gives businesses flexibility in their approach to supporting their customer’s needs,” it said. “And the American Disability Act requirements for parking will remain the same.”

How can this benefit residents and visitors?

Last year downtown Birmingham was ranked 41st out of 87 city centers for the percentage of land dedicated to parking in a study from the Parking Reform Network, as The Birmingham News previously reported. It received the overall score of 55, which was determined by taking the difference between a city’s parking footprint and the average parking footprint for a metro area of that size, according to the network.

A recent release from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) said that reducing parking footprint can offer countless benefits to both people and the environment.

“[The Right Size Parking Initiative] has the potential to improve Birmingham’s air quality, reduce flooding, and create more opportunities for small businesses,” the release reads. “Parking currently takes up about 26% of the available land in downtown Birmingham. Excess parking also creates heat islands, increases impermeable surfaces that cause flooding after rain, and increases air pollution by encouraging car transportation. Transportation accounts for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.”

This change could also improve people’s financial standing downtown, the release said.

“Businesses often have no choice but to pass the cost of building excess parking lots down to consumers,” it reads. “In parts of the city of Birmingham up to 50% of residents don’t own a car and are forced to subsidize the cost of building unnecessary parking lots. Excess parking lots force urban sprawl, creating less opportunities for businesses and public transportation.”

Daniel Christiansen, acting chair of the Alabama Urbanists Coalition, has been an outspoken supporter of the initiative since its launch. He said this week that the coalition was optimistic about Birmingham’s future following the city’s decision.

“Removing parking minimums is a great step in the right direction for Birmingham,” he said. “Along with projects like the Birmingham Xpress, the Red Rock Trail System, the redesign of 4th Ave North, and many more, show that Birmingham is a vibrant and adaptable city.

“We look forward to continuing to advocate for safe streets, housing affordability, and greater transportation options with the many partners across the Birmingham community that came together to make this possible,” he said.

But, he added, there is still much work to be done downtown. Sidewalk, trail, and bike lane improvements were just a few projects he suggested.

“This will not change Birmingham overnight or on its own,” he said. “It took decades to move Birmingham from a city built for pedestrians and streetcars to its current form and it will take decades and significant effort to shift to a new paradigm.”

The city said this week that PEP and BDOT would continue to work closely on the initiative to ensure its success.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.