Healthy fun: it’s coming

Affecting real change

This past weekend saw the national professional organization for design, AIGA, hold a workshop in Birmingham (one of three nationwide) as part of their Design for Good initiative. Joined by local partners such as Alabama Engine and UAB’s Edge of Chaos, community stakeholders and local designers (including your author) shared an intense 2-day brainstorming session revolving around issues of public health, a major concern in our region. The specific topics were supporting the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, and encouraging better food choices among vulnerable populations in the metro area. Exercise and better eating: how do we get more of each in our area?

Avenue W before

Avenue W after

It’s easy to visualize how the Red Rock system can transform how we use our neighborhoods, travel between them, and get a little physical activity. Above is one proposed portion of the system (Village Creek Corridor) that passes along Avenue W in Pratt City. Why choose walking or biking over a car when there is no sidewalk, bike lane, or mileage/directional signage? The plan takes care of that.

Richard Arrington Blvd before

Richard Arrington Blvd after

Because of a recent federal TIGER grant the City won recently, part of the trail will be completed soon; it will link into other future portions such as the improvements shown above leading from the City Center up to Vulcan Park. Pepsico, as part of its initiative to make its brands healthier and to encourage wellness among its customer base, helped sponsor this design summit as well as the other two in New York City and Seattle. Why Birmingham, you may ask? We, and the state generally, have terrible statistics for obesity, hypertension, heart issues, diabetes, etc. If we can turn things around here, we can do it anywhere. Thanks to the sponsors for putting this event together–and everybody, please support the Red Rock system in your own community and across the metro. It not only could transform our health, but the entire concept of moving around Jefferson County.

Who knows: someday soon, we will bike safely from Vulcan Park to Pratt City (or even jog, as the gentleman in the renderings above demonstrates). We’re ready!

[thanks to AIGA for the logo and to Red Rock for the renderings]




23 responses to “Healthy fun: it’s coming

  1. Fantastic post – What an exciting update to making the city healthier and more exercise friendly. Thanks!

  2. Oh, Jeremy, you’re such an idealist– you really are inspiring. I think it’s great that Birmingham could host such a meeting, but it’s too bad we got it because our statistics are so rotten.

    I do have a worry about crowding all those activity lanes along that little ledge of 31 going up to Vulcan. Is that possible? Maybe they should narrow down to one at that point. I’d hate to sacrifice the concrete overlook fence of whatever you’d call it. I’d also hate for people to go toppling over into the valley.

    • It helps to be an idealist in certain urban contexts…

      I was hoping someone would comment or provide more info on the proposed improvements up by Vulcan: that roadbed is already tricky given the sharp curve–between that, and the steep drop, this situation could use some clarification if anyone’s more aware of the engineering that went into it. A new traffic signal is shown in the rendering which is interesting–I assume that’s for pedestrian crossing but not sure? Thanks!

  3. I’m excited about this, especially the prospect of a more pedestrian/bike friendly route between Southside and downtown Homewood. I always see people walking in the grass on the Homewood side of the hill (even though I think it’s still in B’ham).

    However, I can’t help but laugh when I look at the renderings and the older gentleman who seems to be power-walking for miles and miles across this fair city!

  4. Great design enhances our lives and touches everyone. Thanks for the post!

  5. Yes, the Vulcan over-the-mountain project needs to be–get this–a COOPERATIVE project between the City of Bham and the City of Homewood. Why? Because it makes no sense to get over the mountain and then be able to go nowhere! Five Points and SOHO/Homewood are similar in being walkable small urban centers with shops, restaurants & other small businesses. It is in their mutual interest to make this happen. The statue of Hephaestus rules over both communities, after all… The short trek between the two is a great walk or bike ride for beauty’s sake (the overlook at the top) and for health’s sake (getting over that hill!). Each municipality can do its section and prove that there is cooperation and common purpose in the metro area. I think reducing the roadway to two lanes is a bit scary, and would hardly work with the tremendous traffic flow that is there day and night: can you imagine rush hour? (come to think of it, close a lane! rush-hour be damned; let all those commuters move back in to the city lol!). Btw, I’ve often thought about the building of a giant shelf out over the big drop-off as you round the curve at the top. It could be an amazing landscaped park area with a very public lookout. It could also serve as a way station/rest stop for those walking or biking over the mountain. A pedestrian entrance to Vulcan Park above could be situated there as well (where one used to be). What do you think of that idea? It could rest on a system of steel/concrete posts….

    • First, one of the great potential benefits of Red Rock is the ability of neighboring municipalities to work together towards logical shared amenities: it does Homewood no good to have a back path stop at Vulcan, nor Birmingham vice versa in the other direction. The mutual interest in cooperation on a bike lane could encourage other collaborations–something sorely needed in our fragmented metro.

      Second, I agree that stretch is tricky–building a “shelf” with rest stop is a really cool idea. I will leave the road diet issue to others, although other cities have had success with 3 lanes in, 1 out during morning rush, and the opposite in the evening, accomplished through signals and signage. Not sure if we’re ready for that or not…thanks!

  6. Btw, the City (or State) needs to do something soon about that huge retaining wall on the south side of Richard Arrington (around the curve progressing down towards 20th Street and Five Points). Big chunks are falling off of it as we speak… If that thing came down, or a section of it, you could have a major traffic fatality…

    • Yikes. I have a feeling that’s a state responsibility there, but I’m not sure. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • You’re welcome! As a rule now, I do not drive in the right lane next to the wall, lest a huge chunk (or the whole thing) come down on my small energy-efficient automobile. I do think it a major public-safety issue, and I think the state is charged with maintenance of that particular roadway, or so I was told by the Five Points neighborhood president back a year or so ago. But there are so many unmaintained roadways in our city and county that are in the charge of the state DOT that it is impossible to succintly name them here (the Red Mtn Expressway and Hwy 280 until you get to I-459 an especial atrocity). Street lights, road debris, unmowed grass… it’s all a constant reminder of the “state” of things haha…. But I have hope! Yes, yes I do!

  7. @ Greg: the state dept of transportation (ALDOT) can’t be worried about such things; they are too busy pushing the unneeded and unwanted Northern Beltline as well as surveying and resurveying Highway 280 in their obsession to double-deck that once beautiful roadway.

  8. They need to reconnect Vulcan to Birmingham! I think it is ridiculous that the only access to Vulcan is from a parking lot on the Homewood side, especially given Vulcan trail (no relation 😉 and the fact the original entrance is on the Birmingham side and connects to the sidewalk! It’s as if they decided when the park was rebuilt that people from Birmingham shouldn’t visit.

  9. VERY intriguing point of historical interest, Joe… Yes, it seems to fit the whole pattern of 1970s white flight and suburbanization–viz., everything shifting south, either surrounded by parking-lot moats or situated at the end of long drives: all the better to keep “unwanted’s” out, or at least at an inconvenient arm’s length. I’m not sure if most people realize how class-defining (and dividing) the car culture–and the consequent decline of public transportation–in our country became from the 1950s on. Those who couldn’t afford a car just ended up stuck in their increasingly isolated communities… “It is OUR Vulcan,” one can imagine someone saying in those days, “and we’re taking the entrance WITH US!”

  10. Patrick, yes about ALDOT. Why would anyone think of investing billions of public money into new road projects (promoted by ALDOT itself, no less!) when they (ALDOT) obviously can’t seem to keep up basic maintenance on existing roadways? I guess the mundane, unfashionable “dirty” work just doesn’t compare in the bureaucratic attention span when the possibilities of gigantic new chic projects such as Elevated 280 (hmm… a good idea for a band name?) and the Beltline Bonanza issue forth their siren song…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s