$44M Birmingham Xpress plans to be operating in time for 2021 World Games

Some Birmingham Xpress stations will be median stations, like this one envisioned at Children's Hospital. (Birmingham Xpress)

Birmingham Xpress, a $44 million bus rapid transit system, will transform a 10-mile stretch of Magic City streets stretching from Woodlawn to Five Points South and passing by major downtown destinations.

Officials shared plans for the Birmingham Xpress at the Birmingham Business Alliance on Feb. 27, saying the goal is to have the system operating in time for the 2021 World Games, which begins July 25, 2021. Birmingham Xpress is a collaboration between the city of Birmingham, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA).

Birmingham Xpress could be a 'gamechanger' for mass transit in the Magic City from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Among the highlights:

  • Two terminal stations will be built with the Five Points West Transit Center slated near the Birmingham CrossPlex and a Woodlawn Transit Center to anchor the eastern end of the route.
  • Buses will run every 15 minutes during peak times and every 30 minutes during off-peak times.
  • Nearly five miles of designated bus lanes will be added to First Avenue North, 18th Street, Fifth Avenue South, Sixth Avenue South, Lomb Avenue and Third Avenue West.
  • Sixteen new station stops along the route that will be a mix of curb-side stations and median stations.
  • Electric and articulated buses that allow curb level access and includes onboard wifi, onboard bike racks, docking stations for wheelchairs and power outlets with USB charging.
  • The new route will touch 25 of 99 neighborhoods in the city and 21 percent of the city’s population is within one-half a mile of accessing the Birmingham Xpress.

“This is going to be the first transit system of its kind in the state,” said Howard Richards, deputy director of the city of Birmingham Office of Capital Projects Management.

A new Five Points West Transit Center will be built on the site of a city parking deck near the CrossPlex. (Birmingham Xpress)
A new Five Points West Transit Center will be built on the site of a city parking deck near the CrossPlex. (Birmingham Xpress)
Curb stations will be positioned along the 10-mile route. (Birmingham Xpress)
Curb stations will be positioned along the 10-mile route. (Birmingham Xpress)
Median stations will be used in select locations along the route. The blue pole illuminates like a barometer to indicate how close the next bus is to the station. (Birmingham Xpress)

Some of the existing lanes now used by the public will be devoted to buses but studies show it will not contribute to added congestion, Richards said. The Birmingham Xpress route will also prevent turns and crossings at some intersections.

Another innovation will be a transit signal priority that will change shorten red lights and extend green lights as a Birmingham Xpress bus approaches. That same technology will be shared with public safety officials to allow police cars, firetrucks and ambulances to do the same.

The Birmingham Xpress is also intended to integrate with other transportation systems ranging from the Max bus system to Uber, Lyft and more. There are even plans to allow a traveler to make a single payment for a planned trip that might include multiple services.

Speaking of payment, the Birmingham Xpress system will eliminate onboard bus payments, allowing for payments at station stop kiosks or through an app. The intent is to allow for multi-door boarding and help keep buses running on schedule.

The 10-mile route for the Birmingham Xpress runs from Five Points West to Woodlawn through downtown. (Birmingham Xpress)

Frank T. Martin, interim director of BJCTA and Max Transit, said the Birmingham Xpress will enhance the existing bus systems.

“It’s going to be, I think, the spark that’s going to generate a real enthusiasm for a renewed interest in public transportation,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, people who want to use public transportation want it to be convenient.”

The Birmingham Xpress route will include popular destinations such as UABBrookwood Baptist Princeton Medical CenterChildren’s Hospital, Birmingham CrossPlex, Rickwood FieldRegions FieldRailroad ParkMcWane Science CenterPizitz Food HallNegro Southern League MuseumSloss Furnaces and more.

Lanes along the 10-mile Birmingham Xpress route will be devoted to the new buses. (Birmingham Xpress)
Sixteen new station stops are planned on the Birmingham Xpress route. (Birmingham Xpress)
The Birmingham Xpress route will take it by some popular destinations and large employers. (Birmingham Xpress)
The Birmingham Xpress is expected to be an impetus for new investment along the route. (Birmingham Xpress)

Richards said it will also make several properties more attractive for redevelopment along the route. He said what is known as “transit-oriented development” typically sees additional retail, entertainment, apartments, office and other commercial development along designated transit routes.

He said in one city where a rapid bus system was implemented, jobs along the corridor doubled in three years.

Public transportation is an important factor for younger generations.

“I think we are losing some of our younger generation because they want to move to cities that have better public transit systems – where they don’t want to drive their own cars,” Richards said.

Martin agreed.

“Looking at what’s happening in the downtown area with the expansion of UAB, the number of apartments and condos and the residential housing that has come online in this area and all of the amenities to support that, this is going to fit right in,” he said. “You really will not need to have a car if you are remaining in the urban core.”

Republished with permission from the Alabama NewsCenter.