Birmingham, Ala., Awarded Grant to Revitalize Its ‘Black Main Street’ : CEG

A $14.5 million grant from the federal government was awarded to Birmingham, Ala., that will restore two-way traffic to Fourth Avenue North in the city’s historic Black business district.

On hand to make the April 3 announcement was U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“We’re here because everybody recognizes all the ways in which infrastructure shapes our lives, and we feel it when something goes wrong,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t pay attention to it when everything goes right, but a lot of work goes into making sure that it goes right. And that’s what today is about.”

Alabama NewsCenter noted that the award comes from the USDOT’s Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program, which is designed in part to help reconnect underserved communities that were adversely affected by past transportation projects.

Joining Buttigieg for the announcement event were U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-7th District, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, community leaders and Fourth Avenue business owners. It took place outside the historic Carver Theatre, home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and near the Birmingham Civil Rights District.

The transportation secretary added, “Part of what brings me to Birmingham today is recognizing the consequences of infrastructure decisions that were made generations ago and our regard for a community’s vision.”

With the grant, Birmingham will be able to restore two-way traffic along 15 blocks of Fourth Avenue North, add additional features designed to revitalize the commercial district, and help reconnect the important corridor to the broader neighborhood.

As a result, the transportation secretary said people will find it easier, more comfortable, and safer to move around the area, whether they are walking, biking, riding the bus or driving.

Breaking Down Old Barriers

Sewell said many past infrastructure projects created barriers between people living and working in Birmingham, and adversely impacted neighborhoods, especially in African American communities.

A prime example of that, she noted, was what happened to the Fourth Avenue North business district — regarded as the city’s “Black Main Street,” — once a thriving hub of Black businesses and neighborhoods before it was divided by the construction of Interstate 65 in the 1960s.

Ivan Holloway, executive director of Urban Impact, a nonprofit community and economic development agency, told Alabama NewsCenter in a past interview that it is inspiring to see all the activity in the Fourth Avenue Business District and the Civil Rights District, both of which are part of the larger Fountain Heights neighborhood that stretches south to Morris Avenue, and north beyond I-59/20, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, and Oak Hill Cemetery, where some of the city’s founders are buried.

“We know that the historic Fourth Avenue business district has a very rich legacy of African American ingenuity and entrepreneurship,” added Sewell. “We also know that we’ve seen the crippling effects of infrastructure policy that has sought to divide us. Our people deserve better.”

She assured that the project will “help us right these wrongs and level the playing field for the Fourth Avenue business district.”

Woodfin added that to create a thriving downtown and vibrant neighborhoods, “we need streets where a mother can safely push a stroller across a crosswalk. Our vision is to create a truly multimodal model city where people can walk, ride public transportation or ride a bike to get to their destination.”

Some of the proposed changes will not happen overnight, he said, noting that many in the community are still “trapped in a culture of car dependency.”

“It will take us some time to undo this infrastructure and redesign our streets and systems,” Woodfin continued, calling the 4th Avenue North project a “major step” in creating safer streets.

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