What to know about alternative modes planning in Huntsville

single-meta-cal August 12, 2022

As we focus on greener, more sustainable forms of transportation, the term “alternative modes” is often thrown around. But what does it mean?

Couple riding bikes in Big Spring Park

A man and woman ride bikes in Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville.

Simply put, it’s a mode of transportation other than a motor vehicle. Examples include walking, biking, running, jogging and even mobility aids like wheelchairs and walkers. Some motorized alternative modes, such as scooters, electric bicycles and motorized mobility aids, also require alternative mode infrastructure.

The City of Huntsville is investing in alternative modes to improve traffic safety, recreation and well-being. In addition to building sidewalks, ramps, crosswalks and bike lanes, Huntsville is also weaving greenways, trails and cycle tracks into our landscape to enhance street safety and quality of life for citizens and visitors.

Alternative modes are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to The BIG Picture, the City’s comprehensive master plan that’s approaching its fifth birthday. As we celebrate, we’re taking a look at the plan, its impact so far and how it will help shape Huntsville moving forward.

RELATED: City reviews BIG Picture master plan

“For residents of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, alternative modes are a critical part of the fabric of our community,” said Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning. “We are excited by the progress made and look forward to building on our alternative mode network in the years to come.”

Interested in learning more? Here are four things to know about the City’s approach to alternative modes.

Life of an alternative mode request

Thinking about requesting a greenway, sidewalk, complete street or bike lane? A great way to start is by using Huntsville Connect, the City’s online portal where you can report a problem or submit a nonemergency request from your smartphone or computer.

“When an alternative mode request comes in via Huntsville Connect, it’s sent directly to City staff and the Planning Department,” Madsen said, adding that staff will add requests to ongoing projects or prioritize them for future funding based on safety, equity, connectivity and feasibility.

You can also reach us by completing this form on The BIG Picture website.

Why projects cost so much and take a long time

The City gets this question a lot. Before the concrete is poured or paint is purchased for an alternative mode project, the City must address a number of factors, such as:

  • Funding (and how to get it)
  • Preliminary engineering and design
  • Purchasing right of way
  • Relocating utilities, when needed
  • Environmental considerations, if federal money’s involved

The entire process can take 18 months to two years to complete with several steps overlapping.

How the City determines which sidewalks to build

How does the City prioritize hundreds of sidewalk requests? That’s a question Madsen and his staff grapple with each day.

Two women walking on sidewalk

Having a safe, quality pedestrian network enables citizens to more easily access employment, goods and services in Huntsville.

New sidewalk projects depend on many factors, including the grade of the roadway, drainage along adjacent properties and utility relocation. The City must also consider safety and equity concerns, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, pedestrian safety and vulnerable populations.

City staff then rank these requests by priority level and build them as funding is available. In some cases, the City’s Public Works Department will perform the work, while the City would need to engage with a contractor in others. In both cases, there have been particular challenges during COVID, with supply chain issues and labor shortages slowing the process down drastically.

A focus on bikes and greenways

Bicycles are an increasingly popular mode of transportation. Greenways are also critical, promoting health and wellness, tourism, economic development, recreation and much more.

As more bicycles enter the roadways, the City recognizes work is needed to make our streets more comfortable for all skill levels of cyclists. To achieve this goal, we partnered with Huntsville’s Bicycle Advisory and Safety Committee (BASC) to implement See & Be Seen, an online reporting tool where cyclists can share road hazards or incidents with motorists where they felt unsafe.

The City uses data from these submissions to inform municipal decision-making on road improvements and determine areas that need more traffic enforcement.

When it comes to greenways, every project is unique. By working with the Land Trust of North Alabama, the City is making progress on its plan to build more greenways in our community.

“While greenway planning, design and construction involves a lot of variables, we remain committed to providing these diverse, safe transportation options for the public,” Madsen said.


Read the full 2021 Alternative Modes Report on our website. Keep an eye out for the 2022 version, which will be released this fall!