Does the Fire Code Have to Trump Urban Design?

Planners and urbanists are familiar with the many instances when fire and life safety codes conflict with quality urban design. The city of San Francisco is currently embroiled in policy conflict over the width of its streets.
Chad Kainz / Flickr

"The San Francisco Fire Department has recently fought streetscape improvements and other efforts to make roads safer and more walkable. Even more problematic, the fire department has insisted that in new developments in San Francisco – and we have quite a few of them planned – all roads, including residential side streets, be 30 percent wider than the code minimum of 20 feet of street clearance (typically two 10-foot lanes)," writes San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener.

"This type of expansion, in addition to narrowing sidewalks, would result in neighborhood side streets either having 13-foot freeway-size lanes, or having cement barriers in the middle of the street. Either option is the exact opposite of good urban design and neighborhood walkability and livability. Worse, either option would go back to an ugly past we are actively trying to fix."

As an advocate for urban design and livable streets and neighborhoods, Wiener is clearly concerned about the policy agenda of his hometown fire department. But the goals of fire safety and pedestrian safety, says Wiener, do not need to be mutually exclusive:

"Fire departments around the country have an understandable desire to maximize ease of access for large fire trucks, and promoting fire safety is in everyone’s interest. But prioritizing fire truck access in a way that makes streets less safe for pedestrians and other users – and which undermines neighborhood fabric with high-volume, fast-moving traffic – isn’t the right solution."

Full Story: Fire Departments Are Standing in the Way of Good Street Design

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