Urban Fold

Continuing the Fire Safety vs. Urban Design Debate

A dense network of streets creates the conditions for faster response times. Better pedestrian and automobile safety and excellent response times is a win-win. So why are fire officials undermining this network with calls for wider streets?

Fire officials often push for wider streets so that their biggest trucks can move more swiftly — but the wider streets lead to more deaths and injuries. They do this, supposedly, in the name of safety.

It shouldn't be too difficult to see that if fire protection policies add to a public safety problem of much greater magnitude — i.e., traffic injuries and fatalities — a different solution must be found.

For comparison, 2,500 civilians die and 16,000 are injured annually in building fires in the US, while 33,000 people die and 2.3 million people are injured in automobile crashes.

This is a real problem for communities across the US. We've been reporting on this issue since 1997, when New Urban News (the predecessor to Better! Cities & Towns), reported on a study by traffic engineer Peter Swift and collegues that looked at injuries and deaths over an eight year period in Longmont, Colorado, from automobile accidents and fires. The chance of a resident being injured goes up dramatically with each increase in street width, Swift determined. According to the article:

Full Story: Bad call: Wide streets in the name of fire safety

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