Opinion: How Fire Chiefs and Traffic Engineers Make Places Less Safe

Fire standards and street design manuals, meant to protect people, actually make them less safe by damaging walkability and encouraging driving—a classic example of silo thinking.

2 minute read

March 26, 2017, 5:00 AM PDT

By SAMouzon


Emergency Response

mikeledray / Shutterstock

"Of all the urbanism specialists with tunnel vision, fire chiefs, fire marshals, and traffic engineers are probably the most dangerous. And by “dangerous,” I don’t just mean that they’re a threat to good urbanism; they also get people killed, which is exactly the opposite of what they are commissioned to do. A classic example of their silo thinking is playing out right now in Celebration, Florida, where the proposed measures of eliminating on-street parking spaces and eliminating street trees will almost certainly leave Celebration a less safe place than it is today.

Let’s look at things from both a common-sense perspective and a data-driven perspective. Getting rid of street trees does some really bad things for safety: First, it eliminates the first line of defense for those who are walking or biking on the sidewalk (when the streets are too dangerous for biking). A car crashing into a tree at 35 miles per hour will deploy the airbags, but the driver and passengers will likely walk away with little more than bruises. But a car traveling 35 miles per hour that crashes into someone who is biking or walking will likely kill them. Higher speed = more deaths and injuries..."

"...the logical conclusion is that our traffic engineering standards are killing about 23,000 people per year in the US! As with fire standards, traffic engineers should be embracing traditional urbanism with open arms because it saves so many lives per year!"

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