Report calls for smaller city fire trucks

For pedestrians and bicyclists in San Francisco, smaller roads mean increased safety, but for fire trucks, narrow roads pose a challenge.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener expressed his support today to see San Francisco fire trucks be designed to bolster, not impede, pedestrian safety. The San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s report requested by Wiener, which was released today, analyzes the relationship between fire truck design and pedestrian safety.

The report evaluates whether San Francisco’s fire trucks are too large for the city’s narrowing streets.

It recommends that the San Francisco Fire Department consider configuring its trucks to be better able to navigate the famously narrow, winding streets of The City without undermining efforts by pedestrian and bicycle advocates to improve street safety and end pedestrian fatalities.

In 2013, 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists were killed on the streets of San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group that is leading the city’s Vision Zero goal to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2024.

Wiener said the fire department has objected to numerous street safety projects, such as bulb-outs, out of concern that the changes would obstruct or slow down fire trucks as they rush to the scene of an emergency. But the report suggests that the fire department doesn’t have protocols to consider street design and pedestrian safety when it procures new vehicles.

That, Wiener says, must change:

“If the Fire Department is concerned that its trucks cannot effectively navigate San Francisco’s enormous number of narrow streets, the solution is for the department to consider more maneuverable vehicles, before insisting on street designs that are unsafe for our residents.”

The supervisor said The City’s wide streets, such as those that blanket the South of Market neighborhood, are the most dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, as they directly result in increased speed. The city’s current fire code requires that streets accessed by fire trucks be at least 20 feet in width.

The report states that San Francisco already has streets that are less than 20 feet in width and it is important that the fire department purchase specialized vehicles that are able accommodate those areas.

The report describes the features of fire trucks that are more maneuverable and are already in use on smaller streets by fire departments across the country. Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said today that the city report shows that:

“… there is room for greater flexibility to ensure that both traffic safety and fire safety are prioritized on San Francisco’s streets. It’s not an ‘either-or’ decision.”

Shahum is encouraging the fire department’s leadership to listen to the growing chorus of concerned citizens and city officials who support updated fire equipment and policies that would enhance traffic safety.

Wiener is proposing that the fire department adopt policies and procedures that would reduce the size of emergency vehicles to ensure that both emergency response and street safety needs are advanced.