Scott Wiener Proposes Measures to Curb SFFD’s Push for Wider Streets

The San Francisco Fire Department has not let up in its fight against narrower roads in the city, protesting measures like bulb-outs and traffic lane removals that make streets safer. In one of the latest instances, SFFD has fought 20-foot-wide streets planned for two major redevelopments, going against years of planning and established city codes. The department wants all new streets to be at least 26 feet wide.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Scott Wiener today proposed measures to take on SFFD’s irrational stance. “Elected policymakers and the voters have repeatedly adopted a policy of safer streets through effective street design, yet some of our departments are acting as if those directives didn’t exist,” he said in a statement.

Wiener’s proposed legislation would require city departments to get Board of Supervisors approval if they want to “deviate” from street width standards in the Fire, Public Works, and Administrative Codes, and the Better Streets Plan. The proposal also asks the City Attorney to draft amendments to those codes to “clarify” the existing standards. 

The legislation would also request a report from the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst on the feasibility of using trucks that are smaller and more flexible than many of SFFD’s “large suburban-sized trucks,” according to a press release from Wiener’s office. SFFD already uses such trucks in Bernal Heights and Telegraph Hill, and the report would look at best practices in other cities.

Wiener also requested a hearing to shed light on the SFFD’s push for wider streets in the Hunters Point and Candlestick Point re-development sites in the southeast area of the city, “including why the departments injected this change so late in the process and despite approval by the Board of Supervisors of a narrower width,” the press release says.

One of SFFD’s trucks seen on Kearny Street in the Financial District. Image: kevinsyoza/Youtube

This isn’t the first time SFFD has ignored mandates to allow narrower roads approved by supervisors. Last September, SFFD unsuccessfully attempted to reverse Fire Code changes that allowed wider sidewalks by reducing minimum road widths to 12 feet. In December, SFFD officials issued a statement dismissing pedestrian safety advocates as “special interest groups.”

Wiener’s press release included statements of support from Livable City, Walk SF, and Marcia Dale-LeWinter, a 15-year member of the Mayor’s Hunters Point Shipyard Community Advisory Committee, who said SFFD’s push for wider streets in that area “disregards 20 or so years of project planning and devoted citizen involvement.”

“The issue of street design involved lengthy discussions, with traffic engineers, fire officials, public works experts, city planners and street designers, all weighing in and coming to an agreement in 2010,” said Dale-LeWinter.

Noting that “wider streets encourage faster speeds,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said it’s crucial to “ensure that all streets are designed and engineered for safety from the beginning” if the city is to achieve its Vision Zero safety goal.

“Wider, faster, suburban-style roads erode safety and community cohesion,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Narrower roadways consume less land, less energy, and fewer resources, and make more room for sidewalks, trees, and green space. The big developments in Eastern San Francisco will create miles of new streets. We have an opportunity to get these streets right, and create convivial neighborhood streets like those in beloved older neighborhoods. Requiring twenty-six foot wide lanes is not getting it right.”

The legislation is expected to head to a supervisors’ committee for approval in the coming weeks.

  • jd_x

    Wow, nice work Sup Weiner. While the world literally burns, it’s utterly amazing that departments like SFFD are stuck in some decades-old, car-centric mindset. Can they get some training on how other fire departments in European cities or even places like Boston with narrow streets are able to not have huge boulevards yet not burn to the ground?

    But it’s satisfying to know that at least one person is fighting the good fight to call this department out on their complete irrationality. If the SFFD was at least actively protesting against developments that encourage more driving (since cars are the major blocker of fire engines), then at least they would be consistently irrational. But their position is both inconsistent and irrational. Depressing coming from a department that I really, really want to support given that they clearly are a huge asset to our community in so many other ways.

  • Sprague

    Thank you Streetsblog/Aaron for covering this issue and thank you Supervisor Wiener for your leadership. Hot days (like today) serve as reminders of how unpleasant wide swaths of asphalt can be. Pedestrian and bicyclist safety is very important, and narrower streets also deliver many other benefits which enhance a neighborhood’s livability and appeal.

  • Hear! Hear!

    What can we do to support this commonsense legislation? I will write Supe Chiu and the Mayor.

    Anybody else on board with their Supes? Would love to hear from you…

  • SF Driver

    Thank you, Supervisor Wiener! Maybe if we had competent leadership in SFFD, you wouldn’t have to do their job for them. Need we point out that safer streets will result in fewer calls to 911 and less need for SFFD? Moreover, fewer drunk firefighters on the roads will result in even fewer injured pedestrians and motorists.

  • sforick

    Weiner can speak for himself and the Castro and do his social engineering there. I live in District 10 and he does not speak for me and my neighbors But more than that, I respect and depend on SFFD as safety professionals. We’re building higher denseer development. I want ladder trucks that can reach them, and trucks with all necessary equipment, and room to navigate a fire. When we have a real disaster, I want mutual aid equipment from neighboring cities to be able to operate here. We have to live with narrow streets in some parts of the city, but not in the South Eastern Neighborhoods where new streets are being created.

  • BBnet3000

    Lets just be clear here that we are talking about roadbeds rather than full streets.

    A 20 foot wide street is something like Maiden Lane.

  • Wrote my email. Hope you wrote yours as well.

  • @sforick I notice that your participation here is a bit more rational and level-headed than the screeds you post on sfgate, although terms like “social engineering” do have a certain shrillness to them. Still, I appreciate that you are at least attempting logical discourse and hope you stick to that line here on Streetsblog.

    It has been proven in Europe and Japan that much denser and higher-rising housing than we’ll ever have here can be safely served by better designed (versus just simply larger) fire equipment. SFFD just seems to want the biggest of everything, regardless of its effectiveness or practicality. And they want us to design the city around the requirements of that equipment, instead of designing the equipment around the everyday safety and very human needs of the populace.

    If you read the discussions here, you’ll find that automobiles — parked, double-parked, failing to yield, forming a wall of congestion — are the real causes for delays in SFFD response times and pose the most serious obstacles to proper staging of equipment. Yet SFFD completely ignores what should be their top priority, and instead focuses on opposing things such as narrower streets and bulb-outs, compromising the everyday safety of people (esp. the elderly and children). I think Wiener is just trying to get them to focus and prioritize, not to “social engineer.”

    Also, in the event of a catastrophe so big that SFFD would require the assistance of neighboring cities, I’m afraid you, me, and everyone else in SF are going to have a whole lot more to worry about than whether a South City hook and ladder truck can round a corner without running over the curb.

  • halbur

    The Congress for the New Urbanism conducted a lot of research and advocacy working with fire officials on the issue of street width. A chart in the full report (link below) shows that going from 20 ft. widths to 26 ft. widths, as the SFFD is requesting, more than doubles the number of pedestrian accidents per year. Kudos to Supervisor Weiner for pushing back.

    http://www.cnu.org/sites/www.cnu.org/files/CNUEmergency%20Response_FINAL.pdf

  • Caleb

    So I guess by the same argument SFFD is making for wider streets, they are also in support of “daylighting” every corner by removing a parking space or two? Right??

  • BBnet3000

    In NYC I see fire trucks and other emergency vehicles having trouble getting around all the time, its quite scary really.

    Whats in the way? Curbs? Bollards? Nope, parked cars or traffic, every time.

  • The idea that we should put an enormous number of people in danger every single day in the off chance that San Mateo’s one fire truck won’t fit down the street is not the product of a sound mind.

  • Jame

    Based on that logic, does that also mean Bernal Heights should burn,because only a small percentage of the SFFD fleet can fit on the narrower streets?

  • murphstahoe

    An event causing Bernal Heights to burn will mean that those other SFFD trucks will be already booked in their own areas.

  • lmichael

    So what happens when the street is to narrow for a fire apparatus to maneuver around a corner and cant respond to a call in sufficient time?

  • gneiss

    You get smaller fire apparatus that can fit around corners. But really, the streets are plenty wide enough in the the city. The real problem in this city is cars – sitting in traffic, parked, double parked, and illegally parked. Those pose a much greater hazard to response times than anything else. It took just one ride by Supervisor Weiner to see what the real problem is and how parked cars impede the ability for firefighters to do their job. However, as parking is the third rail of politics in the city, no one in the SFFD wants to appear to be against it, hence – widen the streets, despite how much it makes the built environment less livable.

  • Nobody is going to let Bernal Heights burn. The trucks can fit down the streets in general–it’s just that they can’t round the corners without running over the curb, which is SFFD’s definition of streets that are too narrow.

  • Easy

    I live in D10, and I’m pleased Weiner is advocating for this.
    D10 has some of the least friendly streets, and we shouldn’t make more of them.

  • sebra leaves

    Fighting the Fire Department has got to be a new low. I just watched a fire truck traversing slowly down Alabama Street today weaving slowly between the cars and trucks down past 19th Street.

    The real scary plan in the TEP is to cut off more traffic from streets along Potrero that lead to General Hospital, while building wide sidewalks, bike lanes and bulbouts, and planting trees down the center of the street. None of the streets go directly through to the hospital now, so the pace is already slow. What is going to happen during a major disaster when the traffic, including buses can’t move on and off the freeway and the emergency vehicles can’t get through to the hospital?

  • Richard Mlynarik

    The SF Fire Department is an interest group like any other.

    An interest group with juicy juicy juicy retirement and pensions, and a very very very strong interest in being left to its own well compensated devices free of any oversight or review or benchmarking.

    “Fighting” an interest group is what happens in functioning democracies, sorry to tell you. That’s how competing interest are resolved and how resources are allocated.

    Hospital! Major Disaster! Fire Department! Emergency! 9/11! American Heroes! Squirrel!

  • Sanfordia113

    The concern about shorter ladder trucks not being able to save lives of people in 3-5 story buildings made of wood, the solution is simple: require steel construction for all multifamily dwellings.