The SF Fire Department has issued a statement on what it calls “allegations being made by special interest groups” regarding the department’s resistance to sidewalk bulb-outs and other safety improvements. We can only assume the groups SFFD is referring to are Walk SF (which penned an op-ed in the SF Examiner yesterday), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Streetsblog.
The statement admits that SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White erred last week when she claimed that pedestrians are found at fault in 74 percent of crashes. “Recently, the Fire Department was provided with data related to incidents involving pedestrians and vehicles that was misinterpreted. The moment the error was brought to our attention a correction was made,” the statement says.
In addition to “special interest groups,” the release includes a few other bizarre statements, including one that betrays a fundamental failure to comprehend how sidewalk extensions improve pedestrian safety (by calming traffic, slowing drivers’ turns, and making pedestrians more visible before they cross):
We haven’t seen pedestrians being hit by vehicles on sidewalks because the sidewalks are too narrow. Furthermore, by narrowing city streets our vehicles and any other large vehicle traveling through San Francisco would be forced to cross into oncoming traffic to make a right-hand turn under normal circumstances. Proposals such as these cannot possibly make our streets, pedestrians and bicyclists safer.
“It is a ludicrous suggestion that the Fire Department would somehow be against improving the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists,” the statement says.
SFFD also maintains its position that road width minimums of less than 20 feet are untenable for fire trucks, saying, “The minimum width is in the Fire Code for a reason.” That reason, however, probably has more to do with the fact that state-adopted fire codes are crafted by the International Code Council, a Texas-based nonprofit, based on a suburban model, and basically copied in cookie-cutter form. Plenty of American cities use 12-foot minimums, and SF has had streets narrower than 20 feet long before it started installing bulb-outs, which typically only replace parked cars that take up street width anyway.
As a reminder, the Board of Supervisors adopted a local 12-foot minimum this fall (as allowed by state law), and SFFD unsuccessfully tried to nix it.
SFFD claims it “has done nothing to ‘block’ traffic calming efforts,” despite countless reports from city staffers and street safety advocates of doing just that. Notably, SFFD protests led the Planning Department to water down the pedestrian-friendly plan for a block of Bartlett Street in the Mission this summer.
Here’s SFFD’s full statement: