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Bicycle Infrastructure

Firefighters Try to Hose Vision Zero

File photo of an SFFD truck parked on a bike lane in Mission Bay. The crew was at JoJo’s Korean food truck getting lunch. Photo taken around noon on Dec. 15, 2017, by Streetsblog/Rudick

Safe-streets advocates were outraged today to read that some San Francisco firefighters are still vying to veto Vision Zero projects. According to a story in yesterday's SF Examiner, Firefighters Local 798 sent a questionnaire to all the mayoral candidates which included:

“Do you support giving the SFFD Fire Marshall more discretion and the ability to reject any Vision Zero proposals [emphasis added] that will compromise public safety and the ability of SFFD Firefighters to respond to local emergencies?”

Vision Zero supporters disparaged the union for reigniting this whack-a-mole issue that has already significantly delayed key safe-streets projects in the Tenderloin, on Upper Market, and in SoMa.

"Since the untimely death of Mayor Lee, it's been troubling to see folks in and around City Hall trying to undermine our City's commitments to Vision Zero," wrote Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

"We understand that response time is a major concern for the Fire Department. But allowing them to have veto power over street safety improvements will only result in more dangerous streets for the rest of us, which will lead to more crashes that SFFD has to respond to," wrote Walk San Francisco's Cathy DeLuca.

From Strong Towns
From Strong Towns
From Strong Towns

It was only a few weeks ago that advocates, including DeLuca, the SFBC's Brian Wiedenmeier, and high-ranking city officials celebrated the first evidence that the Vision Zero program is working, citing a significant (albeit possibly anomalous) drop in fatalities. In 2013, the year before Vision Zero was launched in San Francisco, there were 34 fatalities. In 2017, there were 20.

At the meeting, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White seemed to try and bury the hatchet with safe-streets advocates, stressing that firefighters see the pain of car crashes up close and that they fully support Vision Zero.

Pursuant to that, the department is acquiring 'Vision Zero Trucks' that can better navigate bulb-outs, bike lanes and other features of Vision Zero street engineering. And the fire department is already carefully consulted about street changes at the city's 'Transportation Advisory Staff Committee' (TASC) by SFMTA staff. The fire marshal already wields significant power over the designs.

It's important to restate that street collisions are responsible for over 50 percent of SFFD calls in some areas, while high-rise building fires are--thankfully--rare in modern times. Given the statistics, it would be insane to allow the department to veto Vision Zero projects rather than finding ways to allow ladder trucks to access buildings (such as getting more of the aforementioned 'Vision Zero' trucks or restricting on-street car parking).

This was further highlighted yesterday: two pedestrians were seriously injured in San Francisco in two separate collisions, as reported by the Bay City News. One woman was run down by a truck at the intersection of Persia Avenue and Moscow Street in the Excelsior District. Another woman was hit in the Inner Sunset. Both intersections lack bulb-outs or any other concrete safety treatments that force motorists to slow down. Neither incident required a fire department ladder truck (or any kind of fire truck, for that matter).

Not all firefighters agree with their union on this one, as this tweet shows:


"We think the best solution to balance the need for quick response time and the need for safe streets is for SFFD to continue to purchase smaller trucks -- trucks that can navigate the type of narrow, traffic-calmed streets that we need to reach Vision Zero," said DeLuca. "We can keep people safe from fires and traffic violence at the same time."

Fortunately, the Examiner reported that mayoral candidates London Breed, Jane Kim, and Mark Leno all gave the union nuanced answers, acknowledging firefighter concerns with the placement of bike lanes near Muni wires, for example. But none endorsed giving the fire marshal the veto power the union wants.

As to the lead image for this story, here's a picture of that fire truck's crew (just in case readers were wondering if they parked on the bike lane to respond to an emergency).

No, there for truck was not responding to an emergency. They were responding to the munchies.
The crew of the fire truck in the lead image was responding to JoJo's Korean food truck which, while delicious, did not necessitate creating a hazardous condition for cyclists.
No, there for truck was not responding to an emergency. They were responding to the munchies.

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