SFFD and the SFMTA Compromise on Bike Safety

By Nuala Sawyer : sfweekly – excerpt

A long-delayed yet vital project on upper Market Street has now been altered, aggravating advocacy groups and cyclists.

…In July, notorious City Hall gadfly David Pilpel appealed the decision, stating that it needed to undergo environmental review. The issue landed on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda, and they voted to uphold the project without further review.

The money was budgeted, the plan approved. So why, five months later, has construction yet to break ground?

The issue is one that we all thought was resolved: The Fire Department has a problem with the plan. From the get-go, it has argued that the reconfiguration of Market Street to create protected bike lanes would interfere with ladder trucks in an emergency.

“The design materially compromises the safety of firefighters and local residents,” Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White wrote in a letter to the SFMTA earlier this year.

The main issue centers around the distance ladder trucks will be from buildings, if parking-protected bike lanes are installed. The width of the street, combined with Muni’s overhead wires, will make it trickier for firefighters to rescue people, and adds in the threat of electrical shocks, SFFD claims….

And looking ahead, the battle between safe streets and the Fire Department doesn’t appear to be closer to a resolution. When asked if this redesign will be applied to other areas where issues of parking-protected bike lanes and overhead wires are bringing the two departments in conflict, Reiskin said there is no sweeping plan to remedy the issue.

“It will be very much case-by-case,” he said. “The geometry of each street is different.”…(more)

Why the SF Fire Fighters supported Yes on L

by Zrants

SF Streetsblog, the SFMTA mouthpiece, put out derisive messages about the SF Fire Department’s objections to installing six-foot bulb-outs near intersections. Fire Department officials claim they needed more space to maneuver around corners, and requested the sidewalks be limited to five feet wide. An excerpt from the article is below.


Dismissing SFFD’s Irrational Protests, SFMTA Approves Bulb-Outs at School
By Aaron Bialick : sf.streetsblog – excerpt

The SF Fire Department continues to make increasingly bizarre claims in opposition to sidewalk bulb-outs and narrower roadways. Last week, the SFMTA Board of Directors dismissed SFFD’s protests against six-foot bulb-outs at E.R. Taylor Elementary School in the Portola neighborhood. According to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, one of SFFD’s claims was that fire truck drivers would be ticketed by the SFPD for entering an oncoming traffic lane to make a wide turn.

The SF Examiner reported on the dispute yesterday, though the paper didn’t question SFFD’s claims about the supposed hazards of six-foot bulbs (SFFD pushed for five feet). According to the Examiner, SFFD spokesperson Mindy Talmadge said “the department has been ‘vilified’ for voicing concerns on pedestrian safety.”…

Following an SF Examiner op-ed penned by Walk SF calling on SFFD to support sidewalk extensions, the department issued a statement responding to what it called “allegations being made by special interest groups.” Although SFFD’s Talmadge told the Examiner yesterday that “we don’t want to be the cause of a pedestrian fatality,” the December statement indicated that SFFD officials don’t comprehend how sidewalk extensions improve pedestrian safety.

“We haven’t seen pedestrians being hit by vehicles on sidewalks because the sidewalks are too narrow,” said the SFFD statement from last month. “Proposals such as these cannot possibly make our streets, pedestrians and bicyclists safer.”

SFFD Fire Chief Johanne Hayes-White also made the erroneous yet unchallenged claim in a recent Examiner article that 74 percent of pedestrians were at fault for their own injuries, though she later said she was “misinformed.” SFFD also tried, unsuccessfully, to quietly nix a provision in a piece of legislation last year that allowed the city to approve street widths of less than the state guideline of 20 feet. At hearings on pedestrian safety issues, Hayes-White and other officials have neglected to comment on these matters, though a representative is scheduled to make a presentation to the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee tomorrow evening… (more)


This anti-Fire Fighters attitude explains why the Fire Fighters supported Yes on L. They are as tired of dealing with the SFMTA and staff as we are. Since when are street designers experts on what emergency responders need? Who wants to slow emergency vehicles to save pedestrians two feet of road to cross? How many seconds does it take to walk two feet anyway? This from the agency that wants its riders to walk longer distances between bus stops. Where is the logic in this?

Fisherman’s Wharf statue accident points up delays in ambulance response time

By Noelle Walker: ktvu – excerpt

… Police responded in a minute and a half, firefighters followed a minute after that and assessed the boy’s medical needs.

“In this case there were not any advanced life support measures that were performed.” said SFFD Medical Director Clement Yeh. “It was recognized early on that this boy needed to get to the hospital.”

But of the 16 SFFD ambulances on duty that day in addition to private ambulances, only one was available. At the time of the call, the vehicle was at Stanyan and Oak, 4.5 miles away from Fisherman’s Wharf.

It took the ambulance 13 minutes to arrive, three minutes longer than the fire department’s response time goal.

“We are always trying to improve our care, but the nature of this case was really tragic.” said Yeh.

The question that remains: would three minutes have made a difference? Shelton died at the hospital four hours after the accident.

“Whether or not it would have made a difference, I think based on that information in this particular case, it probably would not have.” said Talmadge.

While the fire department’s goal response time is ten minutes, the average response time is 12 minutes… (more)

We agree with the Fire Chief that emergency responders should have priority in street design decisions. Wider free-flowing streets should be preserved. We oppose SB 1193 that would legitimize SFMTA’s street diet pilot projects. SF should not deviate from the current state design standards.

Supervisor Scott Wiener steps up heat on S.F. Fire Dept.

by Marisa Lagos : sfgate – excerpt

(04-29) 21:54 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — Supervisor Scott Wiener has railed for years against the Fire Department‘s opposition to wider sidewalks and narrower streets – and on Tuesday, he declared an all-out war.

At the heart of the debate is a conflict between safety advocates, who want to see physical changes to city streets that make pedestrians safer, and fire officials, who contend their trucks are too big to navigate narrow streets and intersections.

The issue has been brewing for some time, but apparently boiled over because the Fire Department has been pushing for streets at the Hunters Point and Candlestick Point developments to be 26 feet wide, 6 feet more than what’s legally required. On Tuesday, Wiener accused the department of reopening a planning discussion years after neighbors, community leaders and city officials agreed on a development plan… (more)

The SF Fire Department is responsible for saving lives and property and nothing else. Who is qualified to tell them how to do that?  We put our lives in their hands each time they are called. Slowing down traffic and creating traffic gridlock is adding to their response time and if they don’t object they may be held liable for not doing their jobs.

We should all support emergency responders unless we think we can do a better job of putting out our own fires and rescuing ourselves the next time we need help. If you have had enough of people putting our lives in danger to meet their own objectives, tell the city officials you want to amend the Charter to Fix the MTA:  http://fixthemta.org/

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

by : sf.streetsblog – excerpt

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 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… (more)

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 can’t move on and off the freeway and the emergency vehicles can’t get through to the hospital?

SFFD Responds to “Special Interest Group Allegations” on Street Safety

by : sf.streetsblog – excerpt

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 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.”…
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.”
As a reminder, the Board of Supervisors adopted a local 12-foot minimum this fall…SFFD unsuccessfully tried to nix it

Here’s SFFD’s full statement:

Allegations being made by special interest groups that the San Francisco Fire Department is “opposed to” or “blocking” the progress of pedestrian safety measures that are being taken in San Francisco are simply not true.

As First Responders we are the first of the city’s agencies to recognize that there are far too many pedestrians and bicyclists suffering needless injuries and deaths on the streets of San Francisco each year. Emergency Responders are deeply affected each time they confront a serious death or injury. It is a ludicrous suggestion that the Fire Department would somehow be against improving the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.

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. At no time did the Chief of Department place blame on pedestrians, or motorists for that matter, for any of the unfortunate incidents that have occurred in San Francisco. Clearly, each incident has its own set of circumstances so to place a blanket of blame on any one set of people would be irresponsible and unproductive.

Included in the Fire Code and required by State Law (Title 19) is a minimum width for city streets, 20 feet. The minimum width is in the Fire Code for a reason. All of our Fire Apparatus have a limitation on the turning radius, our aerial trucks require a certain amount of space to deploy the outriggers lest the aerial ladders are rendered useless and we must have enough space to pass by an already positioned fire engine to secure a water supply at the scene of a working fire.

In addition to the needs of the Fire Department to complete the mission of saving lives and property we are held to a certain standard, set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Emergency Medical Services Agency (EMSA), to meet certain response times. Our stance on slower response times is not what is being reported in the media. We have not stated that bulb-outs which are currently in place have made our response times slower, we are simply stating that if we can’t maneuver the turn, our response times will be slower, there are no two ways about it.

The Fire Department has done nothing to “block” traffic calming efforts. We have been and continue to collaborate with DPW and MTA. We are, on a regular basis, doing analysis and performing cone testing to ensure our ability to SAFELY and successfully maneuver the narrow turns that bulb-outs create. Suggestions that bulb-outs make the intersections easier for fire response vehicles because “the vehicles can mount the curb” also suggests that bulb-outs are actually less safe for the pedestrian if fire vehicles have to drive onto the bulb-out, where pedestrians will be standing, to make the turn. There is no intention to obstruct or slow things down, but we don’t want to compromise our ability to get to our destination. We can and will work with the Transportation Advisory Staff Committee (TASC) on a case by case basis.

The Fire Department takes a realistic position in the fact that there are currently 30+ cranes positioned throughout the City. This means only one thing….more housing, more people, more automobiles and more foot traffic.

Development projects that are being proposed include widening sidewalks and narrowing streets to 16 feet in width, citing that wider sidewalks make pedestrians safer. 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.

We fully support Proposition B. We are not suggesting that there is no place for bulb-outs in the overall goal of creating a safer city for pedestrians and bicyclists. What we are saying is that it isn’t as simple as the special interest groups are suggesting that it is. There is a much larger picture that isn’t being looked at and the Fire Department’s concerns are only one piece of it.

We believe the newly painted bike lanes with lane designators have proven to be a very effective solution to creating safer streets for bicyclists. We support ongoing efforts for improved street lighting as well. A solution that the Fire Department feels should be considered that would be at a minimum cost with the same or similar results, creating greater visibility of pedestrians, is “daylighting”. Daylighting is simply painting curb extensions. Another low cost but effective solution to preventing crosswalk incidents is installing crosswalk beacons… (more)

Firefighters concerned about narrowing SF streets  
SF Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White at a 
hearing in September
Firefighters say city’s congestion is impacting response times