Recent insistence by Fire Department and Department of Public Works on overly wide, suburban-style streets in Hunters Point and Candlestick Point developments - ignoring clear pedestrian safety directives - demonstrates the need for code changes, smaller fire trucks, and oversight measures governing San Francisco street design
San Francisco, CA - At today's Board of Supervisors meetings, Supervisor Scott Wiener will call for a series of measures - including Fire Code amendments and an evaluation of whether San Francisco's fire trucks are too large for our narrow streets - to ensure safe street design and bolster pedestrian safety and neighborhood livability.
Recent actions by city departments to require overly wide streets in the city's largest new developments - Hunters Point and Candlestick Point - directly contradict policy directives from the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and voters that streets are to be walkable, consistent with smart urban design standards, and designed to reduce the epidemic of street deaths and injuries. Just a few months ago, the Board of Supervisors reiterated this policy directive by adopting "Vision Zero," which envisions the elimination of street fatalities through the "Three E's": education, enforcement, and engineering. That last "E" - safe street engineering - requires streets that are not overly wide. Overly wide streets lead to faster traffic and longer crossing distances for pedestrians. Overly wide streets directly contradict city policy.
Supervisor Wiener and transit and pedestrian advocates have been engaged in a lengthy dispute with the San Francisco Fire Department, which has repeatedly opposed pedestrian safety design changes, such as bulbouts, due to the large size of its trucks and their alleged challenges navigating streets that aren't wide. Now, the Fire Department is insisting that the largest new developments in the city have overly wide streets - with a precedent-setting clearance of 26 feet instead of the legally required clearance of 20 feet - thus reducing the streets' walkability and safety. The requested street widening also contradicts a lengthy community process leading to the developments' design as approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2010.
Supervisor Wiener will request three things:
First, he will ask the City Attorney to draft a series of amendments to the Fire, Public Works, and Administrative Codes to clarify required street widths, ensure that they comply with city policies like the Better Streets Plan and Vision Zero, and require departments to come to the Board of Supervisors when they wish to deviate from these standards with wider streets.
Second, he will ask the Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) to analyze the possibility of the Fire Department using somewhat smaller trucks, which it already does in Bernal Heights and Telegraph Hill. The department has large suburban-sized trucks that may be inconsistent with San Francisco many narrow streets. The BLA will look at best practices in other cities and also examine the extent to which the department's trucks have gotten bigger over time.
Third, he will request a hearing, to occur in a few weeks, about the specific proposal to widen the streets in the Hunters Point and Candlestick Point developments, including why the departments injected this change so late in the process and despite approval by the Board of Supervisors of a narrower width.
"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," said Supervisor Wiener. "Wider streets create longer crossing distances and faster speeds. Wider streets divide our neighborhoods. We need to be clear in our policy priorities, and consistent in our delivery of these projects. 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 smaller trucks, not to insist on street designs that are unsafe for our residents."
"Street design and pedestrian safety are directly linked," said Nicole Schneider, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco. "Wider streets encourage faster speeds. As speed increases, the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality also increases--exponentially. Data demonstrate that engineering, enforcement and education are all necessary measures to ensure the safety of pedestrians on our streets, and to achieve the City's Vision Zero goal--zero traffic fatalities in 10 years. We must ensure that all streets are designed and engineered for safety from the beginning."
The Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point developments have gone through years of planning and public process, during which agreements were reached to establish street clearance at 20 feet, which is the minimum allowed by the California State Code. That width would foster and support safety and neighborhood livability while still ensuring emergency access on these new streets. The community and the city came to this consensus in 2010.
Recently, however, the Fire Department and Department of Public Works, have insisted on street widths more appropriate for suburban developments, 26 feet clearance instead of 20 feet. The stated rationale for the widening is the need for wider streets to accommodate San Francisco's large fire trucks. These significant changes would degrade pedestrian safety and neighborhood livability, and potentially reduce the number of housing units produced while removing swaths of curbside parking.
"The Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point developments have been in development for decades," said Marcia Dale-LeWinter, a past member of the Mayor's Hunters Point Shipyard Community Advisory Committee for more than 15 years and chair of the Planning and Development subcommittee for many years. "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. The fact that the Fire Department wants to reopen that discussion four years after the fact disregards this comprehensive public process. It also disregards the 20 or so years of project planning and devoted citizen involvement. The City granted the project approval of its entitlements, and years of effort came to fruition with the heartfelt gratitude of the Bayview-Hunters Point community. "
"Streets are the key to a neighborhood's public life," said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City. "Narrower roadways are safer for walking and cycling, inviting neighbors to meet, and making neighborhoods livable. Wider, faster, suburban-style roads erode safety and community cohesion. 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."