Pedestrian safety advocates agreed it was a long road to get the San Francisco Fire Department on board for a plan aiming to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city by 2024.
But the city's Fire Commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday night solidifying the department's commitment to the Vision Zero goal.
"I think it makes clear the fire department’s commitment to road safety, which is something that they’ve been struggling about how to express," said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which supports Vision Zero policies.
The resolution comes about a week after the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office published a report urging the fire department to drop its opposition to "traffic calming" changes to the city's streets, which include narrowing some intersections.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the disagreements between city planners and the fire department on the issue:
At the center of the issue are what are known to engineers, planners and pedestrian advocates as “bulbouts” — wide, rounded extensions of sidewalks that serve to narrow street crossings and slow traffic.
Those and other traffic-calming measures are popular among planners trying to make streets safer by slowing traffic and making pedestrians more visible. But some fire departments, including San Francisco’s, believe that they interfere with their ability to navigate narrow streets and quickly attack fires.
In recent years, as the city has struggled to make its increasingly crowded streets safer and more efficient for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as cars, conflicts over bulbouts and narrowed streets have emerged, usually pitting bike riders and pedestrians against motorists. But planners and the Fire Department have repeatedly, though more quietly, clashed as well.
The report from Harvey Rose, the Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst, concludes that, despite the city’s emphasis on pedestrian safety, the Fire Department lacks policies to design and buy fire engines and trucks that accommodate pedestrian safety improvements.
SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi told KQED that the department isn't necessarily opposed to buying more maneuverable equipment.
"It’s not that simple," he said. "We’re trying to buy a smaller engine. We just need to make sure that engine’s going to do the proper job."
Pedestrian safety advocates like Frisbee see the resolution as a positive first step.
"This is absolutely something that’s possible," Frisbee said, "and it’s something that’s really critical toward ensuring that public safety doesn’t just mean emergency response safety, but it means our safety out on the streets every day."
The Fire Department joins the city's mayor, Board of Supervisors, Public Health Department, Municipal Transportation Agency, Planning Department, Police Department, and Department of the Environment, as well as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, in formally adopting Vision Zero polices, according to the resolution.