In cities and towns across America, streets are being divided into three sections: the sidewalk for the pedestrians, the travel lanes for the automobiles including emergency response vehicles, and increasingly the bike lane for the cyclists.
Research has shown that in cities with a safe cycling infrastructure more people are going to choose biking to work then if there weren’t. That means less cars on the road, healthier populations, and most importantly citizens that can’t afford cars are given a reliable way to get to and from work. Similar studies have shown the same results for pedestrians and expanded sidewalks. However, fitting all of these elements into one street can be difficult with the limited space available. According to an NFPA report, Fire Department Roadway and Vehicle Incidents, fire department emergency vehicles were involved in an estimated 16,600 collisions while responding to or returning from incidents in 2015. Moreover, the Fire Service responded to 4,461,000 incidents on roadway properties in 2014, 41 percent of which were on streets in residential or commercial areas. This data highlights that having the appropriate street space is crucial.
Already dealing with double parking, round-a-bouts, and other drivers, the first responders have to be able to get from the fire station to the scene of the fire in as little time as possible. Adding a protected bike lane or expanding the sidewalks can only serve to take away from that vital space, right? Not necessarily.
In a recent case in Baltimore, there was the possibility that a newly implemented bike lane would have to be removed in order to meet requirements for the fire apparatus. Through much deliberation, it was decided that the residential parking spaces that were also on the street next to the bike lanes would be recreated at an angle instead of parallel to the sidewalk. This out-of-the-box thinking actually allowed for more parking spaces, as well as enough space for the protected bike lane and fire apparatus to co-exist. In San Francisco, a similar problem persisted in that the streets were simply too congested for fire apparatus to most effectively get to the scene of a fire. The solution in Europe, where the roads are smaller due to their being created in medieval times, is to simply have smaller vehicles. The problem with using the European vehicles in the U.S., however, is that the fires in the U.S. require far more water to put out due to the wood construction of buildings today. In San Francisco specifically, there is also the concern of being able to make it up the hills the city is famous for. That does not mean, however, that there is no smaller apparatus that could be effective in the U.S. and that’s exactly what the city has recently acquired. Utilizing an apparatus that is ten inches shorter and two inches more narrow, and a turn radius 8 feet smaller, the new truck is a great innovation and shows exactly what the pressure of the modern city street can create. With 91% of cities around the U.S. responding to a recent survey saying they are either implementing or planning improved conditions for bikers, these are just a few examples of how these three transportation methods can work together to make cities and citizens healthier and safer.