Firefighters Against Cycling

First of all, not all firefighters are against cycling.

However, I do argue that firefighters who complain about increased response times to emergencies are not speaking with genuine data but rather they are expressing their own personal opinions, only. Unfortunately, due to their position of authority, who’d question their expert judgement.

Let’s get started.

Let’s look at a genuine problem which is hurting emergency response times right now: sprawl.

This is a major problem and has nothing to do with bicycle lanes.

I bring it up, however, as a litmus test to see how important increased response times are important to the local firefighters.

They are not.

There was no outrage about building these. In fact there are confusing
sprawl and cul-de-sacs all over San Diego. Often cul-de-sacs thwart my desire to take a quieter route on roads where it is actually quiet and slow enough to share space with cars.

Therefore, if we really had any concern at all, in a real way, of addressing the problem of response times, this is the place to start.

No, instead we’ll attack bicycle lanes. I posit that people who argue against bicycle lanes have no interest in response times of emergency services, but rather have personal anti-cycling views.

Here’s an example where this notion is taken to the extreme.

“The fire apparatus is basically triple parked,” said Murphy, the Uniformed Firefighters Association Manhattan trustee. “It’ll be harder to reach certain floors. Eventually somebody’s not going to be able to reach a floor because of the position of the rig and someone’s going to get killed. I’m not saying it’s going to happen next week, but it could happen down the line.”

Basically what he is saying is that the bike lane and the buffer served as extra parking, along with existing parallel parking.

If he truly thought that cars parked along the street hampered fire fighting efforts would he not have just argued for better enforcement? No, like many motorists, he assumed that there should be parking and that the bike lanes were there for additional private vehicle parking.

If he really wanted to maximize fire fighting efforts, to “save a life”, he’d argue against all parallel parking.

This space: a bike lane, plus space where cars used to park, plus a buffer is wide enough to drive a fire truck! He would have created an emergency lane which is shared by cyclists. This has been used in other countries like Korea to significantly reduce response times.

No, instead, he wanted parking for himself, a travel lane for his car, and the fire truck, well, he had NO provision for a traffic jam which is very common in NYC. I’d argue that more people died from sprawl, cul-de-sacs, and traffic than from bicycles slowing down fire trucks.

Bicycles can quickly jump onto a sidewalk in case of emergency while cars can not. So why come up with a plan that shafts the least offender?

Because he is personally against cyclists.

“But FDNY headquarters said there was no evidence to support the claims. [That bike lanes increased response times.]

The department doesn’t track response times on a neighborhood level, but response times citywide for the first 10 months of 2010 were better than they were last year, said FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer. The northern stretch of Columbus Avenue bike lanes were installed in late August.”

Read more:

Here’s another
paper which lists increased parking for emergency vehicles as a reason for installing bicycle lanes.

Also, this question has been answered by complete streets.

“Complete streets and emergency vehicle access can go hand-in-hand, if the design process is collaborative and done right. The Congress for the New Urbanism, working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Growth program and fire marshals from across the United States, has created the Emergency Response and Street Design Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to pursue common ground and strategize how narrower, more walkable streets can serve – and even improve access for – emergency vehicles. More resources can be found on the Initiative’s website.”

I am all for reducing response times for emergency vehicles, and I have shown, with five minutes of google and a moment’s thought, a low cost plan which can help. Why I have to spend my time on this is beyond me. Why all the more brilliant people who are paid to do this have not come up with something better befuddles me.


6 Responses to “Firefighters Against Cycling”

  1. BC Says:

    Nice idea. So cycle tracks, if they and the buffer are wide enough, could be an emergency vehicle lane. Good argument for making bikes get their share of the roadway. The Fire Dept. requirement for wide streets has always bugged me, but maybe it’s a good thing in the long run if wider streets means wide cycle tracks etc are more feasible.

    BTW, the argument against cul-de-sacs should really be an argument against culdesacs that have no thru path for bikes/peds. Done right, culdesacs are a good thing. Most of the ones near me have a short sidewalk connector at the top of the sac to the adjacent street. So it’s permeable to bikes/walkers, but not to cars.

    • Fred Says:

      I also posted, previously, there are actually smaller fire trucks. If the arguments about traffic were really important (they are to me) to people then we’d be lobbying for smaller trucks. There is no reason why not. Firefighters are awesome, but if I were one, I’d probably want the biggest, baddest equipment, too.

      About cul de sacs, I do see your point and like your ideas.

      However, there are still many problems with cul de sacs from a safety point of view. Most of the reasons why people like them are the problem. That is they are there for safety, but they can be less safe.

      Plus, they waste resources. They encourage lack of community values plus they encourage faster, wider through streets which suck the life from a community, increase car trip times, and create traffic woes.

      The list goes on…

  2. BC Says:

    Berkeley’s traffic calming/bike boulevards are essentially regular grid streets that have been turned into cul-de-sacs for cars, but permeable for peds and bikes.

    Safety, resources, and community – yes, for non-connected non-permeable cul-de-sacs, but these are positives for bike/ped permeable ones. Studies, reports, articles critical of cul-de-sacs have mostly ignored the benefits (and often the existence) of permeable cul-de-sacs.

    Hembrow has many posts discussing how Dutch streets have been made less permeable for cars, more permeable for bikes.

    Also British term ‘Filtered Permeability’ and Canadian term ‘Fused Grid’.

  3. BC Says:

    Smaller fire trucks. Yes, good idea. There’s an 80 year old estate here in LA being turned into a park, with a beautiful tree lined entry way used by the original owners, a seminary, a college, but now, as a park, must be widened because of fire dept.

    I skid off the freeway in the rain once but was fine (could have died, or killed someone). I just needed a tow truck to get the car back up the bank. A huge firetruck showed up, took my pulse, checked my eyeballs and wished me luck. Who knows how much that cost in gas, wear/tear, labor, etc.

    Unconnected cul-de-sacs are bad. Connected cul-de-sacs are good. Berkeley’s traffic calming and bicycle boulevards are essentially thru streets turned into cul-de-sacs.

    Hembrow has several posts discussing how Dutch cities have restricted permeability for cars, with increased permeability for bikes/peds.

    “they waste resources” — I don’t see that, as long as they are permeable for bikes/peds.

    “lack of community values” — Only if you think the higher community on a cul-de-sac means less community everywhere else, but that’s not true, it’s not zero sum.
    Check out British term “Filtered Permeability” and Canadian term “Fused Grid”.

    • Fred Says:

      Excellent comment. Thanks for the info.

      I do like the idea of retro-fitting cul-de-sacs.

      However, I do think that the notion of quiet streets and arterials is unscalable and selfish.

      In my post “Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom”, I talk about how I basically want ALL kinds of walking, ped, and transit infrastructure and nor idea of cul-de-sacs is a sound one.

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