Narrow Streets and the Fire Truck: Workshop reveals common ground
When you dial 911, you don’t really care how the emergency responders reach you, so long as they do. And they want to reach you before brain damage begins, usually within four to six minutes, or before the fire flashes over to engulf your entire home in about the same amount of time.
Those straightforward desires too often collide when the new urbanist desire for narrower streets meets national fire codes mandating 20-foot-wide clear fire lanes. All too often, the result is frustration and bitter feelings when new urbanist projects are rejected or altered, or when new urbanists make plans without consulting fire marshals at a point in the process when discussion and compromise could make a difference.
Yet there is common ground, too; more than perhaps new urbanists or firefighters realized before this week, when the Congress for the New Urbanism and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the first steps toward changing that unhealthy dynamic.
About two dozen fire marshals, planners, traffic engineers and architects spent Tuesday and Wednesday, just before the start of CNU XVI, delving into the complexity of streets, intersections and turning radii, the impact of alleys, emergency response times, fire engine size, how firefighters deploy themselves and their equipment at a fire scene – and how all those elements interact and affect each other.
Organized by Patrick Siegman, a principal with Nelson\Nygaard, and moderated by Jim Charlier, president of Charlier Associates, Inc., the workshop featured presentations by a strong lineup including Carl Wren, chief engineer of the Austin Fire Department, and Neil Lipski, a former deputy chief of the Milwaukee Fire Dept.; Peter Swift, president of Swift & Associates, Rick Chellman, a principal withTND Engineering, and David Sargent, an architect with Moule & Polyzoides.
“I think it’s a good start in trying to break down some of the barriers,” said Norman Garrick, a CNU Board member and workshop participant. “The problem we have is that we do everything piecemeal. … Some problems are difficult, but the only way to work together is to understand both sides of the issue.”
Both groups agree, for example, that street grids connecting neighborhoods to each other and their larger communities are miles better than the typical suburban system of segregated uses in pods along collector and arterial roads. And that the sooner developers involve the fire marshal, the more likely they will reach a compromise with which everyone can live.
Further information about the workshop’s results and the Smart Growth Streets/Emergency Responders project will be detailed today during the concurrent session Narrow Streets and the Fire Truck, from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. in Meeting Room 8.
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