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SF Fire Department delayed streetscape projects over safety concerns

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Cyclists ride down an unprotected bike lane on Market between Duboce and Octavia streets on March 6 in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Safety concerns from the San Francisco Fire Department have led to the delay of numerous street safety projects across The City, according to public records obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Those emails were first obtained and reported by Human Streets, a new nonprofit advocacy journalism organization.

From protected bike lanes on upper Market Street and street safety changes to Turk Street and speed bumps meant to slow down drivers, numerous safety projects crafted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency were slowed — for weeks or months — as the Fire Department aired concerns about its ability to run emergency vehicles on modified streets.

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In January, SFMTA Transportation Planner Patrick Golier wrote an email to his colleagues, “I have raised the issue of SFFD’s unresponsiveness” on a site visit to overview the Upper Market Project, which included protected bike lanes.

Golier was concerned pushing back a hearing on Upper Market bike lanes “would create an enormous amount of work plus would make us look bad with our stakeholders.”

When that hearing was delayed, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition penned an open letter lambasting the SFMTA.

In emails to the SFMTA from 2015 to 2017, the department expressed concern that new street designs would create difficulties for all manner of emergency vehicles.

In April 2016, fire department Capt. Alec Balmy wrote to the SFMTA to complain about new speed humps on Clipper Street.

Fire truck drivers, he wrote, are “forced to slow down and go over one side of the bump. This causes the apparatus to reduce substantial speed and with the weight of the apparatus is difficult to rebuild any kind of speed going up the hill.”

Balmy also wrote it is “not unreasonable to assume” emergency vehicles carrying patients could hit speed humps while EMT’s administer life-saving care, which could “adversely affect patient treatment.”

Last year, the fire department proposed a “blanket ban” on approving SFMTA’s creation of speed bumps throughout all of San Francisco.

But SFMTA Livable Streets planner Luis Montoya argued that speed humps were needed to save lives by preventing collisions, in an email to his boss, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

“Speed humps are our most effective tool to address vehicular speeding on residential streets,” Montoya wrote, and called it a “pretty big deal.”

Fire department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter said that blanket ban is still being discussed.

“The San Francisco Fire Department is encouraged by the innovative thinking of SFMTA to develop ways to enable safe bicycle transportation in the city of San Francisco,” Baxter told the Examiner. “Only in those instances where safety standards are materially compromised do we recommend exploring additional options.”

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