Contentious debates in San Francisco politics have recently been centered not only on political appointments or development along the waterfront, but the width of streets.
That may not come as a surprise in a city where the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency receives more than 1,000 requests per year for roadway improvements to reduce traffic speeds, and where pedestrian and bike collisions are on the rise.
A debate on the proper width of city streets has erupted after Fire Department officials recently requested that street widths in the new Candlestick Point development increase from 20 feet to 26 feet, a change from the anticipated width when the project was approved four years ago.
But pedestrian advocates and Supervisor Scott Wiener are blasting the increase, most recently during Monday's public hearing on the issue at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee.
“We know that we have an epidemic of pedestrians being injured and killed on our streets,” Wiener said. “The design of our streets has a significant impact in terms of overall safety.”
Wiener also said that if wider streets were allowed, it would likely set a precedent and requests would be included in other major development projects, including Parkmerced, the area around the Transbay Transit Center, Treasure Island and the former Schlage Lock site.
But Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White is not backing down from her position on the need for the width change.
“We think from our operational needs we need some more space,” Hayes-White said.
Fire officials said that narrower streets can impede firefighting tasks such as by hampering aerial ladders or forcing trucks to park farther away.
“If we put out one aerial ladder we cannot make that street passable with another apparatus at 20 feet,” Hayes-White said.
Hayes-White also seemed to suggest there was a delicate balance in street improvement policies as it relates to pedestrian safety and the safety of those in homes that could catch fire.
“There are pedestrian deaths. There is also fire fatalities,” Hayes-White said. “We average roughly about 13 year.”
Traffic collisions led to 21 pedestrian deaths and four bicyclist fatalities last year.
But pedestrian-safety advocates said only narrower streets should be the wave of the future.
“Fast roads kill and wide roads kill. There is a huge body count from badly designed streets,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, a group that promotes policies for safer streets for pedestrians. “Making streets deadlier to improve public safety is bad policy. There's got to be better ways to do this.”
No resolution was reached during the hearing. The debate is expected to continue.