Thursday, March 3, 2011

Big Roads and Fire Safety

The Strong Towns blog is putting together a series of great posts about overcoming certain opponents to change, in this case the opponent is local fire departments and the change in question is narrower roads. In the post, engineer Charles Marohn walks through and debunks many of the typical and predictable rebuttals from fire safety types that, like any business, are specifically geared towards what is out there on the ground today (which is perfectly understandable as it prevents change from happening too rapidly):

The key here are the council members in this room. Making a strategic choice to change our mode of operation so as to make our places more productive takes leadership. Tasking the fire chief with providing a high level of service while transitioning to a new reality takes leadership. It is that leadership which we need right now.

Our present course will bankrupt us. The lack of productivity of our neighborhoods — our places with the greatest levels of public commitment for infrastructure maintenance — is not financially sustainable. It will ultimately force huge cuts in public safety.

It would be tragically ironic if we had wide, unsafe and expensive streets built to accommodate fire departments that we can no longer afford to staff.

I offered some additional thoughts in the comments that I've found helpful in the past in dealing with fire/safety departments.

Two quick thoughts:

First, wider roads = less compact development form. That's a given. What this also means is 1) longer response time for fire safety and 2) the budget for the fire dept is spread out just as much as the city's budget, meaning less centralized, less efficient facilities.

Google results for "sprawl response time":

And another rhetorical suggestion where you imply "growth" is bad (not in those terms). Growth = good is so engrained in our minds that we have to change the definition of what growth means. European cities might not be growing in population or land area as quickly as ours, but they're growing much more quickly in terms of quality of life. How do we grow our cities qualitatively rather than quantitatively? From the inside->out. Like a person, eventually cities need to stop growing outward and need to start growing on the inside, intellectually, mature, and focus on being healthy.

In sum, you have to show how there job, saving lives, is easier.