Fall 2000, p.8

Fire Department Versus Pedestrian Safety

The fire department has vetoed the neckdowns planned for Court and Carroll Streets, as well as Court and President streets as part of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project. The Fire Department's concern is that their larger trucks might not be able to make turns at these corners if neckdowns were installed, and emergency response would be slowed.

The Fire Department's need for quick emergency response time is clear. However, the decision to oppose these neckdowns is myopic, and ultimately based in fear, not fact. Neckdowns have been used successfully on similar sized streets in NYC for years, with no noted incidents of emergency vehicle delay. Neither Carroll nor President Street is a primary emergency route, and the street width after the proposed neckdowns' construction (24' on Court, 26' on Carroll, and 28' on President) would be wider than many untreated streets in Greenwich Village or Brooklyn Heights. Phoenix's Fire Department, which uses similarly sized vehicles, requires only a 16' clearance on side streets.

Moreover, fire departments around the nation, including Cambridge, MA, Chico, CA, Phoenix, Portland, OR, Seattle, Tallahassee, FL, Boulder, CO, and Las Vegas, support the installation of neckdowns not only because of their pedestrian safety merits, but also because they eliminate the problems of parking at corners and maintaining access to hydrants. In Cambridge,-a city with a street network similar to Downtown Brooklyn-the fire department stated in 1998: "The Cambridge Fire Department supports the traffic department's efforts in utilizing curb extensions as part of the traffic calming project. These devices assist in preventing the illegal parking that occurs on various street corners."

The larger issue is this: if the only concern in designing our streets and neighborhoods was emergency response time, then we would tear out our sidewalks and front yards, and widen streets to our doorsteps. However, neighborhoods also value livability and pedestrian safety-things that these Downtown Brooklyn pilots were a direct attempt to reclaim. Neckdowns have been proven to reduce serious injuries and fatalities at intersections by as much as 50%.

Meanwhile, the Fire Department has not proven that the neckdowns would significantly impact emergency response time. The bulk of experience here and nationally suggests that neckdowns do not have a significant effect on response time, and that the even the large fire trucks can make these turns. In addition, if there is an unacceptable effect on response times, the Fire Department has not made an effort to work with the community and develop solutions that would increase safety at these locations while ensuring response time. For example, raised crosswalks would slow vehicles entering these streets without possibly preventing the department's trucks from making the turns. Transportation Alternatives challenges the Fire Deptartment to work with the community, and balance its need for tight response times with the very real need for increased pedestrian safety of these locations.

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