Thursday, December 2, 2010

County Fire and Rescue wants wider neighborhood streets

During the planning for the future of Tysons one of the main concerns was for the new grid of streets to be designed as urban streets not wide suburban streets that are not pedestrian-friendly. Wider streets also encourage faster traffic, a constant problem in many neighborhoods.

VDOT is now allowing narrower, context-sensitive streets in neighborhoods with low traffic volume. As county staff were responding to the VDOT proposal for narrower streets, County Fire and Rescue officials objected. They are concerned that many neighborhoods don't enforce fire lane restrictions and their large fire trucks may not be able to reach burning houses located on narrow streets. This is known as "design by fire truck."
Fire departments have yet to acknowledge that fire safety is but a small part of a much larger picture that others refer to as life safety. The biggest threat to life safety is not fires but car accidents, by a tremendous margin.
According to the Fairfax times article County considering new standards for neighborhood street widths, "county public works staff now recommend the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopt a wider minimum street width than the VDOT standards for streets where parking is allowed on both sides of the roadway." We think Providence District Supervisor Smyth is correct when she states that the proposal
"flies in the face of urban design standards."

Noting the county has been asking VDOT for years to take the context of streets into consideration, Smyth said she does not want the county to then go with a wider standard. "I'm concerned about a mixed message to VDOT," she said.
While cyclists usually prefer extra pavement for bike lanes or wide curb lanes, these are not necessary in most neighborhood streets. There are many design solutions to allow fire trucks into neighborhoods with narrow streets; it takes some extra effort but it can be done. We urge the county to adopt the proposed VDOT street widths to allow for the design of liveable neighborhoods.

We'll post information about the public hearing to be held by the Board of Supervisors on the proposal.

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Growing up in Minneapolis, our standard neighborhood street width was 32ft, and things worked just fine.

I'll agree with county Fire & Rescue that 29ft is too narrow. But given my own experience, there's no reason why it needs to be as wide as now proposed.

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