SF debate: Fire safety vs. pedestrian safety

Two contradictory views of public safety were on display at City Hall in San Francisco Monday -- fire safety vs. pedestrian safety -- and how widening city streets could affect each.

San Francisco Fire Chief spoke about how challenging the city's topography is, including the narrow streets, when it comes to fighting fires. But some say widening the streets would put pedestrians at risk.

On the site of the Old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a new San Francisco community is rising. Thousands of homes are being built in a plan that was approved back in 2010 after three years of meetings.

But now that the project is on a roll, the fire department is stepping in to ask for wider side streets. "We have the opportunity where we're designing a new community with 10,000 units. So about 30,000 new people into our community. Why not get it right the first time?" San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told ABC7 News.

But Supervisor Scott Wiener says widening the streets is more than just a technical issue. He says it will have real-life impact. "It will require that sidewalks be cut back. It means a larger crossing distance for pedestrians. We will have wider roads. That leads to faster traffic which leads to more accidents," he said.

Major arteries vary in size, but the standard for side streets is 20 feet. The fire department wants 26 feet for new neighborhoods and the chief points to the challenges of fighting fires like the massive one in Mission Bay.

"Those streets were 52 feet across curb-to-curb. We're asking for half of that, 26 feet," she explained. "In order to be able to have two of our apparatus side-by-side or able to pass one another."

But Supervisor Wiener is not buying it. "The fire department gets to those fires just fine and does a fantastic job keeping the city safe," he said. He says the city has experimented before with widening streets like transforming Geary from a residential boulevard into a pseudo-freeway.

Whatever happens with this project could affect others in the pipeline.
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