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Urgent Action Item Oakland: Stop Fire Department From Vetoing Safe Streets

URGENT: Advocates want the Oakland City Council to pull Rule D105.2 (commonly referred to as the “26-foot rule”) from the fire Code [Council item S15] at Tuesday December 6's Council meeting and send it to the Public Safety Committee for discussion and revision.

American fire departments, most of which spend more time cleaning up after car crashes than anything else, sometimes have an obsession with maintaining wide, high-speed roads, ostensibly to leave clearances for over-sized ladder trucks to access buildings. As Streetsblog USA and this publication have covered at length, as a result fire departments often end up blocking safe-streets efforts. But the truth is, as long as fire departments and DOTs work together, there's no reason protected bike lanes and vehicle speed-reduction strategies have to interfere with fire access--in fact, bike pathways can double as fire lanes. The image below on the right shows just one way to build protected bike lanes while still allowing fire trucks to access buildings (eliminating street parking next to tall buildings could also be a solution, but somehow fire departments rarely bring that up).

A fire truck in Austin, TX is able to mount a curb designed to deter motorists, but not stop emergency vehicles and trucks. Image: Alta
A fire truck in Austin, TX is able to mount a curb designed to deter motorists, but not stop emergency vehicles and trucks. Image: Alta

This issue has come up again, this time in Oakland, where the fire department wants to continue a rule that requires 26 feet of completely unobstructed street in front of any tall buildings, which would effectively veto many safe-streets projects. "OakDOT policy suggests a lane width of ten feet for most lanes, and a width of eleven feet for bus lanes, or other lanes with large vehicles," writes advocate Kevin Daily about the issue. "However, Oakland’s Fire Code requires wide lanes near tall buildings, requiring an unobstructed width of 26 feet. This requirement creates unsafe streets. Wide lanes send drivers a signal that the street encourages speeding."

Are there legitimate concerns about having fire access to tall buildings? Of course, but it needs to be looked at in a holistic manner and with an eye on finding solutions. That's why Oakland has a Public Safety Committee, which is the right forum for discussing competing concerns. Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 10 a.m., the Oakland City Council will have an opportunity to send the issue to that committee.

Traffic Violence Rapid Response, Transport Oakland, Bike East Bay, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and other advocates are urging the City Council to take one of these two options on the agenda:

    • Pull out Appendix D completely and send it to the Public Safety Committee for review and revision.
    • Pull out rule D105.2 (26 foot rule) and send it to the Public Safety committee for review and revision.

Advocates ask you to call in or email your city council rep and make the same request before 10 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 6, when the city council has its meeting. And/or call into the meeting itself. Here's the agenda. The Zoom link is

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