I think a lot of urban problems (not all, but a lot) could be made better if we narrowed our streets. Excessively wide lanes are not only expensive to build and maintain, they induce high traffic speeds (though not reduced travel time), make streets more dangerous, devalue property, and repel private investment, among other negatives. For essentially no boost in performance, wide streets do a ton of damage. Your city should have a policy to right-size them over time.
Unfortunately, mine does not, although I believe they are more open to it than in the past. Back in 2011, when given the opportunity to narrow some excessively wide streets, our then (and now former) city planner presented a photo of a street in winter, fire trucks parked along each side, with a ladder truck seemingly struggling to get past. The photo was shot at a skew angle, with the response trucks parked at odd angles, doctoring the scene to make it appear that the ladder truck was stuck. It was sad, but effective, propaganda that effectively stalled any reform.
Of course, Vince Graham demonstrated mathematically the power of the grid to provide a mind-boggling number of routes to any scene. That is true even when your fire chief decides to park in a way that blocks the street. In terms of access, a narrow grid will always be safer than a wide cul-de-sac, the latter having only one way in and out.
And, of course, all of this assumes that fire trucks come in only one size. They don’t. We dealt with that one a long time ago, documenting how fire fighting equipment has grown in response to our wide streets, not the other way around. Do we size our equipment for the city we want or do we size our city for the equipment we want? The latter is vastly more expensive, but big trucks are fun. (I was a truck driver in the Army and appreciate the good times that come from driving a big rig.)
Interestingly, the desire for big that infects American firefighting mentality is also broadly seen in city maintenance departments. I’ve repeatedly been told that streets must be wide to accommodate the plows, but the plows must be wide to handle the streets. Big seems to be the only size municipal snow plows seem to come in. Well, big or ginormous.
Wait a second! I was told by our city maintenance department that snow plows come in only one size: ginormous. https://t.co/HEz3JsRsgh
— Charles Marohn (@clmarohn) January 18, 2020
That’s why I want to pause today and applaud the Salt Lake City Streets Division for proving that additional sizes are available. And not just available, but effective.
In many snowy cities, things like bike lanes and sidewalks are the last thing to be cleared, even though their users often have no other choice or means to get around. Not until every stroad and cul-de-sac is taken care of do we shift over to what is too often seen at city hall as less urgent needs.
Not in Salt Lake City, however, where they seem to get right out there and clear those bike lanes and sidewalks, and with the right equipment to boot. Very impressive!
Top image via Unsplash.