Is bigger better?

One of the things I love about working on projects for Bend Bikes is it forces me explore corners of roadway logistics I ordinarily wouldn’t. In a prime example, I was having a discussion the other day with a City of Bend staffer and learned something new.

One of the aspects she has to consider when designing safer roadways is the minimum width the Bend Fire Department requires to move their life saving equipment to the scene of an emergency. They ask for a 20 foot roadway width which can span opposing lanes of travel. That’s a lot of space when you consider that some neighborhood streets in Bend are only 24′ wide. I asked myself, Do they really need all that space? With current wheel bases of some American fire trucks surpassing 14.5′, some are asking whether or not our land of SUVs and wide open spaces has us building fire trucks that are too big.

A recent article on ponders that very question. Among other things, the article poses the question, How wide should our streets be?

“The issue boiled over in 2014 in San Francisco when the fire chief and a member of the city’s governing body, the board of supervisors, disagreed over optimal street width. The supervisors want narrower streets to slow traffic and decrease crashes; the fire chief wants wider streets to accommodate the department’s fire apparatus.

The supervisors suggested the fire department look at smaller rigs.”

We’ve built our cities, and Bend is hardly an exception, to an American lifestyle, which accommodates largess. Imagine we didn’t though. Imagine if we asked our local fire departments to invest in the very best fire engines with smaller footprints. Would we be less safe? Probably not if you watch this Discovery Channel video.

If we could live with smaller emergency response vehicles, we might be able to live with tapered streets. That does two important things:

  • It leaves more room for other modes of transportation (think protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks)
  • It can slow automobile traffic.

It’s width that is often cited as a top concern for road safety experts who note that roadways with open-feeling expanses can encourage those driving automobiles to drive faster than they should. And, with narrower car travel lane street minimums, we might be able to find more space in existing curb-to-curb streetscapes to add the human-scaled infrastructure to keep Bend livable as we grow.

Click here to read more of our articles making the case for Bend to adopt more protected bike lanes.