Myth Busted: Safer Streets Are Not Slowing Emergency Responders

A go-to NIMBY argument against safe street improvements is that bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and ped refuge islands interfere with emergency responders.

We await the exclusive CBS 2 report retracting all their nonsense about safer streets slowing down emergency vehicles.

In 2009, one complainer at an event sponsored by then-Council Member Alan Gerson claimed that pedestrian islands on Grand Street “put lives in danger” by slowing down fire trucks and ambulances. Opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane lobbed the same accusation at DOT and got Marcia Kramer to give them a megaphone. Assembly Member Dov Hikind spearheaded a successful campaign to make Fort Hamilton Parkway more dangerous for seniors based on nothing more than specious complaints from Hatzolah ambulance drivers, again amplified by Kramer.

A data set released by the city Wednesday blows another hole in what has always been a weak and cynical criticism. At an event on Randall’s Island yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano announced that in 2012, FDNY achieved the fastest average EMS response time in the city’s history. Fewer civilians died in fires last year than ever before, which the mayor and fire chief attributed to another near-record low average response time. From a City Hall press release:

The FDNY’s Emergency Medical Service averaged an ambulance response time for life-threatening medical emergencies of 6:30 — a second faster than the previous record of 6:31 set in 2011.

Structural fire response time in 2012 was 4:04, two seconds higher than last year when it was 4:02 due in part to the large call volume that occurred during and after Hurricane Sandy when the FDNY responded to nearly 100 serious structural fires.

Compared to the total amount of street space in the city, the square footage dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists in recent years is actually quite small. But there are still hundreds of places with new sidewalk extensions, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes, and at the very least the FDNY numbers suggest that new measures designed to make streets safer for walking and biking are not having the detrimental effect prophesied by the likes of Dov Hikind, NBBL, Marty Markowitz, and Marcia Kramer.

  • Not to mention that safer streets create fewer emergencies in the first place.

  • When I campaigned for street calming efforts a decade ago in my former hometown (Longmont, Colorado), our biggest opposition by far came from the police department and fire department.  Our transportation department came up with the plans and even told us ahead of time, “The fire chief and police chief are going to hate this, you know.”

  • Guest

    it’s completely academically dishonest to claim “safer streets” “aren’t” slowing emergency vehicles. There is basically no change in response times from the previous year, and there certainly is no information on travel times on streets where these measure have been installed over the past year.

    Just because the initial claim is specious doesn’t mean anything if the response is to cherry pick harder than American Pickers

  • Good. Let’s concentrate on reducing the kill rate of all drivers, with fewer irrational distractions from emergency drivers.

  • Quigley

    I’d love to agree but this information doesn’t in any way support that conclusion.

  • Dave Campbell

    In Berkeley we have known for years that safer streets mean just that-they are safer for everyone, including people relying on emergency vehicles. Unfortunately, we too have to listen to these cynical counter arguments against better streets. One obvious reason streets are safer for emergency vehicles when they are safer for everyone is that it is a lot easier to pull over 30 people and make room for emergency vehicles if the 30 people are in one bus, are walking on the sidewalk, or biking. It’s only when they are all in a cars that it takes a while

  • I commented on an article linking back here:

    “After a few speed tables were introduced in the vast metropolis of New York City, the EMS times improved by ONE SECOND. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from this is that objections that speed tables impair emergency vehicles is clearly a NIMBY myth invented by troglodytes which we have now thoroughly debunked!!!”

    “Though, the big heavy fire trucks you would expect to be MOST impacted by speed tables were two seconds SLOWER, but clearly that was because of Hurricane Sandy, not because of speed tables. (Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!)”

    Correlation only equivalent to causation when the scant data points fit your desired conclusion?

    Any reasonably honest person would concede that a few seconds one way or the other averaged out over the five boroughs means absofreakingly nothing about the local impact of speed tables one way or another. And yet your NYC colleagues still need to cherry pick around the slimmest irrelevant data points, and hold that up as proof that the NIMBYs are wrong.

    I WANT a speed table in my neighborhood, but only if I can be intellectually honest in my community and with my city government about the trade-offs. That blog post undermines the credibility of citizens who advocate online for traffic calming. Please undertake this publishing effort with a tiny bit more critical thought and scepticism and you’ll be doing all of your allies a greater service.


  • So … what happened? Did you convince the First Responders that this wasn’t the case? How?”

  • I moved away from Colorado to California, so I haven’t tracked the issues there.


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