Fire commissioner says Safe Streets SF program could put community at risk

There’s been a lot of support for the Safe Streets SF project, which began in April of 2020 to give residents of San Francisco more elbow room to physically distance outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safe Streets SF led several streets across the city to be closed to cars to emphasize pedestrian activity.

"I had thought what a strange thing to shut these highways down to all that traffic when there are walks on either side for the most part because there have always been trails on both sides for bicycles and so forth, but as I walk it just now I just think it’s wonderful," said Tom Reed of Daly City.

We caught up with Reed as he was taking a stroll on one of the San Francisco thoroughfares that were concerned to pedestrianly only, Great Highway that runs along the city’s Outer Sunset District.

San Francisco’s Fire Commission devoted much of Wednesday’s meeting to the topic where during public comment, a resident commented that he welcomed the continuation after previously being hit twice while on his bicycle. He said he can now safely navigate from one end of the city to the other through the network of Safe Streets converted roads.

But during the meeting, one issue took center stage following a report from Fire Marshal Dan de Cossio who said that there has been a delay in response times on average of five to 30 seconds over the last year.

"A concern of mine as the fire marshal is that this is at a time when we have reduced traffic volume given COVID restriction and what does that look like in the future when things ramp back up," said de Cossio.

The revelation drew a sharp response from Fire Commissioner Francee Covington, who expressed concern that the Safe Streets project could put the community at risk.

"When you talk about a delay of five seconds or 30 seconds, you have to really if your house is on fire, that’s a lifetime to you that is not just a stopwatch period of time," said Covington.

In response, Jeffery Tumlin, director of SF Municipal Transportation Agency, the division that oversees the safe streets, told the commission the program is designed to slow cars and still enable emergency vehicles to respond to incidents promptly.

Representatives from SFMTA told the commission that it would examine the data collected and return before the commission in July with an update and a list of recommendations.