Charlotte case study links street connectivity with faster response time, greater efficiency for emergency services

In the past, New Urbanists and some fire departments have been at odds over street design. The conventional emergency response wisdom prescribed wide suburban roads that could accommodate ever-growing emergency vehicles, even if drivers often took advantage of them to speed and cause more accidents.

But recently many emergency responders have allied themselves with the New Urbanist movement, calling for better-connected street systems rather than the meandering inefficiencies of conventional sprawl. The Congress for the New Urbanism put out a report earlier this year on emergency response, and one particular section merits digging out and examining in relation to this debate.

The City of Charlotte did a study in 2008 comparing eight fire stations that extend out from the urban core into the city’s far-flung suburban neighborhoods. The results, summarized well in this excerpt from the Emergency Response Report, speak for themselves:

  • The city’s average response time rose from 4.5 minutes in the mid 1970’s to to 5.5 minutes in 2002, corresponding with the increased prevalence of sprawling neighborhood design.
  • But since October 2001, when the city started requiring street connectivity, it has dropped back down to just 5 minutes.
  • The most efficient fire station was Station 2 in Dilworth, a 19th century streetcar suburb with a traditional connected street pattern. It served 26,930 households in 14.1 square miles with a per capita life cycle cost of $159 per year.
  • In contrast, the least efficient station was Station 31 near Highland Creek, a conventional sprawling development built in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It served only 5,779 households in 8 square miles at a per capita life cycle cost of $740 per year. That’s over four times the cost of Dilworth’s fire station.

The three-page PDF excerpt attached has the full lowdown, with graphs that really hammer in the importance of connectivity both in saving lives and saving tax dollars.

Charlotte-EmergencyResponse.pdf371.37 KB


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