CNU's Emergency Response and Street Design Initiative

Sam Newberg - Joe Urban's picture

CNU is leading the charge to get new urbanists and firefighters to agree on a set of street design standards that are both attractive, useful, pedestrian-friendly and safer for all.


The Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative is a collaboration between the Congress for the New Urbanism, fire marshals across the United States and the U.S. EPA’s Smart Growth program.  It has arrived at significant agreement on efforts to reconcile narrower streets and good emergency access.


The bottom line is a well-connected street grid network is essential to good urbanism, but also shortens emergency response times, both of which improve safety and quality of life.


Narrow streets encourage walking and slower traffic speeds, making the overall environment safer for walkers, bikers and drivers alike.  Taken in isolation, a narrow street may inhibit emergency response vehicles, but a well-designed street network can provide ample alternative routes and accessibility.


A study in Longmont, Colorado by Swift-Painter-Goldstein indicated a 485 percent increase in accident rates per mile when streets are widened from 24 to 36 feet.  Couple that with a study in Charlotte, North Carolina, indicating the per capita costs for fire service increased from $159 in the portion of the city with the best-connected street grid network to $740 in the least connected zone.  These studies indicate that a good urban street grid is both efficient and safer.


Currently the International Fire Code (IFC) does not take in to account the street network, and CNU is working to create a coalition of allies and propose amendments to the fire code to make it more flexible with regard to street design.  Our initial code revision was turned down, but we generated significant attention and a positive response from many participants, indicating that the principles of urbanism may have support in future efforts.


CNU’s next steps are additional research, outreach and pursuit of future code revisions to promote not only good urbanism, but overall improved safety.


Please join us in this effort!


Contact Heather Smith at



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