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The Smart Growth Streets and Emergency Response Initiative

Congress for the New Urbanism
Firm Role
Consensus building, facilitation, street design, code writing
2009 – 2015
National initiative

The Smart Growth Streets and Emergency Response Initiative brought firefighters, transportation engineers, city planners, and urban designers together, to work toward the shared goal of improving life safety. The Initiative aimed to update the street design provisions of the International Fire Code, with two main goals in mind: helping emergency responders arrive quickly at fires and medical emergencies, and simultaneously reducing traffic fatalities and injuries. It also aimed to give cities greater flexibility to adopt slender street designs, which can increase housing affordability and reduce speeding, urban heat islands, stormwater runoff, and pollution.

Patrick Siegman and Peter Swift were engaged by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to lead the Initiative, in partnership with CNU staff. The project was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency's Development, Community and Environment Division, which focuses on smart growth issues of national significance.

To work through the tensions, trade-offs, and conflicts that often arise when discussing street design, the Initiative convened a working group of emergency responders and transportation professionals. The group engaged in a series of facilitated meetings, problem-solving workshops with broader participation, and discussions at national conferences. The result was agreement on a set of shared values, an annotated bibliography of relevant research, a toolkit of strategies, and joint proposals for updating the International Fire Code. Mr. Siegman and other leaders of the Initiative then presented the proposed changes to the International Code Council for adoption.

In 2015, after years of outreach and advocacy, the International Fire Code was revised to provide flexibility for human-scaled street design, empowering fire code officials to approve slender streets. The change helps cities achieve their goals for overall life safety, including both fire and traffic safety.