Streets and street life make a city what it is. From the dense alleys of Chinatown to the broad avenues of the Sunset district, the lanes and byways of San Francisco shape the very nature of the neighborhoods they criss-cross.
So when San Francisco got the chance to plan a new neighborhood -- the Candlestick Point Development Project, in this case -- its roughly 37 miles of streets became the fulcrum of what that yet-to-be-built place will look like.
But recent Fire Department concerns about street widths pitted the department's need for navigable roadways against pedestrian-minded design backers, forcing a compromise.
"We think we have a solution that we all agree with," said Planning Department Director John Raham at a Thursday meeting of the Planning Commission where the plan -- and compromise -- were unveiled.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who clashed with the Fire Department over the issue in May, cautions that the compromise is tentative.
In 2010, initial plans for the neighborhood were submitted, including streetscapes. The neighborhood -- which will stretch from Candlestick Park to where Alice Griffith public housing now sits -- was modeled on dense, pedestrian-friendly inner-city neighborhoods with lively street life.
It was meant to be a thriving city neighborhood, "not some suburban neighborhood out there," said Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore.
The original plan made all but a few streets in the area 20 feet wide, each lane 10 feet with additional space for parking. The smaller-sized streets, argued planners and bicycle advocates, reduce driving speeds and thus create fewer accidents. They also make the neighborhood more walkable.
But when the Fire Department looked at the plans, it balked. If all the streets were narrow, the ladder trucks, which will be more essential in the neighborhood because of the heights of the buildings there, would need wider streets to maneuver. The department's alternative: widen most streets by 6 feet.
That was not a popular idea for many, especially for Wiener, who has faced off against the department before on similar streetscape issues, specifically sidewalk bulb-outs.
At a Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing in May, the issue came to a head, Wiener said. The department came with changes at the 11th hour, which "totally contradicted to good urban design standards," he said.
That hearing and subsequent communication prompted the start of a compromise that is still being worked out, Wiener said.
"We're not against narrow streets, if we can work within that plan," said fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge, explaining that the compromise will allow them the access the department needs.
Still, small-street advocates wonder why the department had such issues when The City is already chock-full of streets that are 20 feet wide.
"There are plenty of streets in San Francisco that they're already at that width," said Tyler Frisbee with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, who opposed the street widening.
Fire officials see it in a different light.
"Just because we have some really challenging area doesn't mean that we should create more really challenging areas," Talmadge said.
Construction is expected to begin in 2015.