This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City's 300 South is called Broadway, but as far as the pavement goes, that name isn't fitting and its width poses a big challenge to fire engines.
After the installation of concrete barriers in 2014, the roadway no longer complies with the international fire code. Those regulations have been adopted by the state of Utah and Salt Lake City.
The reduced width of the street between 300 East and 300 West may pose a hazard, particularly for fires in buildings more than 30 feet tall that require the fire department's use of ladder trucks.
This is an issue that could drive up property owners' insurance rates.
Toro Geovjian, who owns and operates Salt Lake Rug Company, 167 E. 300 South, said he has deep-seated concerns regarding fires. He imports rugs from seven countries and worries about the width of the street and fire-engine access.
"I have a lot of money invested here," Geovjian said of his single-story shop. "I have a large inventory, so if there is a fire ... I don't know."
Representatives from the fire department visited his shop recently, he said. "The firemen said it is going to be difficult getting trucks in here."
Beyond that, Geovjian said the concrete barriers for bike lanes are a waste of taxpayer dollars. "I hope Jackie will tear them out," he said, referring to Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
The project cost $900,000, according to City Hall officials.
But Robin Hutcheson, Salt Lake City transportation director, said the 13- to 14-foot-wide lanes up and down 300 South provide "ample room" for fire trucks.
The concrete bicycle barriers were already being installed, she noted, before the fire department questioned the alignments.
"We became aware of the fire department's concerns as the bicycle barriers were being built," Hutcheson said.
She noted that her division has worked through issues presented by the bike lanes with the fire marshal, who has approved them. "We all want safety," Hutcheson added.
That is accurate, said Fire Marshal Ryan Mellor. But, he added, the verbal approval came after the concrete bicycle barriers were already in place.
"We are definitely short of the [fire code] width," he said. "But from an operational standpoint, we can still do the job."
Mellor added that the communication between the fire department and City Hall has improved dramatically in recent months.
During the administration of former Mayor Rocky Anderson, medians were added to 300 South from 300 East to 300 West, beginning in 2001. It was a "traffic-calming" strategy that also created parking in the center of the street.
Despite the medians that vary in width from 2 feet to 14 feet, 300 South remained in compliance with the International Fire Code. It calls for a minimum width of 20 feet in each direction. Where buildings are over 30 feet high, the code calls for a 26-foot minimum width so that ladder trucks can deploy stabilizing arms. Some of the existing lanes are half that 26-foot width.
The concrete barriers combined with the bike lanes and gutters take up 9 feet of roadway. The block between State and Main is an exception. There are no medians on that block and it is in compliance with the fire code.
Hutcheson said the medians are the "bigger culprit" when it comes to reduced widths of traffic lanes on 300 South.
Anderson disagrees with the analysis, saying the medians were in place long before bike lanes were added.
"If we were in compliance with the medians and are out of compliance now... that's ridiculous," Anderson said. "They need to consider removing the concrete [bicycle] barriers, bringing the street back into compliance."
The bike lanes along 300 South are the result of poor planning, Anderson said. "It's not a good thing for the long run," he said. "And it's incredibly expensive."
Long before the concrete-protected bike lanes were added, fire officials voiced concerns about 300 South. In September 2002, after the installation of the medians, the city issued a report outlining those challenges.
"Several [fire] captains have expressed concern because they might not be able to establish aerial ladder operations outside of a building's collapse zone as quickly as before the center of the street angle parking was installed," the report said. "Operating in congested areas has negative impacts on the efficiency and safety of firefighters."
Carmen von Bothmer, the proprietor of City Creek Antiques, 169 E. Broadway, thinks the concrete bike lanes are a disaster. Recently, when firefighters paid her a visit, they parked their truck on the median, she said.
"They said, 'There is no room for us.' ''
Further, von Bothmer said many bicyclists feel trapped by the bike lanes and don't use them.
"So they ride down the sidewalk," she said. "[City Hall] should admit they made a mistake with these bike lanes."
A spokesman for Biskupski said the mayor has asked the fire department and transportation division to review how the decisions were made to install the medians and bike lanes. In addition, Biskupski has asked them for suggested strategies to mitigate the impacts they create.
"The mayor takes this very seriously," said Matthew Rojas. "The fire marshal will be very vocal on any new street design."
No decision has been made on whether the bike lanes or medians should be modified.