We should probably append all these myth busters in a book, as they continually circulate, just like the idea that sidewalks create crime. (Which they do not, and I can prove that with data too.)

Laura Laker reports in The Guardian about one canard that still quacks away at every public meeting that I attend~and that is that if you make pedestrian priority streets and if you do traffic calming, that will delay emergency vehicles.  Ms. Laker lays this myth to rest.

This is such a popular myth. When I was involved in installing traffic circles in various locations with the City of Vancouver, there was a lot of fear that the circles themselves would slow down emergency vehicles. In fact there are computer programs that model the size of the largest emergency vehicle and the radius that is needed for the traffic circle and that works perfectly well.

There is one interesting story though, and that is the installation of speed humps or bumps (yes, they are two different things). Fire departments don’t like them, and not for the reason you might think. In the older vehicles there is not a lot of head room for very tall firemen. The reason that speed humps have to be properly engineered is for fire trucks to go at a reasonable speed over the bumps without the firemen  bouncing and hitting their heads on the truck ceiling ~which of course can cause injury.

But in Great Britain, several national papers alleged that traffic calming and bike lanes were delaying emergency vehicles and putting lives at risk.

In response, a  study sponsored by Cycling United Kingdom interviewed the different ambulance services that had to navigate through different “low traffic areas” (Britain is ahead in mandating 20 mile per hour zones in neighbourhoods)  with expanded cycling lanes, and wider pandemic designed sidewalks.

By analyzing actual call outs from emergency services obtained in freedom of information requests,  the study found that there was no delays or differences in emergency response times.

One ambulance service made the connection that the slower streets and dedicated bike lanes actually made citizens safer, and made their job easier. That  ambulance service representative stated : “Our ambulance crews are advanced drivers and trained to deal with a range of conditions including traffic congestion … we welcome any traffic arrangements that promote road safety and reduce the amount of accidents that occur, and we work with councils to find a compromise over any road layouts or changes that may cause us difficulties.”

You would think that locked gates on streets placed to mitigate terrorism would slow emergency vehicles down.  While that can be circumvented by going around the perimeter streets, I note that in my own experience of using bollards and locks to protect street closures that the firemen carry a very big set of wirecutters and can snap those locks like butter. They are of course supplied with keys, but in the interest of speed breaking a lock works out just fine.

Data also showed that protected cycling lanes reduced cyclist injuries by 40 to 65 percent, which from a universal health care perspective makes these protected biking lanes the right thing to do. And the lower traffic neighbourhoods with traffic calmed streets and slower speeds also reduced injuries by all users by 70 percent. This marked decrease in injury is also borne out in studies done by 20isPlenty which i have written about here.

The bottom line? Low traffic neighbourhoods had less congestion and experienced no emergency response delays. Perimeter roads also had a “slight” improvement in response times.

As a representative of Cycling United Kingdom summed up “The claim that cycle lanes were causing mayhem and disaster for ambulances was manifestly untrue.”

One more myth shattered. Traffic calming, low traffic neighbourhoods and protected cycling lanes do not delay emergency vehicles, but have been shown to significantly  decrease the injuries that emergency vehicles would normally have to respond to.

You can review  the two data studies  here on  the impact of protected bike lanes and the impact of the lower traffic streets.

The YouTube video below shows the physical infrastructure used for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) and describes how they work, and their impact.



  1. Pointing out the singular exception to the rule is a tired rhetorical device but unfortunately for a lot of people it still works. Never mind the fact that traffic calming reduces death, injury, and costs for the whole of society every single day. But no. It’s the image of the screaming ambulance carrying the fast-expiring orphan that “informs” these cartoonish opinions.

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