Fire deaths higher in sprawled areas
According to some research recently completed by myself and Drs. Arun Srinivasan and Matin Katirai (2012), loss of life due to fire is much greater in sprawled and new and fringe residential development. Additionally, fire department response is about three minutes longer on average in fringe neighborhoods, with a maximum of 36 minutes waiting versus a maximum of 17 minutes waiting in older and more densely settled neighborhoods. Newer development on the fringe of urban and metro areas is more likely to be adjacent to wildland areas, which suffer fire incidents at a rate greater than most areas. And these areas are often, because of their newness, some distance away from the nearest fire station, or they have to rely on volunteer fire departments which do not have the resources of a municipal fire department.
Longer fire department and EMS response times result from the fact that low density development means longer travel times from a fire or EMS station to get to a crisis situation. There is often a lag between new development and the construction of new facilities for police, fire, and EMS deployment, giving rise to response delays. Sprawled regions have also been shown to have higher per capita traffic fatalities (Ewing, et al, 2003, Lambert and Meyer 2006). More sprawled areas have higher speed limits, hence resulting in more fatalities when car collisions occur. And these areas typically have fewer sidewalks and pedestrian/bicycle friendly paths, which increases the chances of fatalities occurring to pedestrians as well.
With these consequences of sprawl documented in recent research efforts, and with weight and obesity problems and respiratory problems connected to sprawl as well (Frumkin 2002), many urban planners and proponents of sustainable development are not only seeing sprawl as something aesthetically displeasing and wasteful and leading to less community cohesion but also now see it as a threat to individual and public health. Any ‘benefit-cost” analysis of new residential or commercial development as well as federal housing policies should now consider these health problems as well.
American Farmland Trust. 1998. “Living on the Edge: The Costs of Scattered Development.” March, 1998. http://www.farmlandinfo.org.
Ewing, Reid, Richard A. Schieber, and Charles V. Zegeer. 2003. “Urban Sprawl as a Risk Factor in Motor Vehicle Occupant and Pedestrian Fatalities.” American Journal of Public Health 93 no. 9 (2003): 1541-1545.
Frumkin, Howard. 2002. “Urban sprawl and public health.” Public Health Reports 2002 May-Jun; 117(3): 201–217.
Lambert, Thomas E. and Peter B. Meyer. 2006. ”Ex-Urban Sprawl as a Factor in Traffic Fatalities and EMS Response Times in the Southeastern United States.” Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 40, No. 4, December 2006, pages 941-953.
Lambert, Thomas E. and Peter B. Meyer. 2008. “New and Fringe Residential Development and Emergency Medical Services Response Times in the United States.” State and Local Government Review, Vol. 40, No. 2, August 2008, pages 115-124.
Lambert, Thomas E., Arun Srinivasan, and Matin Katirai. 2012 “Ex-Urban Sprawl and Fire Response in the United States,” Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 46, No. 4, December 2012 (forthcoming).
Trowbridge, Matthew J., Matthew J. Gurka, and Robert E. O'Connor. 2009. “Urban Sprawl and Delayed Ambulance Arrival in the U.S.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 37, Issue 5, November 2009, Pages 428-432.
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