A committee of the Lexington council unanimously approved a change Tuesday that would restrict parking to one side of newly constructed streets less than 30-feet wide, making room for fire trucks during emergencies.
Lexington Fire has struggled for more than a decade to get fire engines into smaller residential streets when cars are parked on both sides. Subdivision regulations allow a 24-foot-wide street with parking on both sides, but fire codes require streets to have 20 feet of unobstructed access for fire trucks.
“If a ladder has to set up, that’s impossible,” said Assistant Chief Chris Sweat.
Sweat presented the fire department’s recommendations to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee.
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Fire officials said parking could also be restricted on existing streets that are less than 30 feet, but only if there is a complaint.
In 2016, there were fires in neighborhoods off Hayes Boulevard. Fire trucks struggled to reach the burning homes because of parked cars on the narrow streets, said Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, whose district includes Hayes Boulevard. She referred the issue to the council’s Planning and Public Works Committee.
“I had several residents who were concerned that fire trucks could not get into their neighborhoods,” Scutchfield said. “I know several streets near the University of Kentucky where there is only parking on one side of the street.”
From 2014 to 2016, the fire department reviewed 55 streets where fire truck access was an issue. Of those, 43 streets were too narrow and parking was restricted to one side of the street, Sweat said. Fire officials said they restrict parking on the side where fire hydrants are located.
Under the proposal passed Tuesday, developers could continue building streets of less than 30 feet, but parking would be restricted immediately rather than waiting for a complaint, Sweat said. The city is already phasing out 24-foot-wide streets.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson questioned whether parking should be restricted on all streets under 30 feet wide.
“If we are not able to get to a person in need and we need to get them, then maybe we should look at it,” Henson said.
Fire officials said they decided not to automatically restrict parking on current streets as a compromise but are open to the idea.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe questioned why the fire department didn’t get smaller trucks. Other cities have narrow streets, she said.
Lexington Fire Chief Kristin Chilton said the department can’t control the size of trucks that manufacturers produce.
She also noted that trucks are bigger because fire departments do more than ever, including search and rescue.
“We have a lot more equipment than we did in the 1950s,” Chilton said.
Todd Johnson, vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky, said home builders don’t oppose the change. But builders might need greater design flexibility to allow for more off-street parking, Johnson said.
Councilman Jack Gibbs said he would support the change but is concerned that restricting parking to one side will increase speeding.
Amy Clark of the Fayette County Neighborhood Council said her group also is concerned that wider streets would encourage higher speeds.
“We are also concerned that people will pave their yards,” Clark said.
The issue will go to the full council for a vote next month. If approved, the changes will go to the Urban County Planning Commission for its approval.