Woman Killed by Driver Near San Francisco’s Residential Highway



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A woman was struck and killed by a driver this morning while walking near the intersection of Fell and Broderick Streets in San Francisco. The victim, who wore a hooded sweatshirt, fleece cutoff pants and flip flops, was a 24-year-old San Francisco resident identified as Melissa Dennison. A man came forward to police as the driver, and was questioned but not arrested, said Lt. Lyn Tomioka, an SFPD public affairs spokesperson.

Police had not yet released details of where in the intersection the crash occurred, but Tomioka said the case would be presented to the District Attorney’s office for a decision on whether to proceed with criminal charges. The driver, a 19-year-old male who commutes to the city for work, was driving a black Honda Civic westbound on Fell. "Another vehicle appears to have stopped at some point," said Tomioka. "The Honda went around that car and it appears at that point hit the victim," who was found lying partially on the sidewalk on Fell. According to a KCBS report, Dennison’s body was so severely mangled police could not initially identify her age or race.

"Whether she was in the crosswalk or not, the driver needs to proceed with caution," Tomioka said.

The fatal crash happened on one of San Francisco’s most hazardous streets for pedestrians and bicyclists, a four-lane, one-way throughway that is treated as a residential highway by many drivers. Fell Street is part of the city’s new SFgo program, which is intended to improve traffic flow on San Francisco’s streets. Upcoming changes will include overhead signs on Fell with real-time traffic information about delays.

SFBC program manager Marc Caswell thinks the changes coming to Fell Street may only make it more dangerous. "I think that SFgo’s freeway signage, which encourages fast-moving traffic, fast-moving private autos, would certainly continue to endanger pedestrians," said Caswell. The fatality this morning is a strong reminder of that danger, he said, since it occurred on a block "where that signage would be, probably where drivers would be looking up at the sign."

While the full details of this morning’s fatality are not yet available, the crash is a stark reminder that Fell Street and its eastbound twin, Oak Street, serve a densely populated residential area, and dangerously blend urban living and high-speed traffic. "Moving traffic smoothly and quickly through NOPA and Alamo Square sounds fine to some," said BIKE NOPA’s Michael Helquist, a former president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. "But when ‘quickly’ means speeding and results in deaths, the ‘traffic management’ takes on a different meaning."

  • CBrinkman

    Is there anything about SFGo that is to make life better and safer for pedestrians and cyclists? Anything at all? More car trips and faster car trips. Why would we want that?

  • Karen

    I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but what about converting the pairs of one-way streets in this area (Oak/Fell and Turk/Golden Gate) to (or back to?) two-way streets?

    Sacramento did this last year with similar streets that feed into and out of downtown: Freeport Blvd. and 21st Street

    http://www.cityofsacramento.org/transportation/freeport-21/index.html

    “The project…will restore the streets to the way they were prior to the mid 70s, to improve pedestrian safety, vehicle access and neighborhood livability.”

  • I agree: Fell and Oak should both be made two-way.

    They were made one way to carry traffic deposited into the city by the Central Freeway. Now that the Central Freeway has been replaced by Octavia Blvd to slow traffic, Fell and Oak should also be made two-way to slow traffic.

    Beginning in the 1950s, traffic engineers converted two-way streets into one-way couplets across the country. They had the single-minded goal of speeding up traffic and did not care about the effect on safety or livability. Now, many cities have begun to convert them back to two-way, and SF should join the crowd.

  • Aaron B.

    The situation described here is one of the most deadly and, unfortunately, most common. It happens all the time when I cross Lincoln with my bike. When a driver stops for pedestrians, the drivers behind them seem so intent on moving forward that they don’t stop to think what the other might be stopping for. This too often leads to a blind car zooming around another. Most of the time, if we’re lucky, this results in a close call and a frustrated driver. But why would we want to promote this situation to happen at all?

    More like SFno! (Sorry, I had to.)

  • Aaron B.

    Fell/Oak could just as well be pedestrianized and converted to at least one less lane each – with widened sidewalks, corner bulb-outs, striped crosswalks (and a complementary bike lane on Oak?). It wouldn’t really affect traffic flow that much since they work on a timed traffic light system. Cars would get through pretty much just as quickly, in a longer line rather than wider, and the livability benefits would be monumental for such a waste of a neighborhood.

  • RE: CBrinkman’s statement. SFgo stated in one document that improvements for transit, peds and bikers would be “side benefits” to the primary goal of replacing outdated infrastructure — the signal lights and technology governing them. Side benefits better than none? But in another doc, SFgo proposes that once motorists receive information on the LED message boards, they will be more calm and will treat peds and cyclists more generously and….what? distribute cookies? really?

    SFgo coming to the NOPNA neighborhood meeting this Thursday, Sept. 17, Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton, between Central and Masonic, 7:30 pm. Bring your comments and suggestions.

  • ZA

    Considering how many people live in this area, and how many businesses need easy foot-traffic to stay healthy, there should be mandatory, engineered, and enforced slow-downs between at least Webster and Baker for both Fell and Oak. 15mph sounds about right.

    Drivers still have Geary, Masonic, 19th Ave/Hwy 1, and even Divisadero to connect between the Richmond, Pacific Heights, Downtown, the Bridges and the highways…if they just can’t deal with going slowly enough to at most injure, not kill, someone.

  • If what Sgt. Tomioka says is true, the driver must at least be cited for a moving violation in addition to any criminal charges prosecutors decide to file.

    CVC Section 21951 states:

    “Whenever any vehicle has stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.”

    …Or is the CVC just a list of suggestions now?

  • mcas

    Josh– you are so silly. Hitting and killing someone with your car isn’t the fault of the driver. Go read SFGATE: “…she was hit by a car…” –not by the person driving it. Cars hit things all the time, sometimes killing them, and everyone knows that it’s just a fact of life– I’m sure Melissa’s parents understand that…

  • Rest in peace Melissa Dennison. Twenty four years old. Mangled to death by a car. Not an easy way to die.

  • Mike

    More bad news from NOPA. Last night around 8PM I saw a woman cyclist hit on Masonic at the Turk intersection. The car came at her from behind at 40mph. It swerved around her and as it passed the side of the car hit her (it was that close). She was knocked off balance but thankfully uninjured. The car sped away without ever slowing down. Be safe out there.

  • ZA

    RIP Melissa Dennison. I hope the flowers I left you bloom into a meadow of memory and warning to everyone on that terrible blind corner.

    On foot, on my bike, in a car, that corner *always* scared me.

  • michael b

    I agree: Fell and Oak should both be made two-way. SLOW traffic–this is NOT a freeway–drivers need to recognize they are going thru a neighborhood!

  • For years neighbors have argued to reduce the speed limit from 30mph to 25mph at rush hour. Instead the city puts up signs that are specifically designed to be read while traveling at freeway speeds.

    Yet another person killed by a car is not surprising here in SF.

  • Troy

    I don’t even understand what benefit these planned freeway signs on Fell/Oak would provide to DRIVERS. I mean, if you drive in the city, you know how long it takes to get from the panhandle to Octavia. And if it’s especially bad on a certain day, you don’t really have many other options. Are people going to hop over to Haight instead and take it down to the freeway? These signs are a waste of money and add visual blight and make Fell/Oak feel even MORE like a freeway. Is it too late to get rid of them?

    and fwiw, i think oneway traffic makes sense on fell/oak.

  • Filamino

    I doubt the signs will be used for travel time. As Troy said, that’s not needed in an urban street environment. What I’ve seen other urban cities around the world use them for are:

    1. Street closures, such as JFK Dr. on Sunday. How many times have I seen drivers try to speed pass everyone to get onto JFK Dr only to find it closed at the last second?
    2. Show where parking is. If the DeYoung Garage is full, they can be directed to the UCSF Garage and Shuttle. That way, there will be fewer cars circling the neighborhood trying to find a parking space. These drivers will be too busy looking for that coveted free space instead of looking out for pedestrians and bicyclists.
    3. Public Service Announcements. IE Bikes Belong – Share The Road, Slow It Down – Watch for Peds, Click it or Ticket, etc, etc.

    The signs are much, much smaller than freeway signs so I don’t buy that argument that they create a freeway-type feel. However, I think they can blend in even better if the structure was painted green or…”Embarcadero blue”?

  • Jeff

    “Only” 5% of pedestrians hit by a car going 30 mph die.

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/research/pub/hs809012.html

    I bet you he was moving much faster than the speed limit.

    Slow down people.

  • Ian

    I wonder if this is the same individual. The age seems to match.

    http://www.groundreport.com/Lifestyle/Melissa-Dennison-Nabs-2nd-DUI-in-Same-Spot-4-Month

  • Turk
  • Nick

    I usually just walk my bike on the sidewalk for those few blocks of Fell. We’re a long way from that street being anywhere near safe. The only other option is to time the lights so that you can ride a break in traffic. Freeway speeds and bikes don’t mix.

    RIP

  • At what point do we give up on fiddling around the margins here and really take a look at what we’re dealing with?

    This area has NEVER (in recent time) been a safe place to ride a bike across Fell/Oak or walk. NEVER. It’s nice to think pretty signs and “calming” things will help, but the fundamental fact of life is that you either drastically slow down traffic with concrete barriers and whatnot so you can cross the streets safely, or you give up and you build bridges or tunnels or something and separate the traffic from the people. Or alternately, give up completely on streets crossing Fell/Oak entirely.

    None of this is a great solution (cutting off cross town traffic on Masonic would be a disaster), but unless someone comes up with a solution that tackles these fundamental problems, more people are going to get injured. All the half-assed mitigation so far doesn’t change driver behavior at all. (For fun go watch all the drivers who insist on making lefts on Lincoln at 9th, nearly killing people – and of course no one gets at ticket.)

    As an aside, when I used to use Fell to get to the old freeway, I hated driving down that street. I avoided it as much as I could because everyone was in such a haze of cluelessness, I had near misses with other autos all the time. Even now I won’t walk near there.

  • JD

    The victim’s past is irrelevant. It doesn’t excuse potentially reckless behavior by the driver or mean the victim deserves to die. To the victim’s friends and family, you will read a lot of blather from idiots who don’t realize this could so easily have happened to them and who are all about blaming the victim. Ignore them, they don’t matter. What matters is the real human being that Melissa was and how you feel about her. You have all my sympathy, I have suffered similar losses twice. I advise you to avoid these comment sites until the pain eases.

  • JC

    Thank you, JD. Someone needed to say that.

  • Aaron Z

    Mellisa,

    You will be missed…..

  • #16 – Jeff, it’s 5% at 30 kilometres per hour, which is about 20mph.

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