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Bicycle Safety

Woman Killed by Driver Near San Franciscoā€™s Residential Highway

9:00 PM PDT on September 15, 2009

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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."

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