The pedestrian fatality on Fell earlier this week has rekindled concern, frustration, and anger of NOPA and Alamo Square residents over speeding on Fell and Oak streets. Once news of the death of Melissa Hope Dennison circulated among neighbors, the gathering storm over the SFgo signs in the neighborhood took on another aspect: the failure of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) and SFPD to effectively deal with dangerous driving on these "residential freeways."
"I wish you were with me every morning when I have to run with my three kids to get across Oak Street safely," Lisa Zohner told representatives of MTA and SFPD at Thursday night's meeting sponsored by the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA). One resident who lives on Fell complained that the city has a record of ticketing cars on the street 100% of the time for street-cleaning violations but only something close to 1-2% for ticketing speeders. "Your engineering solution (for Oak and Fell) does not reflect real life experience," charged another neighbor. These and similar comments received a round of applause from the more than 60 neighbors gathered for the meeting.
Lt.Lon Ramlan of SFPD Park Station spoke to the NOPNA gathering and said the department "really tries to focus on speeding" in the district's traffic corridors. "We're trying to do more uniform enforcement; we're trying to create a safe, civil community." However, Ramlan disturbed some at the meeting when he commented on the death of Melissa Hope Dennison. "It was an accident; it was not manslaughter," he said. He then advised pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to take extra caution when travelling early mornings or evenings when others may be more distracted. Ramlin commented further on protecting one's home against burglaries.
I asked Ramlan if it was now the official SFPD position that the death of Dennison "was not manslaughter." (Lt. Lyn Tomioka, SFPD spokesperson, was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner Wednesday as saying the investigation is ongoing). Ramlin backtracked and said "there is no determination that it was manslaughter." Given the apparently uncertain outcome of the investigation, it might also be stated that there is no determination that it was not manslaughter. SFPD has also told the media that there was no evidence of speeding by the motorist who killed Dennison, although the force of the impact leads others to question that conclusion.
Jack Fleck, SFMTA Traffic Engineer, offered a more forthcoming assessment of the traffic death. "Speeding is a factor in any fatality like this," he told the westside neighbors. He said he decided to attend the NOPNA meeting once the department heard about the tragic loss.
"If a car is stopped, as a motorist you should assume the car stopped for a good reason," Fleck said. "Green does not mean 'go'; it means you cannot proceed if a pedestrian is in the way."
Fleck reported that the number of pedestrian deaths in the city remains far too high but the count is nevertheless dropping to the point that 2008 saw sixteen pedestrian fatalities, appreciably less than previous years. "The thing we have to conquer is the speeding issue," he emphasized and said MTA believes the city needs more "automated enforcement" -- red light cameras -- because "the police can't do it all." He added that MTA will place a red light camera at dangerous Fell and Masonic intersection, although he did not provide a date for the installation. In response to comments that neighbors have had to fight every step of the way to get MTA to slow traffic on Fell and Oak, Fleck said "I will commit to looking close at Fell and Oak. When, Kevin Rafter, NOPNA President, asked Fleck if he would report back to the association about the matter, the engineer replied, "I don't think I would have any choice."
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was unable to attend the NOPNA meeting, but earlier in the day he told Streetsblog reporter Michael Rhodes that "Fell and Oak is a freeway, for all intents and purposes." He added, "Unless we are willing to radically calm Fell and Oak down, then we're just dancing around the edges" with the more incremental "patchwork" changes that MTA proposes periodically for the corridors.
Proposals for taming Fell and Oak include returning the streets to two-way traffic, further reduction in the speed limit, adding a full bike lane, much-increased enforcement of the speed limit by SFPD, and adding bulb-outs at the corners to improve pedestrian safety. The SFgo program has stoked concern about MTA priorities and whether the freeway-style signs will only add to the speeding problem, not tame it. Few neighbors left the NOPNA meeting feeling assured that MTA or SFPD were going to be aggressive in implementing the full-system traffic calming and speed control that many feel is a must. Those who don't want the issue to be sidelined in the days ahead can register their ongoing concern with:
- Mayor Gavin Newsom: www.sfgov.org/site/mayor_index.asp
- Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi: firstname.lastname@example.org
- SFMTA Board President Tom Nolan @ SFMTA, 1 So. Van Ness, 7th Floor, SF 94103
- SFMTA Director, Parking & Traffic, Bond Yee: email@example.com
- SFMTA Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck: SFMTA, firstname.lastname@example.org
- SFPD Chief George Gascon, 415 553 1551
- SFPD Park District Captain Teresa Barrett, 415 242 3000.
NOPNA is also assembling an interest group of neighbors who want to work on slowing Fell and Oak speeding; contact through www.nopna.org. Please comment here on BIKE NOPA as well to add to the neighborhood discussion.
Readers' Note: check next Monday's post in BIKE NOPA for a review and analysis of the discussion about SFgo at the NOPNA meeting. One highlight: now it seems the Fell street SFgo sign has little to do with traffic calming -- and certainly not with transit management.