Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
As reported last week, six-year old Amar Diarassoubba was killed while crossing a Harlem street last week. The emotional case has thrust the dreary issue of pedestrian safety into the spotlight, and what that reveals is a poor record of traffic crashes involving kids for East Harlem and a lack of fresh data to measure progress.
According to police, Amar was walking with his nine-year-old brother. A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection on First Avenue and 117th Street, but wasn’t. The truck was supposed to yield, but didn’t. The rear wheels of the tractor trailer ran Amar down as he was in the crosswalk. His brother stood watching. All of it was just half block from Amar’s school.
According to two studies, P.S. 155 William Paca sits at the center of a hot spot for children in traffic accidents.
The group Transportation Alternatives looked at all crashes involving children from 1995 to 2009. In East Harlem, children made up 43 percent of traffic injuries. A much higher proportion, 15 percent, than just a few blocks south on the same avenues on the Upper East Side which has the same percentage of children in the population according to the study.
“This is not a force of nature that we do not have control over, this is something we can fix,” said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives.
In the second study, The Tri State Transportation Campaign tracked all traffic deaths from 2009 to 2011 in the New York region. The group found that in Manhattan, five kids under 15 years old died in traffic. But there was a cluster. Three of them were within just seven blocks of P.S. 155.
Parents at P.S. 155 said the area is hazardous as trucks are constantly roaring to and from the nearby shopping mall and the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's Department of Transportation said they’re aware of the problem, and were working on it.
“We try to have traffic lights, we try to have red light cameras, which the state won’t let us have. We deploy our police officers when they’re not doing other things,” Bloomberg said.
Seth Solomonow of the Department of Transportation said in an email: “From last year’s safety redesign of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to school safety projects to simplifying the entrance to Harlem River Park, Harlem has seen some of the most extensive and innovative safety changes ever brought to New York City’s streets.”
First Avenue is slated for a redesign to add pedestrian plazas and a bike lane.
City officials pointed out that in 2011 the city had the lowest number of traffic fatalities on record. That year, the mayor announced the tallies even before he pushed the button for the New Year’s Eve ball drop. But preliminary data for 2012 show a rise in traffic deaths, and the city has yet to release the final numbers to the dismay of City Council members like Jessica Lappin of Manhattan's East Side.
“They’re supposed to be providing this information. We’ve been asking for it for months. And they still haven’t provided it," she said. "That’s why we had a press conference back in January. And they promised us we would have it in weeks. Well, it’s been a month plus and we still don’t have the data.”
Since January, Transportation Nation has asked the Department of Transportation for the number of children killed or injured in traffic in New York City but to no avail. The only available data on 2012, or that includes the locations of crashes, was preliminary data from the New York Police Department based on initial accident reports. Those figures showed that fatalities might be on the rise over 2011, but they were un-audited.
Police said the investigation into the Diarrassouba crash continues, including into the whereabouts of the crossing guard. No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.