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Amar Diarrassouba

Transportation Nation

Harlem Has History of Child Pedestrian Danger

Monday, March 04, 2013

Most children who have died in traffic in Manhattan since 2009 have been hit within seven blocks of PS 155 (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

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As we 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. And, of course, 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.
PS 155 sits at the center of something of a hot spot for kids in traffic crashes according to two different studies.

The group Transportation Alternatives looked at all crashes involving kids from 1995-2009. 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 PS 155. (See map here).

Parents at PS 155 say the area is hazardous as trucks are constantly roaring by to and from the nearby shopping mall and the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Department of Transportation say they’re aware of the problem, and 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.”

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."  Solomonow said prior to this recent incident, just one child pedestrian had died in Manhattan since 2011.

First Avenue is slated for a redesign to add pedestrian plazas and a bike lane.

Both the Mayor and Department of Transportation like to point 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 the east side’s Jessica Lappin. She’s been calling for detailed reports for over a month

“They’re supposed to be providing this information. We’ve been asking for it for months. And they still haven’t provided it. 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 repeatedly asked the Department of Transportation for the number of children killed or injured in traffic in New York City to no avail. The only available data on 2012, or that includes the locations of crashes, is an NYPD preliminary data based on initial accident reports. Those figures show that fatalities might be on the rise over 2011, but they are un-audited.

Police say 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.

 

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Transportation Nation

A Deadly Mix: Students, Trucks, and a Missing Crossing Guard in Harlem

Friday, March 01, 2013

A police officer directs traffic at 117th Street and First Ave a day after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba was fatally struck by a truck there. The normal crossing guard has been suspended.

Parents held their childrens' hands a little tighter as they picked them up from PS 155 on Friday afternoon. Danger felt closer than usual here, and tragedy was the topic of conversation after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba died on the corner, struck and killed by a turning tractor trailer truck.

"I was the one who picked him up off the middle of First Avenue," said Melanie Canon, a mother who was standing in front of the school a day after the accident.

"He was face down," she said of Amar, who'd been walking to school with his 9 year-old brother. "His brother was standing right next to him. The little boy said, 'Help.' I picked him up by the back of his jacket. He was lifeless, limp. I saw a big pool of blood."

Canon is a doctor but there was nothing she could do. Amar--praised by neighbors as being kind to all--had no pulse.

Canon's daughter is a 3rd grader who attends nearby PS 206 and passes the same intersection every morning. Like the parents outside the PS 155, she said it's a treacherous walk for a child. "The paths to the schools need to be safe."

Outside the school, where the flag waved limply at half-mast, parents complained about the heavy volume of trucks, especially since 2009, when the East River Plaza mall opened a block away.

Tara French lives in the neighborhood and walks her three children to the school each day. "It's dangerous," she said." First Avenue is a dangerous street for them to be crossing. And now we have the mall so we have all the 18-wheelers coming up First Avenue."

Jaime Barton agreed. "The trucks should have at least another way to go for deliveries, that's how I feel," he said. The truck that struck Amar was coming from the direction of the mall, heading west on 117th street, and hit the child as it turned right onto First Avenue toward the Tri-Borough Bridge, which is seven blocks north. 117th Street is a narrow, one-way side street.

"Even 116th is a bigger intersection because it's two-way. This is one-way," Barton said as her daughter interrupted to boast about a recent birthday, her 6th.

A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection. Police are investigating her whereabouts. "What we're saying is that she was not on post when the accident happened which was  0754--that's all we can say at this time is that she wasn't there," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Friday.

While some parents said that crossing guard was frequently late or absent, others didn't blame her. Lydia Soto, who has a 13-year old at the school, said that parents had complained in the past about the guard to the school. Standing with French, the parents said that several years ago--the date was uncertain--parents had petitioned to have a different crossing guard replaced. The new guard on Second Avenue was "fabulous," they said.

Department of Education spokesperson Marge Fienberg said, "The principal of the school has not received any complaints about this guard and generally, when there are complaints, the safety agents provide parents with the number of the local precinct.

The NYPD is responsible for hiring crossing guards. The department has said that retaining crossing guards can be difficult because the job is only part time, several hours in the morning and several in the afternoon, and, according to the NYPD website, can pay below $10 per hour . 

A spokesperson at the NYPD said the department would have to research whether there had been past complaints about the crossing guard at PS 155.

The city Department of Transportation oversees the rules of the roads, such as where trucks are permitted to drive or when special turn signals or lane markings are needed. The department has declined repeated requests over the past two months for data on the number and locations of children who were hit by vehicles in New York City.

Amar's family wouldn't speak about the accident. But outside the family's home, a man identifying himself as the boy's uncle said of the tragedy, "It is God." He said the rest of the family was taking the same approach.

-With WNYC News

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WNYC News

Crossing Guard 'Wasn't There' When Boy, 6, Killed by Truck

Friday, March 01, 2013

A 6-year-old boy walking to school was killed by a tractor-trailer at a Harlem intersection without a crossing guard.

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