HARLEM — The owners of East River Plaza Mall said Tuesday that they plan to install signs in their loading docks showing truck routes following the death of a 6-year-old boy last month.
Amar Diarrassouba was on his way to school with his 10-year-old brother on Feb. 28 when he was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer at East 117th Street and First Avenue.
Raffaela Petrasek, a development associate with Blumenfeld Development Group, LTD, said the mall would put up signage to reinforce Department of Transportation-approved truck routes. She added that reminders about the routes have been given to tenants of the mall, which is located at East 116th Street between Pleasant Avenue the FDR Drive, to pass on to their vendors.
"The vendors may be coming from other areas and may not be clear," Petrasek said.
According to DOT rules, trucks are allowed to temporarily deviate from approved truck routes if they are headed back onto the route. First Avenue, which the truck was turning on to, is an approved truck route.
Community Board 11 Transportation Committee Chairwoman Peggy Morales said the change is only the first the board is working on to improve safety in the area. She noted the board is planning to meet with city agencies about improved signage, countdown clocks and whether one crossing guard at busy First Avenue is enough.
Morales added that the issue of truck routes also needs to be addressed. Many of the trucks use East 117th Street to head west, because the passage below the Metro-North tracks at the Park Avenue viaduct along the approved truck route on East 116th Street is too small for some of the large trailers to pass through.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who called for stricter traffic enforcement in the wake of the fatal accident, praised the changes but said more needs to be done.
“I applaud East River Plaza for taking the proactive step of installing signs to direct drivers to designated truck routes in East Harlem. While there is no substitute for increased enforcement, taking steps to remind drivers about appropriate routes will hopefully keep these trucks off narrow, residential streets, in El Barrio and elsewhere," Stringer said in a statement.
Area residents have previously complained about trucks making deliveries to East River Plaza. Petrasek said deliveries are allowed at the mall between 5 a.m. and midnight. Costco is the only tenant allowed to receive deliveries between midnight and 5 a.m.
Celia Ramirez, vice president of East River North Renewal, which owns several properties on East 118th Street near First Avenue, said she thinks more signage might help because it appears many of the truck drivers are from out of town and unfamiliar with the area.
"There are a lot of children in the neighborhood, so we need to focus on safety," she said.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the crossing guard on duty that day, Flavia Roman, was not at her post at the time of the accident, despite telling the local police precinct that she had arrived at 7:30 a.m.
Amar's family has reportedly filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city over their son's death on behalf of Amar's brother. The family said they don't blame the crossing guard for the tragic incident.
The driver, who was unaware that he struck the child, was later flagged down by shocked pedestrians. He remained at the scene and was issued traffic citations for failure to yield.
"We can't return that little boy to his family," Morales said. "But we have a responsibility to make sure that this never happens again."