According to city data, there were over 2,000 rat inspections conducted in the neighborhood in the past year
Rattus norvegicus: the street rat. It’s a menace that New York City can’t shake. But for residents of the Upper West Side — particularly a few choice blocks like West End Avenue betweem 86th and 87th — the rat relationship is especially close.
There’s always been a close correlation between frequency of rat complaints and construction projects. As workers dig up sidewalks and scatter debris, the rats underground come up into the light of day… or, more frequently, to the calmer quiet of night.
On the Upper West Side, with construction a constant reality, that means there are always scores of rats, somewhere. In area code 10024, there were 1,884 rat inspections last year; in 10025, there were 1,797. For residents and business-owners alike, the rats are regulars.
On the corner of West End Avenue and West 83rd Street, there were 17 rat complaints issued last year, according to 311. But according to Robert Martinez, a porter at 545 West End Avenue on a nearby block, that’s an improvement from how things were before.
“A year or two ago, they were digging and doing construction next door [at 535 West End Avenue],” Martinez says. “We were killing twenty rats a day. By five or six in the evening, they’d be crossing yards.”
Still, he notes that the building adheres to a monthly extermination regimen and that he “hasn’t seen as many as there used to be.”
A few blocks downtown, between Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus, the problems come not from construction, but from building neglect. That’s what Oscar Sanchez, a super for the last 19 years at 126 West 83rd Street, claims.
According to Sanchez, the building next door at 130 West 83rd Street has been vacated since 2001. With the building in disrepair, the rats have moved in.
“You see a lot more now than when I first started [19 years ago],” Sanchez says. “Rats are running in the street like they own it.”
Still, he insists that – currently – the street is starting to look better. And though the rat population ebbs and flows, they never go away.
“We would play manhunt when I was younger, in Central Park,” Sanchez fondly remembers. “There were rats then, too.”
And there will be rats for the forseeable future. But that won’t stop policymakers from trying to eliminate them. On the Upper West Side, starting in September the city will begin a pilot program to keep the rats from nesting in trees through the use of a gravel-like substance that deters them from building. The MTA, likewise, announced a pilot program this spring to use infertility-inducing bait to try to get the rat population under control.
Of course, these are both pilot programs; there’s no telling what will work, and until then, perhaps the best residents can do is remind themselves that the rats are just one more piece to the New York trade off; the cost to ride in the one of the most culturally-engaging, densely-populated urban centers in the world. For now, it looks like it’s a price we’ll all just have to continue paying.
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