The Upper West Side is officially rat central.
From 2010 to 2012, 1,183 people on the Upper West Side reported rat sightings to the city’s 311 hotline, making it the neighborhood with the most reported sightings in the entire city.
Anti-rat activists say there are many reasons for the rodent rampage: an abundance of parks in the neighborhood, the tree-filled Broadway medians, and common mishandling of garbage. City Council member Gale Brewer and members of Community Board 7 said that they hope to curb the rat population through a variety of new educational programs and physical changes on the Upper West Side.
“We get constant complaints of rats,” Brewer said, citing a town hall meeting she held in December at John Jay College. A large number of the residents who spoke at the meeting complained about having seen rats around their neighborhood, and in general, Brewer said she has heard an outcry to do something specific to fix the problem.
“If you want to see rats, go to 114th and 8th Ave. That block is awful,” said Carolina Frederico, an Upper West Side resident who said she has seen “really big rats, like the size of cats” while walking her dog in Morningside Park.
At the December town hall, Brewer brought up the implementation of new BigBelly solar compactors, which can be used to help fight rats. The BigBelly cans are completely closed off, and when new trash is put in, it automatically crushes the trash below, allowing a single can to hold more garbage and preventing overflows onto the sidewalk. So far, they are being added to Verdi Square at 72nd Street.
Several garbage cans in Riverside Park have also been changed out for rodent-proof garbage cans, CB7 district manager Penny Ryan said. These rodent-proof bins are not the expensive BigBelly brand but rather just a simple design with thick slats that fan out at the top.
“We inspect Morningside Park and the rest of our parks daily, and looking for rat burrows is one of the items we inspect for,” Phil Abramson, deputy director of public affairs at the city Parks Department, said in an email.
He said the department is using both the ratproof cans and a method of rodent control known as Integrated Pest Management, which involves removing rats’ food source and shelter and baiting them.
Both Ryan and Brewer said many block associations have come forward to ask for help with getting rid of rats, which has led to the creation of “Rat Academies” and “Rat Walks” run by the Department of Health and the Department of Sanitation.
The academies are held about once or twice a year and serve as educational forums for residents and business owners to learn how to handle garbage and keep buildings ratproof. The walks are group walkthroughs of neighborhoods to look for problem areas and issues that may be causing a spike in the rat population.
Jason Rosario, who was recently walking his dog in Morningside Park, said that he has never seen any rats in the park and sees them “mostly at night after stores don’t put their trash out properly.”
Both CB7 members and Brewer agree that targeting stores and restaurants may be the most effective way to battle the rat problem. Brewer is sponsoring an event in April at Fairway Market on 74th Street and Broadway to inform business owners about garbage disposal and to educate them about the congregation of rats around the Broadway medians.
Ryan pointed out the reality that there are problems with rats throughout the city.
“It’s not just an Upper West Side infestation. It’s everywhere. It’s something that is going on all over Manhattan,” she said.
There is also the possibility that the number of sightings reported is not an accurate reflection of the actual sightings in each neighborhood, but rather of how quick the residents are to report their issues.
“That’s what’s great about our neighborhood,” Brewer said. “It’s very active.”