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The Top 10 Smelly Puddles of Midtown

By Jill Colvin | November 10, 2011 6:27am | Updated on November 10, 2011 6:38am
Worst Puddle Locations in Midtown
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Billy Figueroa

MIDTOWN — A local Midtown business group has compiled a "Top 10" list of the most offending smelly puddles in the neighborhood to pressure the Department of Transportation to clean them up.

In addition to the putrid smells that sometimes emanate from the puddles and the threat of splashing from passing cars, business owners and property managers complain the worst offenders drive away potential customers, disrupt deliveries and pedestrian traffic and present a serious safety hazard when they freeze in winter.

“This is the hot topic and probably priority number one right now,” said Craig LaCaruba, vice president of capital projects at the 34th Street Partnership BID, which is leading the efforts to combat the standing water. The festering, non-draining pools have become a top quality of life complaint for many in the district.

“Our constituents just can’t take it anymore," LaCaruba said.

LaCaruba said each of the locations could be easily improved through measures like installing new drains or completely re-paving streets, instead of just adding new top layers of asphalt which he said can worsen problems by raising the road level closer to the curb.

Among the most problematic areas, he said, is the northeast corner of West 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue, outside of Sbarro, where water pools can last several days after it rains.

“The water gets to that point and can't go any farther,” he said, warning that the situation slides from bad to worse during the winter, when the water turns to ice.

“It’s just awful," he said, arguing that a simple drain inlet at the corner could make the problem disappear.

Another pool needing attention is the stagnant water on West 33rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, which local restaurant and delivery workers complain emits a foul stench of rotten eggs, garbage and decaying animal carcasses.

LaCaruba blames the problem in part on a curb that is too low, which allows the putrid water to lap onto the sidewalk. But he said the problem could also be solved by adding a new catch basin to funnel water from the street.

“All are very simple engineering solutions," he said.

Dan Biederman, president of the partnership, said the ponding is one of the last remaining major issues in the district, garnering complaints from property owners and managers and making sanitation work more difficult for his crews.

“We’re hoping the city can help us,” he said. 

The 34th Street Partnership’s Top Ten Offenders for standing water are:

1 — East side of Eighth Avenue between West 31st and West 33rd streets:

The stretch in front of Farley Post office on the east side of Ninth Avenue has been a persistent problem, especially near the mid-block crosswalk, the partnership says.

Rob Report, 31, from Queens, who was dropping off a letter Tuesday, said the pooling sometimes gets so bad that it's difficult for pedestrians to pass.

"You've got to cross out into the street," he said.

2 — The south side of West 31st Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues:

The street bordering Madison Square Garden is plagued by standing water, which stretched all the way from the corner of Eighth Avenue to mid-way up the block this week, days after the most recent rain. The stretch included two large pools, measuring at least four to five feet across, that locals say never go away.

“The smell, it’s horrible. And it creates a lot of mosquitoes,” said Claudette, 40, who has worked near the puddle for the last seven years but declined to give her last name.

She said she hears complaints from customers constantly and wishes the city would do something to create a permanent fix to the problem.

"It's absurd," she said.

Delivery driver Edgar Ortiz, 45, who said he's worked in the neighborhood for more than a decade, said the puddle also poses a safety risk.

“When it gets colder and it’s ice and it’s frozen, it can be a problem,” he said, during a recent delivery.

LaCaruba said part of the problem is that the stretch used to be a loading dock, so there's no curb to keep water at bay. He suggested building a new curb and re-milling the street to encourage water to drain farther down.

3 — The northeast corner of West 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue:

The corners around Sbarro become a mess after rain, making this corner a top priority for the partnership, LaCaruba said.

Ari Hoque, 20, who works at a newsstand on the corner of West 33rd Street, said the water gets so bad that it circles the corner and blocks crosswalks, making it difficult for pedestrians to pass.

“It just piles up and people have to walk all the way around,” he said, adding that the water also interfered with sales.

“It sucks for business,” said Hoque, who estimated that he loses about $300 a day — or 30 percent of his daily sales — whenever it rains, because of the pools.

4 and 7 — West 33rd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues:

The stretch from Foot Locker to the Hotel Penn freight entrance on West 33rd Street includes two problem puddles, the partnership says.

John Thomas, a security officer at 112 W. 33rd St. for more than a decade, said that, after it rains, the puddles can stretch as long as 12 feet and grow as wide as three or four feet, getting in the way of those who want to cross the street.

"People who want to cross over to the Manhattan Mall have to jump across the water or walk all the way around," he said.

5 — The north side of West 31st Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues:

Another problematic spot, according to the partnership, is the north side of West 31st Street along this block, in front of the freight entrance to 11 Penn Plaza. 

“You’re lucky you came today,” said René Cevallos, 24, on Tuesday — after days of dry weather. The manager at a messenger service along the stretch said that whenever it rains, dirty water sits stagnant in front of the business for at least two or three days.

While he said he didn't think it was a pressing concern, he said the water could be gross.

“It’s smelly sometimes,” he said.

6 The South Side of West 35th Street between Broadway and Seventh avenue:

Stagnant water stretched nearly all the way from Broadway to Seventh Avenue on a recent visit, with several major, deep puddles in front of Macy’s loading dock, where the curb dips, allowing the water to spill onto the curb.

Those who work along the stretch say the water never dries up.

“If the city could fix it, it would be great,” said Patrick Clark, 35, who has worked as a receiver at Macy's for the past 20 years and said the water is the “number one problem” on the block. 

A 34th Street Partnership worker, who was sweeping the street Tuesday morning, said that even though the group assigns someone for cleaning every day, little can be done unless the water's cleared.

"I know it will be dirty when I get back," he said.

8 — The east side of Broadway between 35th and 36th streets:

Water pooling is a major problem along the bike lane that runs along the east side of Broadway, especially between 35th and 36th Streets, locals say.

When it rains, "it stays there," said Andrew Das, 60, a desk attendant at 1350 Broadway, who said the pooling water is a departure for the block, which is otherwise "nice and clean."

9 — Broadway between 33rd and 34th Streets:

Pooling is a particular problem along the edge of Broadway's new pedestrian space, in front of GameStop and KFC.

"This area is a flood of water whenever it rains," said KFC manager Kazi Aslam, 46, from Queens, who believes the water has a negative impact on business.

"The customers, they [have to] jump over, or their shoes [would] get all inside the water," he said. He thinks the stretch is desperately in need of a drain.

10 — West 33rd Street Between Fifth and Sixth avenues:

Locals have been begging the city for months to do something about the oily green-tinged water that pools along West 33rd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. The water often stretches at least thirty feet long and is several inches deep, overflowing onto the sidewalk where it mixes with garbage and cigarette butts after rain storms.

The worst problem, they say, is the putrid smell emanating from the ever-present stagnant water.

The problem is so bad that passersby often shield their faces with hands or scarves, said Sinead Noone, 22, a hostess at Jack Demsey's restaurant.

"When the smell is really bad, it certainly affects business," she said.

John Clancy, the owner of Foley's NY Irish bar up the street, blames the mess on sidewalk repairs completed several years ago and said it is especially troubling considering the number of tourists who frequent the stretch.

"The smell is unbearable... It's an awful mess," he said.


A DOT spokeswoman acknowledged the partnership's submission, and said staff are currently inspecting the locations "to assess possible ponding issues and determine the best ways to address the conditions, if needed."

LaCaruba said that once the partnership hears back from DOT, they'll develop a game plan that could include assisting with repairs themselves.

“Once we get their evaluation of what can be done, then we can react to that,” he said.