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'Out of Control' Rat Problem the Target of East Side Park Cleanup Efforts

By Amy Zimmer | August 2, 2012 8:43am

UPPER EAST SIDE — The tiny Tramway Plaza has a big rat problem — but help is on the way.

Many park-goers have shrieked about the rodent population explosion in recent months, with the little critters scurrying around morning, noon and night the 0.45-acre park along Second Avenue between East 59th and 60th streets where the Roosevelt Island tram lands.  

Their complaints caught the ear of the East Midtown Partnership — a business improvement district that oversees 48 Manhattan blocks — planning to bring brooms, rat poison and trees that don’t give the little mammals much cover, BID president Rob Byrnes said.

“Since the park opened six years ago, we have not taken an active role in it,” Byrnes said. “But it’s becoming increasingly clear we really need to form a collaborative relationship [with Parks] to address the situation. Parks’ resources are stretched to the limit, but the resources of the pigeon lady are not.”

Residents have long been complaining about a “pigeon lady” who feeds the birds everyday. The spot has signs posted on fences saying, "Feed a pigeon, breed a rat."

“Are we going to have problems stopping people from feeding the pigeons and rats? Yes,” Byrnes noted.

“They’re running around during the day or night,” tram worker Eric Wilson said of the rats. “For a time, you’d see 30 or 40 of them just running around because people feed the pigeons and when you feed a pigeon, you feed a rat.”

The Partnership, which met with Parks Department officials over the last several weeks, will begin implementing a six-page plan of action this month, according to Byrnes.

But he said that there were immediate steps — pending his board’s approval — the organization could take to minimize the problem.  They plan to sweep there more often, position one of their security officers in the park to discourage bird feeders and hire more exterminators.

“We can help take some of that load off the Parks Department,” Byrnes said. “If we can help accelerate extermination efforts, then we can have a big impact.”

Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson said the department was pleased to join forces with the East Midtown Partnership “who are pitching in to help clean the plaza.”

But he noted that the “pigeon lady” has made things difficult.

“She reportedly comes to the park with bags of bread and rice and throws them everywhere,” he said. “The pigeons can’t possibly eat all that food so it attracts rats.”

Abramson said his agency was taking steps to increase Parks Enforcement Patrol crackdowns on pigeon feeding.

“We also increased our baiting schedule from once a month to once every week,” he said. “However, the heavy pigeon feeding makes the baiting ineffective so it’s important the public understands that feeding pigeons attracts rats.”

Many parkgoers pointed to the big holes around tree pits where the rats live.

“It is out of control and really disgusting,” Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, said. “I feel bad about the visitors coming to Roosevelt Island having to see all those rats. You look in the tree beds and see their giant holes. It’s like condominiums.”

Vincent, a 20-year-old, who declined to give his last name, said, “They’re always here. I’ve seen 20 at a time. They pick up food and run back to their holes.”

Parks Department signs spotted Monday notified that rat poison had just been laid last week. There was evidence of the bait: a half-dead rat listlessly plopped down in the middle of path near some water that collects outside a window of de Gournay, the high-end wallpaper, fabric and porcelain shop.  

Daniel Schneider-Weiler, 22, who works at de Gournay where he has a view of dying rodents gasping for their last sips of water, said, “I feel bad for the rats. What a horrible way to go. But at the same time, I want a nice park.”

The BID envisions beautifying Tramway Plaza into a spot where it can have holiday tree lighting and concerts and bring public art. It also hopes to develop a dedicated “friends” group of civically active volunteer residents and businesses who care for the space, much like other parks have across the city, from Central Park to Dag Hammerskjold Plaza.

"If you come to the park after Labor Day, you’ll see dramatic physical changes and in ambience,” Byrnes said. “I’ve got professional horticulturalists who will develop a plan over the few months after we get the rodent population under control.