Sunday, May 2, 2010


East 95th Street - looking S

Who would have guessed that a story about rats and the Second Avenue subway would find its way into a major newspaper last week. Well, the Wall Street Journal launched its new Metro section with just such a story last Monday.

Andrew Grossman's article "Rats Mob The Upper East Side" hit the street (and the web) on Monday morning April 26th as part of the 16-page launch of the new section.

The Journal article reported that "an army of rats" had invaded "a stretch of the Upper East Side." The primary area of interest, for the rats that is, apparently is a one-block section of East 93rd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.

Later that day WABC-TV followed the Journal's lead with the broadcast piece, "Are rats taking over the Upper East Side?" and Fox Channel 5 put their spin on the story with, "Rat Infestation on Upper East Side?"

Not to be outdone, radio station 1010 WINS aired this piece, "Upper East Side Residents Blame 2nd Ave. Subway Work for Rat Problem."

And Ben Kabak, over at the blog 2nd Ave. Sagas, ended the day [Monday] with this posting, "UESers blame rat infestation on Second Ave. Subway."

By Tuesday April 27th the news has spread as far as Australia, with this reprint of the WSJ story in The Australian, a daily newspaper down under.

And by Thursday April 29th the Journal's rat story had become the 4th most e-mailed story (for the week) on the WSJ web site - right after "Opinion: ObamaCare Mulligan" and right before "Seven Reasons Apple Shareholders Should be Cautious."

So I decided that this story clearly had legs (sorry for the pun) and I set out to do a little of my own investigative reporting on this furry little problem.

I started out by taking a look at the NYC Department of Health's Rat Information Portal - the official site for this topic on the

This lead me to something that I never knew existed - the official New York City Rat Map.

With more than a little difficulty (be warned - the user interface is not that easy to use) I was able to produce 4 "rat maps" of the neighborhood around the Second Avenue subway TBM launch box construction zone.

Before you look at the maps be sure to study the legend. For reasons that I can't explain the color YELLOW means that the area passed inspection. YELLOW does not mean that there is a problem.

The thick BLUE line on the map was added by me using Photoshop. It shows the approximate location of the TBM launch box site.

Map Legend:
RED - Signs of Rats
TAN - Problem Conditions
YELLOW - Passed Inspection
GRAY - No Data

NYC Rat Map: 4/24/2009 - 4/23/2010
2nd Avenue subway construction - Year 3

The map above indicates that Department of Health has inspected most of the properties east of the launch box over the past year. And the map would appear to confirm that there have been problems, with rats, on East 93rd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.

The 3 maps below show the prior year periods - going as far back as the one-year period before the construction of the Second Avenue subway started.

NYC Rat Map: 4/24/2008 - 4/23/2009
2nd Avenue subway construction - Year 2

NYC Rat Map: 4/24/2008 - 4/23/2009
2nd Avenue subway construction - Year 1

NYC Rat Map: 4/24/2006 - 4/23/2007
Before the start of construction of the Second Avenue subway

On Friday night, before a trash collection day, I took a walk over to East 93rd Street to see what was going on.

4/30/10 - 11:45 p.m.
East 93rd Street, near 1st Avenue - looking W
"A rat's eye view"

I proceeded down the the south side of East 93rd, kicking a few trash cans as I walked.

I then placed my camera down on the roadbed and took these two pictures (above and below) hoping that just maybe I would catch one the critters running across the street.

4/30/10 - 11:49 p.m.

4/30/10 - 11:51 p.m.
East 93rd Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue - looking W

I then turned around and walked back up the street - this time on the north side of the street.

It would probably be impossible for even a New York City rat to get into the corrugated steel trash container that can be seen on the left in this image.

On Sunday May 2nd I took a walk around the work site and down East 93rd Street - again in search of "all things rats."

East 92nd Street, NE corner - looking N

At this location I found a number of rat traps along the fence line of the work zone. (if you enlarge the image, by left-clicking on it, you can see 4 traps.)

East 95th - looking S

At this location I found a "rodent station" sign pointing to trap that was sitting near the work zone.

A close inspection of the trap shows (on the label) that is was last serviced on April 27th.

East 93rd Street, btw. 1st & 2nd avenue

Down on East 93rd I noticed quite a few rat traps, like this one, around many of the trash cans and cellar stairwells.

I didn't open any of the traps to see if they were baited, but a few of them (like this one) look to be quite new.

East 93rd Street, btw. 1st & 2nd avenue

And at some locations, like this one, I noticed uncovered trash cans.

East 93rd Street, btw. 1st & 2nd avenue

And at this building the owner has placed the trash cans inside a steel protective box.

So this leads us then to the question - has the construction of Second Avenue subway caused the rat problems on East 93rd Street, and possibly other areas of the Upper East Side?

First - looking back at the NYC Rat Maps -

This data appears to show:

  • That there are (or have been) rat problems on East 93rd Street in the past year;
  • that an "army of rats" has not invaded the Upper East side due to the construction in and around the TBM launch box site;
  • and in some areas near the work site (East 92nd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues in particular) the rat problems that preceded the start of the subway construction somehow went away after the construction started.

- the work site has been heavily baited with rodent traps since construction in the 90s began (this based on my observations over the past few years.) I would have to imagine that any rat that foolishly entered the work site he would have met his fate rather quickly.

I spoke with a representative for the MTA and she told me that a Department of Health inspector checked the work site about 2 weeks ago. The inspector found no evidence of rats at the work site.

Third - I've lived in this area for 5 years now. It's been about 4 years (thankfully) since I've seen a rat on 92nd Street and I've never seen a single rat around the actual construction site. Yes, I'm 100% sure they are around, since this is still New York City.

Fourth - did the blasting cause the rat problem on East 93rd Street? I doubt it. Most of the blasting over the past few months took place during the day when rats are not that active -- and the evening blasts stopped about a month ago. And anyway, why would rats collect on East 93rd Street unless they had a good reason to be there - like a plentiful supply of food and shelter.

Some have suggested that any significant problem with rats on East 93rd Street can probably be traced to the deli on the NE corner of East 92nd and Second Avenue (shown below) that has been vacant for ten months now.

1766 Second Avenue (looking through the front window)

Clearly this shop looks like an inviting spot for rats to hang out - but over the past ten months, since the shop was closed, I've never seen a single rat.

So my conclusion at this point is that the Second Avenue subway construction has probably actually reduced the over all number of rats in the area - due to the high number of regularly maintained rodent traps in and around the construction work zone.

What many on East 93rd Street have said is happening there would appear to me to be a localized problem that I assume would be resolved with a concerted effort on the part of the building owners and the New York City Department of Health.

And a comment - if the NY Post had carried this story I wouldn't have been surprise, but The Wall Street Journal? Go figure.

An Update 5/7/10I'm told that a producer for the new Animal Planet series Rats has been approaching residents on East 93rd Street with an offer to help clear out any rats that may be in the neighborhood. They only ask that their crew be allowed to follow the exterminator around as he does his work.

Here's a copy of the letter that the people from Rats (the TV show) have been handling out.

(left-click on the image for a readable version.)

Further Reading:

Preventing Rats on Your Property
A Guide for Property Owners and Tenants

City of New York - 4/08

Rodents, Insects and Other Pests,
Title 24 Department of Health, Article 151

Official Rules of the City of New York

Community Update on Rat Abatement
East 93rd Street Block Association - 5/1/10

Rats along 92nd and 93rd Streets (with pictures)
Letter from S3 Tunnel Constructors - 4/1/10

An Update - 5/15/10
Within the past week a maginot line of rat traps has been deployed along the east fence line of the work site, as shown in the image below, between East 92nd Street and 93rd Street.

I've been told that the additional traps were installed based on a recommendation from the NYC Department of Health.

East 92nd Street - NE corner - looking N

: : : : :

The following set of images were taken on the east side of Second Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets on Sunday, May 2nd.

I'm not sure what these are, but they look like they will ride on a set of narrow gauge railroad tracks. I would guess that part of the tunnel boring machine will sit on top of these trucks.

A close-up shot.

A selection of steel cables. Look closely and you can see that these cables are each about 1 inch thick.

These square-ish steel buckets are being used to lower pieces of the TBM down into launch box, through the hole near the SE corner of East 92nd Street.

I would guess that this is another piece of the TBM. Look at how thick the steel is.

: : : : :

Buried inside the MTA's Revised 2010-2014 Capital Plan (that was released on April 23rd) I found this curious chart.

Source: Proposed MTA Capital Program - April 2010 Draft - p. 78

According to this chart, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has apparently pushed back the forecast for completion of Phase I, in the revised FTA FFGA [Full-Funding Grant Agreement] for the Second Avenue subway project, to February 2018.

I was told last Friday, that the MTA's official date for completing Phase I of the project is still December 2016.

Also, the FTA is apparently now forecasting that the cost of this project will come in at $4.758 billion (which does not include the cost of financing) - a number that is at the high end of what the MTA projected the cost will be, as late as July 2009.

Source: Proposed MTA Capital Program - April 2010 Draft - p. 146

The same document also included a chart with details of the capital funding request for the Second Avenue subway (Phase I) for the period 2010-2014. This funding request is identical to to what was requested by the MTA when the 2010-2014 Capital Program was first prepared back in 2009.

The MTA's Capital Program request was approved by the MTA Board on April 28th and it will be sent to Albany, again. (And earlier version of the MTA's 2010-2014 Capital Program was sent to Albany last year but it was ultimately rejected by the Capital Program Review Board.)

: : : : :

Last week I was "interviewed" by a Paula Rogovin's first grade class at PS 290, The Manhattan New School, on 82nd Street. Her class has been learning about the Second Avenue subway.

When I was finished with the class interview I took a few pictures of the students Second Avenue subway related study material. A few examples of their work are shown below.





Courtesy of Lisa Jaffe
PS 290, The Manhattan New School

Viviana, PS 290

Misha, PS 290

Doreen, PS 290

Isaac, PS 290

Petrana, PS 290

Paula, PS 290

: : : : :

And finally, we return to the ten-day old mystery - what do the letters "ADI" on the front of the TBM cutterhead stand for.


Many people came up with ideas and suggestions over the past ten days, such as . . .

ADI S.p.A (an Italian tool company)

Austempered Ductile Iron

Advanced Drilling Instrument

Abracadabra! Dirt's Inside!

Always Digging Industriously

Absolutely-enormous Drilling Instrument

Aiming Deeper, Ignatz!

Articulated Delving Interiors

Aardvarks Devour Insects

Aren't Dutchmen Interesting?


(I've also been told that Adi is sometimes used as the short form of the French name Édouard, which in English is Edward.)

Many searched for these letters using Google, or Yahoo, or some other search engine on the Internet. Others looked through the on-line white pages at, and still others looked through the listing of U.S. Trademarks.

Late on Friday afternoon I learned, from the MTA, what these three letters stand for "Adi" - the name that has been given to the Second Avenue subway TBM.

And this name was selected because it is the name of MTA Capital Construction President Dr. Michael Horodniceanu's 2 ½ year old granddaughter, Adi.

I also learned that tradition says that a TBM must have a name before it starts tunneling. The name apparently is given as a sign of good luck.


Here's a listing of the recent additions
to the right-hand column of The Launch Box

"MTA Prepares To Take Properties Via Eminent Domain"
By Dan Rivoli
Our Town - 4/28/10

"Rats Mob The Upper East Side"
By Andrew Grossman
The Wall Street Journal - 4/26/10

"Rock-Munching Machine to Burrow Under Manhattan"
By Dana Chivvis
AOL News - 4/25/10

Relocation of Tenants btw. 94th and 97th
Memo from the MTA to the Finance Committee of the MTA Board - 4/26/10

Design/Construction Review Services for 301 East 69th Street

Staff Summary, MTA Capital Construction - Apr 2010