New Yorkers are all too familiar with the scourge of street puddles—those massive mini-lakes that pop up, typically on street corners and near sewers, after an intense bout of rain or a snowstorm.
In Bed-Stuy, where I live, there’s one particular corner—Macon Street and Throop Avenue—that is particularly vexing in the aftermath of heavy rainfall. The corner itself is already a nuisance thanks to an overgrown tree root that pokes through the ground, as well as an erosion of the sidewalk itself that makes accessibility a joke. But when it rains, water collects in the space between street and sidewalk, and with no drainage option right there (and no ground for the water to run off into), the whole thing becomes an impassable quagmire.
I’m not alone in this frustration: According to an analysis by Localize.city, there were more than 3,000 311 complaints about street flooding in the year leading up to the end of September; the most on a single day came on April 16 after a severe storm that caused flooding and delays across the city.
Unsurprisingly, complaints rise in areas that are close to bodies of water: According to Localize’s analysis, many of the neighborhoods that frequently register flooding complaints are in low-lying or coastal areas, or close to waterways like the Hudson River or Gowanus Canal (yuck). Here’s the top 10:
- Marble Hill, Manhattan
- Midland Beach, Staten Island
- Stapleton, Staten Island
- Arrochar, Staten Island
- Midtown South, Manhattan
- Chelsea, Manhattan
- Rosedale, Queens
- Coney Island, Brooklyn
- Far Rockaway, Queens
- Borough Park, Brooklyn
Save for Midtown South, the top five is packed with waterfront neighborhoods, including ones that were battered during Hurricane Sandy, like Midland Beach, where eight people drowned during that superstorm.
“The normal now is that after any rain there is a flood,” one Midland Beach resident told Localize. “It’s really bad.” (Curbed columnist Nathan Kensinger also tracked flooding in the area, particularly around Grimsby Street—aka “Lake Grimsby,” for all the times it floods during storms—in a 2016 Camera Obscura column.)
In areas that aren’t near bodies of water, the city’s infrastructure is more likely to blame. During heavy rainfall, there are a number of things that could cause flooding, according to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection: “surcharged sewers,” in which sewers are overwhelmed during storms, and rainwater has nowhere to go, so it stays above ground; and blocked catch basins, which can become clogged with debris and litter and thus unable to drain water effectively.
“The question remains: Is the rise in street flooding complaints attributed to more people complaining about the issue or worsening conditions from more frequent storms?” says Olivia Jovine, an urban planner working with Localize. “In general, the total number of flooding complains is correlated with rainfall, and 2018 has been a rainy year.”
Given the change in weather patterns—this past month was the seventh wettest November on record in New York City, and according to Localize, “five of the top 10 wettest years have been since 2000”—the frequency of street flooding is likely to rise in the coming years. Already, parts of New York City experience chronic “sunny-day flooding,” in which high tides deluge neighborhoods that are close to waterways; the amount of water that pushes into those areas gets worse during storms.
“New York City can expect an uptick in storm events that strain the city’s infrastructure,” says Jovine. “[W]ith rising sea levels, storm impacts will be exacerbated over the long term.”