Transportation Infrastructure

Regional coordination and planning for redundancy can ensure that our transportation and infrastructure networks will operate before, during, and after severe weather events.<

Public transportation entities such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), NJ TRANSIT, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ), and Amtrak are all re-examining Sandy’s impacts and developing short- and long-term responses to climate change within the context of restricted budgets and smaller workforces.<

City agencies responsible for infrastructure—sewer, water, and stormwater drainage—are examining failures and planning for future needs. Power utility providers such as ConEdison, LIPA, and PSE&G are developing new strategies. Advocacy groups such as the Municipal Art Society (MAS), the Regional Plan Association (RPA), and the Rudin Center for Transportation have served in multiple roles, from educating the public through public dialogues and white papers, to lobbying for funding and improved communication among infrastructure and transportation providers. It is critical to understand all of these ongoing efforts while working across disciplines that cross municipal and state lines.<

Interagency collaboration and a well-developed communications plan established jointly by various transportation and infrastructure agencies that serve the City and region can strengthen the framework for future multi-modal redundancy and resiliency.<

As noted in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NYS 2100 Commission report, “Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure” (November 2012), New York State’s recent ClimAID projections show that higher temperatures and sea-level rise are extremely likely for New York State through the end of the century, and that by 2100, experts project sea levels to rise in New York City and Long Island by as much as six feet under certain scenarios. Given our aging transportation and infrastructure, those statistics make identifying the weaknesses in our systems of utmost urgency. The following strategies are our recommendations for responding to the new anticipated norm.<

Planning for Redundancy<

Planned redundancy provides a more flexible infrastructure. As many of our transportation and infrastructure networks are interdependent, losing one often causes the loss of others. Working towards providing appropriate backup power systems along with alternative power sources, such as solar, wind, or geothermal, will make grid dependency less critical. Policies that encourage redundancy would promote these actions.<

Developing a robust communications network and plan will allow transportation agencies to alert the public about station closings and alternate transportation routes, prior to and immediately after severe storm events.<

Planning for Resiliency

There are currently available physical solutions that can protect our transportation and infrastructure networks against flooding. Sensitively designed, these barriers can also serve as urban amenities. By reinforcing vulnerable structures, we can fortify them to withstand these “new normal” events. These actions should be supported by policies that address strengthening existing structures with ongoing repair programs, as detailed in Section 3 on critical and commercial buildings. Placing new electrical equipment above anticipated flood levels and replacing damaged equipment with new equipment designed to work in a harsh salt-water environment are examples of strategies that could be implemented as part of an overall plan.<

As we move from short-term recovery to long-term planning for redundancy and resiliency, we need to plan smart so we can build smart.<

Planning Smart

Smart planning in the new ecosystem involves looking at transportation and infrastructure systems in new ways. It begins with an intermodal interagency process of regional cooperation, communication, and coordination for standard operations, regular outages, and extreme weather situations.<

It includes recognizing the efficiency of having tunnels act as drains for our cities, and considering the different ways that systems can function during severe storms, and how that differs from how they perform during a non-event.<

Providing uninterrupted services at vital facilities such as hospitals, firehouses, and shelters should be prioritized as part of an overall infrastructure network. Planning smart means examining existing and new infrastructure comprehensively with a clear understanding of specific risks that vary based on location. Building better will mean coordinating systems between agencies serving the same region, and acknowledging that often a replacement in-kind is not an adequate solution.<

To plan smart, we need to enhance our guidelines and standards for resiliency and redundancy by integrating the following best practices:<

New Infrastructure

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier in New Orleans (the only one like it to date in the United States), London’s Thames Barrier, and the Delta Works in the Netherlands are examples of climate change-responsive infrastructure solutions that are less than 30 years old. These structures typically need to be funded from design through construction and maintenance. As an example, sewage treatment failures in extreme storm events may require long-term funding of a hardened system to mitigate such problems in future storms. We recognize that in our region, these new types of infrastructure will need to be developed and maintained by a new public institution, or added to the responsibilities of an existing one.<

Scenario-planning exercises in different communities, similar to what is being demonstrated as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s citywide Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), can further inform how soft solutions or hard infrastructure can protect communities from severe storms like Sandy, and how they may either detract from or enhance those communities’ quality of life.<

Reduce Impact to the Ecosystems

New York City already has one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the country. As we develop these recommendations, we must continue to reduce this footprint and reinforce our city’s approach to sustainability, ensuring that our redundancy recommendations reduce negative environmental impacts as well. The use of permeable paving materials and water retention systems that reduce the demands on sewer systems are two such viable possibilities. Another is to encourage less energy-dependent transportation modes, such as bicycle and pedestrian networks and technologies, as part of the overall regional transportation system.<

It will also be important to look at areas and communities that may have been underserved in terms of a broader adoption of green infrastructure measures, and how that, in fact, may minimize flooding in the future.<

Urban Design Quality

Part of building for a resilient future is protecting our communities from problems resulting from climate change, and doing so in a way that uses natural as well as engineered measures to improve both redundancy and resiliency. Neither measure should, however, exclude maintaining the quality of the built and natural environment. Therefore, it is critical to solve these technical challenges in a way that does not lose sight of the human condition. Solutions must generate positive interventions from architectural and urban design perspectives. We must not forgo the vitality of our built environment, and in cases where communities may have been underserved aesthetically, address infrastructure and transportation needs as an opportunity for both urban and economic enhancement.<

Responses Prior to Catastrophic Events

Having plans in place for catastrophic events, and communicating them to the public, is a low-cost initiative that pays dividends. Procedures to close transportation systems in order to safeguard transportation and infrastructure networks (including relocating mobile equipment to higher ground, installing temporary flood barriers, etc.), and requiring mandatory evacuations of vulnerable areas must be developed. This would increase safety and security during a storm. The MTA and the City of New York taught this lesson to millions. A regional process for communicating station, road, and line closures to the public prior to severe weather events—and providing clear information about alternative routes—should be developed and employed, as mentioned above.<

Responses to Catastrophic Events After the Fact

The recovery after Superstorm Sandy was uneven, and for many residents, not knowing when essential services would be restored was more difficult to accept than the event itself. Implementation of the strategies summarized previously, in particular the redundant and resilient systems, will help to mitigate future similar challenges.<

Additionally, local outreach facilitators should be trained to educate communities about their various transportation options. Key information points can be established in advance so that in the event of a broad-based Internet shutdown, data on current and planned operations are accessible throughout the City. Details on alternative transportation systems, including bike routes and ferries, should be well distributed. Workforce development programs can help to lessen post-catastrophic isolation.<

There remains much that can be done. Our institutions need to treat the “catastrophic” as “expected” and prepare accordingly. Doing so may change the “catastrophic” to merely “inconvenient.”<

Transportation and infrastructure, when compared to other aspects of the built environment, are far more developed, controlled, and managed by public agencies. Responsive programs will necessarily be filtered through government programs and regulatory modifications. This includes agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).<

To fund the responses to climate change, sea-level rise, and potentially catastrophic natural events, we must demand a new paradigm of investment. With federal support in place for a considerable amount of repair work, how can we refocus the discussion on longer-term capital needs? And where will the money come from?<

We must maintain a sense of immediacy. Keeping awareness of these issues front and center needs to continue and be brought to the transportation and infrastructure conversation if we are going to evolve these ideas into tangible next steps.
When it comes to transportation and infrastructure, the responses will come from the public, with advocacy groups helping to inform decision makers.<

This starts with education. The public must be educated about the challenges ahead so that their expectations are realistically maintained within the context of this new reality. Cooperative efforts need to continue on a regional level. This begins with shared knowledge, including lessons learned, followed by the development of coordinated common standards and guidelines. Therefore, we need to improve interagency and interstate communications so that we are planning holistically and not in geographic vacuums. We must advocate for methods of sharing information, we must advocate for methods of sharing information, especially during a crisis. This should include emergency wayfinding strategies to inform residents about alternative backup plans for transportation, power, fuel and locations for assistance.<

Ultimately it is about risk management. How do we (stakeholders, the public, decision makers, government, and advocacy groups) navigate through this historical moment in the Northeast? If we are to continue living and working here, we need to recognize all these issues, and then manage the associated risks. Superstorm Sandy forced us to recognize the fragility of our position, with millions of people from New Jersey to New England affected. Now we have to manage it. We need to begin to assess the transportation and infrastructure systems that are at greatest risk, and then identify and prioritize strategies for redundancy and resiliency in the near and long term.<

It is clear that we need to expend the resources that can manage these risks. The challenge will be for the public to accept these expenditures as part of a new standard, and for the agencies that are their guardians to strengthen interagency communications during severe climatic events.<

New York City, as a global city, is linked inextricably with the rest of the world. That global interdependency means that minimizing the health and responsiveness of our transportation and infrastructure networks can result in catastrophic impacts throughout the world. The funding necessary to manage risks and sustain the continued strength of the region should be leveraged through all parties that benefit from this truly vital region.<

Case studies from around the country and the world reveal three distinct strategic approaches: Defensive, Adaptive, and Passive.
A defensive approach implies that the subject is being attacked and must be protected. A boundary is employed like a fortress to resist the elements. These defensive approaches offer varying degrees of effectiveness, resiliency, and environmental impact, and require ongoing operations and maintenance programs.<

An adaptive approach implies a balance between the need to protect and the acceptance of the overwhelming forces of nature. We adapt by altering the subject to live in symbiosis with  the threat. If we embrace adaptive as co-existence, then solutions will become more apparent in adapting to the new normal.<

A passive approach implies recognition that the forces of climate change have or will have such a great impact that they have won. We accept their overwhelming power completely, and the solution is to live with and embrace the threat.<

Below are additional reports and appendices by individual working groups, individuals and organizations who are part of the Post-Sandy team.  They are posted as submitted by the authors and have not undergone review or rewriting by the editorial team.<

Transportation & Infrastructure Case Studies<

Robert Eisenstat, AIA, LEED AP
Judith Kunoff, AIA<

Russell Bartels
Matt Bernstine, AICP, LEED AP
Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP
Gary Dearborn
Jeff Dugan, AIA
Peter Hopkinson, FAIA
Patricia Kettle, AIA
Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA
Robert Papocchia, AIA
Giuseppe Scalia, AIA
Matthew Seybert, Assoc. AIA
Michael Urbach
Roberto Vila, Assoc. AIA
James Wright, AIA<