November 07, 2012

In Superstorm Sandy Coverage, A Focus on Transportation

84. Sandy

Over the past week, as the New York and New Jersey metro areas recover from the largest and most costly natural disaster to hit this major metropolitan area, the largest obstacle to a full recovery has been transportation. More than a week after the storm hit, New Yorkers and New Jerseyans are seeing just how important the region’s extensive transportation network is to their daily lives.

News reports featured stories of commuters waiting many hours for buses and ferries, standing in lines to enter subways with partial service, and, of course, spending hours waiting at gas stations. If there is any silver lining in this, it has been that New Yorkers are looking at the massive transportation network that they have always taken for granted with new appreciation, and many are looking for ways to prepare for the next in what have become increasingly common storms.

Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Catastrophic Risk Institute, published an article calling for dedicated bus corridors in New York City on the basis that, unlike the flood-crippled subway system, buses were up and running two days after the storm hit. ITDP’s Global Research Manager Michael Kodransky was quoted in an article in Scientific American which praised the city’s efforts to adapt to climate change and called them “a leader in studying the impacts of flooding and sea-level rise and has already taken some initial precautions,” but argued that they are moving too slowly in taking major preventative measures of the type that are necessary, particularly if we want to avoid the major transit disruptions that have made it so difficult for the city to return to normal.

Of course, the storm has also encouraged more New Yorkers to choose a two-wheeled commute. In the week following the storm, the steady stream of cyclists over the East River bridges and through Manhattan was much larger than normal, and as The New York Times reported, many were trying a bike commute for the first time. Fortunately, the city was ready, having invested heavily in traffic reduction and bike lane infrastructure over the past several years.

The city is not yet back to normal. Many New Yorkers, particularly in southern Brooklyn, Staten Island, and The Rockaways, still find themselves without power and heat, not to mention subway service. After suffering what New York’s MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota called “a disaster as devastating as it has ever faced in its history,” we must recognize that the future of our cities depends on our ability to keep moving, and that means increased investment in and commitment to sustainable transport.

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