Rebuilding New York City for a New Reality

Governor Cuomo has the opportunity to build a smarter and more resilient regional transportation network. Photo: ##http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-homeowners-save-storm-related-insurance-cost-article-1.1195254##Daily News##

“Climate change is a reality… for us to sit here today and say this is a once-in-a-generation, and it’s not going to happen again, I think would be short-sighted… I’m hopeful that not only will we rebuild this city and metropolitan area but use this as an opportunity to build it back smarter.”

— Governor Andrew Cuomo

Amen Governor Cuomo. Hurricane Sandy should be the massive bucket of cold water needed to rouse New York’s political class into making the multitude of changes required for New York City to survive the rising ocean, and remain a leading global city.

The inconvenient reality is that the water is rising, and New York is a city built on islands. According to New York City’s Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, New York Harbor has risen about a foot since 1900, and will rise at least another three feet in the next century. If polar ice caps melt — which appears to be happening — harbor waters will rise six feet or more.

There is an enormous amount of work to do. New York needs expansive new flood defenses, including the vast expansion and restoration of storm surge-absorbing wetlands and oyster beds. These “soft edges” will have to be accompanied by some “hard edges,” including sea walls and, possibly, massive surge barriers like London’s Thames Barrier. The debate over the right mix of “soft” and “hard” approaches is now underway, even as some New Yorkers still huddle without power or water in darkened apartments.

Beyond debate is that our vulnerable electrical and transit systems have to be made more resistant to flooding. However, our century-old transit system is creaking along under a huge debt, the next transit capital plan is completely unfunded, and there is no money for flood defenses. Meanwhile, our downstate road network is burdened by a totally backward and unfair toll system that causes costly traffic jams, wastes time and consumes big tax subsidies for bridge and road repairs.

New York can’t have “smart rebuilding” and a dumb, broke transportation system. One of the pillars of Governor Cuomo’s rebuilding plan for the New York City area must be tolling the East River Bridges and access to the Central Business District, and reducing overpriced tolls on outer bridge crossings. New toll revenue from this common sense plan should be dedicated to rebuilding the downstate transit and road system, and toughening it against floods. This “bridge swap” toll plan, first proposed by transportation engineer Sam Schwartz, will also free up hundreds of millions in general tax revenue currently spent on roads for new flood defenses.

Hurricane Sandy was a dire message that New York cannot afford the luxury of political dysfunction and irrational governance. In this crisis, there is a clear opportunity for Governor Cuomo to build a new, smarter, tougher transit and transportation system that can serve as the backbone of his efforts to rebuild the region.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m not going to believe he knows what “smarter” is until I see him putting up a fight for an expanded transit system at the very least. And probably support for CP too.  He has done very bad things over the past few years with regard to the MTA, and that does not deserve to be overlooked. 

  • fj

    A major part of the new reality is that people will move about on-or-in extremely agile practical vehicles that weight a fraction of their body weight instead of 1000 pounds or more and using virtually no energy and having virtually no enviromental footprint on the scale of walking.

     

  • Hilda

    Any thoughts if this smarter approach will affect the Tappen Zee approach?

  • carma

    climate change is a reality and is here to stay.  no doubts about that.  however, this storm would have likely produced the same results without the aura of climate change due to its 1/30 chance of hitting exactly on the full moon at high tide.

    remember hurricanes existed before the existence of man made global warming.  however it is likely that more storms will result as a result of climate change.  but lets not pinpoint the sole cause of this hurricane’s destruction on climate change.

  • carma

    climate change is a reality and is here to stay.  no doubts about that.  however, this storm would have likely produced the same results without the aura of climate change due to its 1/30 chance of hitting exactly on the full moon at high tide.

    remember hurricanes existed before the existence of man made global warming.  however it is likely that more storms will result as a result of climate change.  but lets not pinpoint the sole cause of this hurricane’s destruction on climate change.

  • carma

    climate change is a reality and is here to stay.  no doubts about that.  however, this storm would have likely produced the same results without the aura of climate change due to its 1/30 chance of hitting exactly on the full moon at high tide.

    remember hurricanes existed before the existence of man made global warming.  however it is likely that more storms will result as a result of climate change.  but lets not pinpoint the sole cause of this hurricane’s destruction on climate change.

  • @f9bd7b80a3fd8a1d970a082a5b7657a4:disqus Good point! Governor Cuomo, now that you have to spend billions on making sure your sugar mama (Lower Manhattan) is defended from storm surge, might you want to reconsider the 8-lane monster, the Tappan Zee Bridge?

  • @f9bd7b80a3fd8a1d970a082a5b7657a4:disqus Good point! Governor Cuomo, now that you have to spend billions on making sure your sugar mama (Lower Manhattan) is defended from storm surge, might you want to reconsider the 8-lane monster, the Tappan Zee Bridge?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, it coincided with the full moon, but they call it “Frankenstorm” because it’s unlike any other storm on record. At its widest, Frankenstorm was 1,000 miles wide, and far more than a hurricane. Many meteorologists say Frankenstorm was a result of climate change conditions coming together at one time.

    Was New York hit by a “hurricane” this time? My upper Manhattan neighborhood had very little rain and only a few periods of high winds. The damage downtown was caused by normal Hudson River flow meeting surge from the ocean and surge from the ocean via Long Island sound reinforced by a high tide. Sandy could have veered out to sea and we still could have had the surge. That surge decimated Staten Island, and probably still would have with a lower, more normal high tide.

    A year ago, New York was hit by hurricane Irene, and it only missed by 1 foot flooding the subway stations that flooded the tunnels. Twice in a little over a year we faced a problem that hadn’t happened in the previous 108 year history of the tunnels.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, it coincided with the full moon, but they call it “Frankenstorm” because it’s unlike any other storm on record. At its widest, Frankenstorm was 1,000 miles wide, and far more than a hurricane. Many meteorologists say Frankenstorm was a result of climate change conditions coming together at one time.

    Was New York hit by a “hurricane” this time? My upper Manhattan neighborhood had very little rain and only a few periods of high winds. The damage downtown was caused by normal Hudson River flow meeting surge from the ocean and surge from the ocean via Long Island sound reinforced by a high tide. Sandy could have veered out to sea and we still could have had the surge. That surge decimated Staten Island, and probably still would have with a lower, more normal high tide.

    A year ago, New York was hit by hurricane Irene, and it only missed by 1 foot flooding the subway stations that flooded the tunnels. Twice in a little over a year we faced a problem that hadn’t happened in the previous 108 year history of the tunnels.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I hate to say it, but if climate change is here to stay, it doesn’t make sense to put so much housing on the barrier islands of the Jersey Shore and the south shore of Long Island.  With little land left in metro NY, that would mean building up elsewhere.

    Fire Island National Seashore looks like a really good idea right now.  So do the cheap, unwinterized summer bungalows that used to be out in the Rockaways and the now-destroyed parts of Staten Island east of Hylan Boulevard.

  • Dave Sedgwick

    Alas, with the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and inept state government in the nation, all these dreams of improvement are likely just that. Until the Great Lakes rise up to the point that Albany is wiped out. Maybe then.

  • @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus On point. You are right. In fact, we should consider rebuilding more barrier islands with increased estuary/wetlands. These kinds of areas can absorb storm surge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The problem is, no one is going to tell people there that they can’t rebuild.  It’s a political loser.  But they will be rebuilding with federal flood insurance, which is deep in the hole, and will have to raise premiums for those away from the barrier islands to have any hope of making it up.

    There have been some cases in the Midwest where people were encouraged to rebuild outside a flood plane after getting federal aid, and told to forget it next time otherwise.

  • JK

    In this crisis there is a rare political opportunity to make some major fixes. The window will last 3-4 months and then the politics of the mayor’s race is going to take over. The important thing is to do some things that are clearly good policy — like fix the backwards tolls, fund a robust MTA capital plan and get motorists paying for East River Bridges — and not squander this chance by plunging straight into a bitter fight over hard and soft flood barriers. We can’t fix all the problems, or stop all the stupidity, but there is a clear opportunity here and now.

  • JK

    In this crisis there is a rare political opportunity to make some major fixes. The window will last 3-4 months and then the politics of the mayor’s race is going to take over. The important thing is to do some things that are clearly good policy — like fix the backwards tolls, fund a robust MTA capital plan and get motorists paying for East River Bridges — and not squander this chance by plunging straight into a bitter fight over hard and soft flood barriers. We can’t fix all the problems, or stop all the stupidity, but there is a clear opportunity here and now.

  • fj

    Ban parked cars in flood zones. They start floating banging open doors and other things and amplify the devastation.

  • fj

    Military to deliver fuel to NY. Must act on climate change at wartime speed.
    http://mobile.nytimes.com/main;jsessionid=2C8BD40B47D433D923E6F115E89671D5

  • fj

    FEMA & Defense Logistics delivering fuel.

    http://www.fema.gov/news-release/defense-logistics-agency-purchase-diesel-and-unleaded-fuel-supplement-ongoing-private

    Maybe they’d consider sending bikes & pre fab modular elevated veloways . . .

  • We should start carbon emission to reduce the climate change.

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