Home MTA Construction Bloomberg: Subway expansion should trump flood mitigation

Bloomberg: Subway expansion should trump flood mitigation

by Benjamin Kabak

Mayor Bloomberg — much to the chagrin of Joe Lhota — likes to opine on transit issues when, to put it delicately, the topic isn’t quite his forte. During the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the mayor seemed to pull timelines for the restoration of transit services out of thin air. Now, hizzoner has decided to tackle the problem of post-Sandy reconstruction costs.

As Dana Rubinstein reported today at Capital New York, the mayor seems to think we don’t need to better prepare the subway system for a flood. Let’s just take the money and run instead. In a radio interview, Bloomberg offered up this gem:

“I think a legitimate question is, if this happens only once 110 years, and if you get it back as quickly as they did, is that a good use of your money? You’d probably be better off taking those dollars, I think, and expanding the subway out to where people have now lived compared to when they did 100 years ago when the subways were built. Or have more trains, and better signaling so you can have more trains on the same track. There are a lot of things you could do with money to make the subway system better.”

There’s no doubt that, as Bloomberg says, there are a lot of things New York could do with that money. A $5 billion infusion of capital funds would cover a subway station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. on the 7 line extension and the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway. And I know and you know just how badly the subway could use that funding.

Yet, Bloomberg seems to be resisting progress here. In two consecutive years, we’ve gotten two storm swith the potential to be the storm that happens once every 110 years. Last year, the city dodged a bullet when the storm essentially passed over us; this year, Sandy’s full force hit us head on. New York’s politicians and the MTA can’t ignore changing weather patterns and the threat rising tides pose to the city’s transportation infrastructure. With an infusion of cash and an opportunity to prevent future catastrophic flooding, the time to act is now.

It’s tempting to sit back, as the mayor has done, and note how quickly things returned to almost-normal, but that’s not the right answer. Storm surges and flooding pose major threats to the subway, and even as New York City needs more of a Second Ave. Subway and transit expansion projects, it needs to protect the current system as well.

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Fake Name November 30, 2012 - 3:39 pm


It sounds as if you and the Mayor agree. “If this is happens only once [in] 110 years”, then it really doesn’t makes sense to spend that money on mitigation. But it’s a big IF. Yours, and most informed opinion, is that climate change – man made or otherwise – suggests that this will be a more frequent occurrence. And if that is the case, then mitigation IS a good investment. I suspect the mayor would have to agree with that.

Nathanael November 30, 2012 - 5:49 pm

Yeah. The “100-year-storm” models are all being revised RIGHT NOW, but because of climate change, Sandy is probably going to turn out to be a 30-year storm in the future. Possibly more frequent. Bloomberg needs to pay attention to global warming.

R. Graham November 30, 2012 - 6:28 pm

You actually used the Mayor’s quote to suggest Ben is agreeing with Bloomberg. But if you read the following quote you would see otherwise.

“Yet, Bloomberg seems to be resisting progress here. In two consecutive years, we’ve gotten two storm swith the potential to be the storm that happens once every 110 years. Last year, the city dodged a bullet when the storm essentially passed over us; this year, Sandy’s full force hit us head on. New York’s politicians and the MTA can’t ignore changing weather patterns and the threat rising tides pose to the city’s transportation infrastructure. With an infusion of cash and an opportunity to prevent future catastrophic flooding, the time to act is now.”

^^^^That’s Ben’s quote^^^^

John-2 November 30, 2012 - 3:54 pm

Mayor Mike comes out of the storm talking about global warming, then talks about not spending money on a hypothetical. Either pick one side of the debate and stick to it, or don’t go shouting out talking points for one side at the start of November, and then come back making the case for the other side at the end of the month.

At the very least, you have to identify areas prone to suffering the most catastrophic damage, like lower South Ferry, and look at funding storm mitigation efforts there, along with obvious other areas, such as higher vent openings for East River tunnels, better waterproofing and/or easier replacement of electronics in Zone A locations and making sure areas prone to flooding, like the South Brooklyn open cuts, have better/faster drainage and pumping systems.

The city’s mass transit infrastructure did survive 1938’s hurricane without demands for major changes — Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Robert Moses were far more damaging to the city’s rail systems in the late 1930s than any major hurricane, so trying to completely storm-proof the system is neither financially feasible or the best way to spend limited resources. But not doing something about obvious weak point also doesn’t make sense.

AG December 2, 2012 - 9:09 pm

Yeah – ppl forget that the 1938 hurricane did much worse damage to Long Island than Sandy did in the region. The big difference is there were less ppl living on LI. I can’t imagine how long it took to get transit back running then.

TP December 3, 2012 - 9:25 am

Based on a quick search of the NY Times archives it looks like there were some washed out chunks of railroad on Long Island but service disruptions in the city were pretty minor:

“Two of the four Hudson and Manhattan tubes were blocked by water during the rush hour late yesterday afternoon, inconveniencing thousands of commuters; the Brighton Beach line of the B.M.T. was tied up for half an hour by the cave-in of an embankment at Neptune Avenue” (“City is Hard Hit,” Sep 22, 1938)

It’s kind of interesting that the accounts make it sound like flooded tubes and caved-in embankments were merely temporary “inconvenience”?

Also apparently power was knocked out north of 59th Street for a couple days– basically the opposite of what happened with Sandy.

Bolwerk December 3, 2012 - 11:47 am

It doesn’t say the tunnels were utterly submerged. It sounds to me like the damage was more in line with that freaky storm we had back in the summer of 2007. Disruptive flooding is not, by itself, unheard of and caved-in embankments don’t necessarily cause much lasting damage.

AG December 5, 2012 - 7:38 pm

right – but I was talking about Long Island… the weak side of the storm grazed the city… eastern Long Island took the brunt of that storm. Had that storm taken the path of Sandy – it would have been even worse than Sandy for the city.

dungone November 30, 2012 - 3:58 pm

The political reality seems to be that it’s easier to get money to clean up major natural disasters than for capital construction. Therefore, it seems kind of stupid to use capital funds to mitigate damage from future natural disasters instead of expanding service. A sizable portion of the political establishment are climate change deniers and “small government” types. In light of that, I would say that Bloomberg’s plan is the best strategy, even though it seems like it’s bad on the tactical level. Showing the vitality of the rail system – getting as many riders as possible to rely on it and demonstrating that transit agencies can be relied upon to build new rail is probably a far better way of gaining political support than spending more money on global warming mitigation. When you really can’t run the rail network anymore because the storms are so bad and so frequent, then put in the safety measures.

Nathanael November 30, 2012 - 5:51 pm

Bad strategy when the flood maps get changed. Federal disaster insurance, although overly subsidized, will eventually stop covering construction which could have been floodproofed but wasn’t.

I guess I’m saying exactly what everyone else is saying. If this were really a 110-year storm, Bloomberg would be right. But it isn’t. Climate change means storms like this are much more frequent events.

dungone November 30, 2012 - 6:22 pm

You don’t seem to be making an argument for flood-proofing existing structures, nor for doing it anytime soon.

I think we’re not on the same page for what constitutes strategy. Strategy is about making the system more valuable, both economically and politically. Flood-proofing it now helps climate-denying politicians maintain the illusion that the problem isn’t dire. It also helps the same politicians say that subway systems are these costly useless things. Using available funding to increase the rider base, on the other hand, is the best way to defeat those politicians. Not only does it mitigate global warming more directly over the long term, but it forces politicians to go up against millions additional transit riders.

Nathanael December 1, 2012 - 11:49 pm

OK, your argument makes sense. But if we don’t floodproof some of the existing structures — like, at least one of the sets of tubes to Brooklyn — there aren’t going to be many riders for long, as the subway shuts down repeatedly and gets a reputation for unreliability.

dungone December 3, 2012 - 1:02 pm

You’ve got a point – if the existing system proves to be too unreliable. But what’s it really going to take for that to happen? This storm seemed to showcase the importance of the subways more than anything else.

I agree with a couple comments below. Redundancy is the best form of flood mitigation. NYC has too many old, over-capacity lines. It’s arguable that this feature adds to the flood risk more than anything else.

Bolwerk December 3, 2012 - 3:03 pm

NYC isn’t over-capacity. I don’t think a single tunnel into Manhattan achieves even 30 trains per hour at peak times.

Spendmore Wastemore November 30, 2012 - 4:16 pm

Bloomie thinking from his private jet again.

First get morale, work rules, padded contacts, productivity and the bloated cost structure excised. Run the system we have up to the standard of advanced nations…like Taiwan or China. Then do the stuff to hang your nametag on.
The latter is far easier and pays one’s name and image better. The former is what riders live with.

dungone November 30, 2012 - 5:53 pm

I’d love to see who complains first if we did things the way China does them. http://www.urbansplatter.com/c.....s-to-move/ I have a feeling that the very first people to complain would be the NIMBY’s.

But why do you want to get rid of morale?

Spendmore Wastemore November 30, 2012 - 10:22 pm

“But why do you want to get rid of morale?”

There I go again 😉
That should be “low morale” or perhaps “malignant morale”, which is appropriately cynical but also unfair to the folks who do their job right despite being unpopular for it.

Re China, I don’t mean to adopt their Three Gorges style bulldozing of the population nor their construction standards.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m pointing out the filth, slowness and general discomfort designed in to current operations. Check out a Path station; high usage much like MTA yet without the filth and frequently replenished urine. And that’s NJ, hardly a transit-friendly state.

Jerrold November 30, 2012 - 5:24 pm

As Bloomberg himself has stated, OUR CLIMATE HAS CHANGED.
These “hundred-year floods” are no longer once-every-hundred-years
events. Who knows how many more “Sandys” we will get in the next five, ten, or twenty years?

Alex C November 30, 2012 - 9:57 pm

They should pitch the completion of the 2nd Ave subway as another crucial piece of anti-flood measures by providing an alternative on the east side of Manhattan. Skip all the usual red tape and line up the TBMs!

AG December 2, 2012 - 9:06 pm

Yup – I agree.

AMM December 1, 2012 - 12:48 pm

It’s tempting to sit back, as the mayor has done, and note how quickly things returned to almost-normal,…

Except that the system is not back to normal. The stuff that isn’t back to normal is going to cost a lot more and take a lot more time than what’s been done up to now.

Plus, keeping the parts of the system going that are in service now is going to be more expensive — component failures are going to be a lot more frequent, due to salt-water damage.

The MTA will be dealing with the damage from the flooding — and the additional costs, above normal oprating and maintenance costs — for years.

It’s as though the NYC bridges had all collapsed, the MTA had temporarily patched half of tnem up with bamboo, and now Hizzonner were saying, OK, it’s all fixed now, let’s find something new to spend our money on.

Bolwerk December 1, 2012 - 10:11 pm

I’m not sure I disagree with Bloomberg. To some extent, I suspect we need new infrastructure that won’t suffer the deficiencies of our old infrastructure. Once that exists, we can work on waterproofing our old infrastructure – including perhaps extended shutdowns. It’s like how we need Water Tunnel 3 so we have the capacity to shutdown and inspect 1 and 2.

Not sure that’s what Bloomberg was getting at, but it’s hardly insane when you consider we could mostly use the extra capacity anyway. Regardless, it’s easier to fix tunnels when trains aren’t running through them.

Someone December 2, 2012 - 9:47 pm

Okay, and which new lines is Bloomberg proposing? Oh, and by the way, they should finish up the Second Avenue Subway phase 1 quickly, so people at least have a travel alternative.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines December 3, 2012 - 9:00 am

[…] Bloomberg: Don’t Spend Money on Subway Storm-Proofing; Use It for Expansion Instead (CapNY, SAS) […]


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