Author Archives: Edson Flores

Posts by Edson Flores

Memo 3. Annotated Bibliography. Preventing Future Flooding in the New York Subway System: Myth or Real Possibility?

To: Professor MacBride

From: Edson Flores

Date: April 15th, 2013

Re: Annotated Bibliography

1.- Chan, Sewell. “Why the Subways Flood.” The New York Times (New York), August 8, 2007. Accessed April 10, 2013.

In 2004, torrential downpours associated with Hurricane Frances inundated the city with more than two inches of rain an hour. Hundreds of thousands of commuters were stranded. The 1999 downpour brought 2.5 to 4 inches of rain over two hours.

As Ian Urbina of The Times explained in 2004, a quick, heavy rainfall can be a formula for chaos in the city’s subways.

As rainwater seeps through tunnel walls and flows down subway grates and stairwells, sump pumps in 280 pump rooms next to the subway tracks pull the water back up to street level. That water then naturally flows toward the storm drains — but the storm drains themselves are often unable to handle the flow of water.

From this New York Times article I plan to use the description of how the draining system of the subway has performed (or failed to do so) during major storms in the recent past. Many solutions talk about draining and pumping, but the subway system has serious drainage issues, in part due to an outdated and archaic water recollection system, but also due to clogging and garbage.

I am aware that no matter how technologically advanced the drainage system is, it can only take in so much. However, I find interesting how back in 2004 (date of storm mentioned in article) the conversation was about improving the draining and pumping systems, back then the only apparently solutions to the subway being disrupted during storms. After Sandy, technology and creativity provides more options.

2.- Crean, Sarah. “Storm Surge: An Interview With Climate Change Expert Klaus Jacob On NYC’s Post-Sandy Future | Environment.” Gotham Gazette: The Place for New York Policy and Politics. Last modified January 17, 2013.

Jacob describes his struggles to get Washington and Albany, as well as the city, to pay attention to the peril of rising sea levels; how some proposed solutions like flood gates would likely cause more trouble than they are worth; and how he thinks the city’s shrinking footprint will lead to more densely populated neighborhoods on higher ground and the loss of coastline.

Jacob became interested in New York City issues in the late 1980s when he successfully prodded local leaders to adopt a seismic building code. Since the late 1990s, he has worked largely on climate change, focusing his attention on how the rise in the sea level and storm surges will affect New York and other global cities. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed him to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which was convened in 2008. Jacob has served in an advisory capacity to city and state agencies on issues related to climate change.

Dr. Jacob is the man who predicted the subways would flood during Sandy. His research and expertise make him a solid reference to consult for future expectations. The interview brings insight that the trouble doesn’t rely on the science, but rather on the economic and political side. Dr. Jacob sits on the New York City Panel on Climate Change and several other committees. He is the man responsible of steering the conversation toward what needs to be done. In the interview he questions the approach many municipalities (NYC included), have taken on implementing pumping systems and creating ocean barriers. According to him, changes are ultimately in the hands of the mayor.

3.- Geller, Adam. “AP IMPACT: NYC FLOOD PROTECTION WON’T BE EASY.” Associated Press (New York), November 26, 2012. Accessed April 10, 2013.

Sandy exposed the weaknesses of the 108-year-old subway system, including the large number of stations in flood-prone neighborhoods and the overall porosity of a network ventilated by thousands of grates set into sidewalks.

In recent years the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the system, has begun looking for ways to defend it from water. After flooding from a 2007 storm forced closure of part of the system, the agency spent $157 million on a host of projects, including one that closed half the 1,600 grates along a low-lying avenue in Queens, raised others and installed water-activated mechanical closing devices on still more. It also hired an architecture firm to design raised grates that double as street furniture.

But those changes were designed to prevent flooding caused by rain, not storm surge, and were limited by a capital budget with little room for projects not directly related to transportation, said Projjal Dutta, the MTA’s director of sustainability initiatives.

If New York City is going to prepare for the next super storm, it can start by looking at what others have done. The comparison in this article describes the way a medical center in Texas dealt with tropical storm Allison in 2001, and what measures, if any can be applied to the New York subway system. Submarine type flood doors were installed throughout the Texas Medical Center tunnel system in Houston after severe flooding from tropical storm Allison in 2001. The floods caused a massive blackout, inundated medical center streets, and forced evacuations of patients. If metropolitan New York is going to defend itself from surges like the one that overwhelmed the region during Superstorm Sandy, decision makers can start by studying how others have fought the threat of fast-rising water.

4.- Jacob, Klaus, Noah Edelblum, and Jonathan Arnold. “RISK INCREASE TO INFRASTRUCTURE DUE TO SEA LEVEL RISE.” Climate Change and a Global City: An Assessment of the Metropolitan East Coast (MEC) Region. SECTOR REPORT: INFRASTRUCTURE (2000): Accessed April 12, 2013.

Infrastructure provides the engineered foundation for the socioeconomic functioning of population centers. Infrastructure systems consist of interconnected networks of lifelines and facilities that deliver resources, remove waste, move people, information and goods, and control to a large degree the cultural ambiance. This means bridges, roads, tunnels, buses, subways, railroads, water, sewage, power, phone, and other things we take for granted. The robustness of infrastructure systems depends on their design, state of maintenance, and the man-made, environmental and natural stresses to which they are exposed. Besides man-made stresses, weather, climate and extreme natural events such as floods, earthquakes, wind- or ice storms regularly test the vulnerability of these systems.

This is a report that examines the infrastructure of East Coast region and evaluates the capacity of response to threats like climate change. Hurricane Sandy confirmed that New York City is vulnerable to the super storms that are likely to come in the future. We witnesses the way in which our city, given its resources and infrastructure, responded to the damage Sandy left behind. Although the report was written in the year 2000, the assessment of the role infrastructures play in climate change is what interests me. The report analyzes the costs or benefits, if any, that may be incurred from climate change. Could there be cost-effective actions that can be taken to minimize negative effects on the systems or maximize the benefits?

5.- Jacob, Klaus, Cynthia Rosenzweig, Radley Horton, David Major, and Vivien Gornitz. MTA Adaptations to Climate Change. A Categorical Imperative. New York: Metropolitan Transport Authority, 2008. Accessed April 1, 2013.

Climate risks to coastal urban areas largely stem from temperature rise, changes in precipitation, and sea level rise (SLR) and consequent higher storm surges. They manifest themselves by the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events including heat waves, droughts, river and street flooding, and storm- and sea-level-rise-induced coastal flooding. Some of the MTA systems are more vulnerable than others: low-lying fixed structures such as below-sea-level road- or subway-tunnels, or near-sea-level railroad tracks, rail yards and shops are more prone to coastal and urban street flooding than bus routes that can be readily rerouted on short notice according to flood conditions.

I chose this report since it shows what the MTA itself recognizes as vulnerable and feasible for adaptation. It is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach. For given expectations about climate change, different adaptations are appropriate for different types of facilities and their different life spans or criticalities. Rail yards, for example, may need hard protection against rising sea levels and storm surges, whereas other facilities, such as recreation areas, open space, and parking lots, can be allowed to flood temporarily at acceptable frequencies.

6.- Martinez, Xavier, Julio Davalos, Ever Barbero, Eduardo Sosa, Wade Huebsch, Ken Means, Larry Banta, and Greg Thompson. “Inflatable plug for threat mitigation in transportation tunnels.” (2012)

Tunnel safety has long been a concern for transportation and government entities. Fires, noxious fumes, deadly gasses, and flooding threats have occurred in major transportation systems from Madrid to Chicago to Tokyo. The current paper presents the Resilient Tunnel System (RTS). This is a passive protection system developed to mitigate the effects of a hazardous event in the tunnel and the connected infrastructure, by compartmentalizing it. This is achieved by adapting an existing concept: an airbag. The RTS consists of inflating at least two large airbags inside the tunnel, within a specific strategic location, to seal the compromised tunnel section. The seal provided by the airbags must be tight and conform to the tunnel geometry, so whatever occurs between the airbags does not affect the external sections of the tunnel. This paper describes the first prototype of the RTS developed, as well as the tests performed to validate its performance.

Dr. Ever Barbero from West Virginia University made the news after hurricane Sandy, he might have figured out a possible solution for the subway flooding. Dr. Barbero’s research on inflatable structures has gained a lot of fame recently since his balloon like devices could prevent tunnels from flooding. The devices works like a huge balloon that fills up the tunnel space to prevent water from inundating the tunnel. In his original paper, Dr. Barbero explains in detail the way his experiment works and if it indeed can be used in subway tunnels. Dr. Barbero also recognizes that this method doesn’t guarantee 100% effectiveness since it may allow leaks due to the irregular surface of the tunnels. However, I believe Dr. Barbero’s structure can go a long way in solving NYC’s issue of flooding since the structures are relatively cheap and no major transformation in our old subway system would be needed.

7.- Reis, Ronald A. The New York City Subway System. New York: Chelsea House, 2009.

Reis narrates the construction of the New York City subway system, and describes the evolution and changes the system has undergone through the years to meet the ever changing needs of daily passengers. Teeming with a population of 3.5 million at the end of the nineteenth century, New York City needed a subway system. After four years of digging and diverting miles of utilities and tunneling under the Harlem River, the city’s residents celebrated a new era in mass transit on October 27, 1904, with the opening of a nine-mile subway route. In the century to come, the New York subway system expanded to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 6,400 cars, 468 stations, a daily ridership of 4.5 million, and 842 miles of track-longer than the distance from New York to Chicago. Politics, graffiti, and construction challenges combined to make the building and running of the New York subway system one of the America’s greatest civic undertakings.

In the wake of hurricane Sandy, the vulnerability of the New York City subway system arouse several questions of what can be done, if anything, to prevent future shutdowns due to severe weather. In order to address these questions one must understand how the subway system was originally thought and designed. Reis provides the historical context in the construction of the subway lines, and the changes that have been made ever since. Naturally, the subway was built according to the transportation needs and building capacity of the time. What I find interesting is the understandable disregard to major storm activity, and the resulting flooding of tunnels. It shows that at the beginning of the twentieth century, issues like climate change and flood hazard mitigation were not part of the conversation.

8.- Rosenzweig, C., W. Solecki, A. DeGaetano, M. O’Grady, S. Hassol, and P. Grabhorn. Responding to Climate Change in New York State: The ClimAID Integrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation. Albany, New York: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), 2011. Accessed April 1, 2013.

ClimAID: the Integrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in New York State was undertaken to provide decision-makers with cutting edge information on the state’s vulnerability to climate change and to facilitate the development of adaptation strategies informed by both local experience and scientific knowledge. This state-level assessment of climate change impacts is specifically geared to assist in the development of adaptation strategies. It acknowledges the need to plan for and adapt to climate change impacts in a range of sectors: Water Resources, Coastal Zones, Ecosystems, Agriculture, Energy, Transportation, Telecommunications, and Public Health.

The author team for this report is composed of university and research scientists who are specialists in climate change science, impacts, and adaptation. To ensure that the information provided would be relevant to decisions made by public and private sector practitioners, stakeholders from state and local agencies, non-profit organizations, and the business community participated in the process as well.

Hurricane Sandy put the spotlight on New York City’s adaptation to climate change. However, assessments and recommendations have been made before hurricane Sandy, in fact many could have prevented a great deal of trouble should they have been implemented. This report put together by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in 2011, provides useful information to decision-makers, such as state officials, city planners, water and energy managers, farmers, business owners, and others as they begin responding to climate change in New York State. I am particularly interested in the chapters regarding transportation, since it goes through the vulnerabilities of our city’s 108 year-old subway system. Given the continuous flooding the NYC subway system is subject to, an obvious but partial solution would be to implement a series of upgrades. However, the science and technology must first go through the economics. To understand the viability and cost-benefit analysis of adaptation, I am interested in the economic analysis of climate change impact and adaptations presented as an annex in this report.

New York City Subway Timeline.

1898 Greater New York City is formed. (Reis 2009)

1900 March 24 Construction of the IRT subway begins (Reis 2009)

1903 October 24 Ten workers are killed in the Fort George Tunnel explosion (Reis 2009)

1904 October 27 The official opening and dedication of the first nine miles of the IRT subway is held. (Reis 2009)

1908 August 1 the IRT subway project is completed. (Reis 2009)

1913 March 19 New York’s Public Service Commission issues Dual Contracts to the IRT and the BRT

1919 January 1 The BRT goes into receivership (Reis 2009)

1923 June The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company (BMT) is formed after acquiring assets of the BRT. Yankee Stadium, built next to the IRT line in the Bronx, opens for play. (Reis 2009)

1925 New Yorkers average 276 subway rides per year. March 14 Construction begins on the new, municipally owned Independent Subway System (IND). (Reis 2009)

1932 The IRT goes into receivership. September 10 The first IND route opens. (Reis 2009)

1934 January 1 Fiorello H. LaGuardia becomes mayor of New York. (Reis 2009)

1939 December 12 Subway unification (IRT, BMT, IND) marks the largest railroad merger in U.S. history.(Reis 2009)

1940 December 14 The last IND route opens (Reis 2009)

1946 December 23 An all-time daily record for subway passengers is set at 8,872,244 (Reis 2009)

1948 July 1 Subway fare rises from a nickel to a dime. (MTA 2013)

1953 July 25 Tokens debut in the subway. (MTA 2013)

1966 January 1 The Transport Workers Union (TWU) calls its first strike, shutting down the New York Subway system for 12 days. (Reis 2009)

1967 July 19, The first successful train of air-conditioned subway cars, composed of ten R38 cars, goes into service on the F line. (MTA 2013)

1968 March 1, The New York State Legislature creates the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to oversee transportation operations in 12 counties. The MTA becomes New York City Transit’s parent agency. (MTA 2013)

1969 July 1,  NYC Transit introduces reduced-fare on buses and subways for senior citizens. (MTA 2013)

1970 Extensive graffiti first appears on subway cars and subway trains. (Reis 2009)

1975 September 2, Reduced-fare introduced for people with physical disabilities. (MTA 2013)

1980 April 1 The TWU calls its second subway strike, shutting down the New York Subway system for 11 days. (Reis 2009)

1981 The MTA receives $8.1 billion in funding to upgrade the New York Subway System. (Reis 2009)

1984 David Gunn takes over as president of the Transit Authority (TA) and begins the Clean Car graffiti cleanup campaign.

December 22 Bernard Goetz shoots four young men he says were threatening him on the subway (Reis 2009)

1989 The New York City Subway is declared graffiti-free. (Reis 2009).

Service begins to the 63 rd Street Extension’s three new stations: Lexington Avenue, Roosevelt Island (Manhattan) and 21 st Street (Long Island City, Queens). (MTA 2013)

1997 May 14, The entire subway system accepts MetroCard. (MTA 2013)

1998 July 4, First sales day for the Unlimited-Ride 7-Day MetroCard and the 30-Day MetroCard, which let customers take as many trips as they want for a fixed price. (MTA 2013)

1999 January 1, An unlimited-ride, 1-day MetroCard, the Fun Pass, is introduced. (MTA 2013)

2001 December 4, New Technology R143 subway cars enter service on the  line. The R143 is considered the most advanced NYC subway car to date, featuring Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC). (MTA 2013)

2001 December 16, The 63 rd Street Tunnel Connector opens after more than seven-and-a-half years of work. The $645 million project completes a 1,500-foot link to the Queens Boulevard line, allowing a 20 percent increase in train service and the creation of a  line between the 71 st Avenue station in Queens and the Second Avenue station in Manhattan. (MTA 2013)

2002 September 15, The  1,9   subway line reopens for service. Nearly 1,400 feet of infrastructure between Liberty and Barclay Streets caved in or filled with rubble when the World Trade Center collapsed the year before. The contractor and NYC Transit Inspection forces work around-the-clock, six to seven days a week, and finish two months ahead of schedule (MTA 2013)

2003 June 15, – The New York City Transit Authority (now called New York City Transit) began operating on this date 50 years ago, replacing New York City’s Board of Transportation as the agency in charge of all subway and elevated lines and city-owned bus and trolley lines. (MTA 2013)

2003 November 3, – Last day of service for R36 “redbird” subway cars. The cars were first rolled out for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. They received their nickname when they were overhauled in the 1980s and painted a bright red color. (MTA 2013)

2004 The New York Subway system celebrates its centennial.

2004 May 21 – The newly renovated Stillwell Avenue Terminal reopens and  F, Q train service returns to Coney Island after a 21-month hiatus during construction. As part of preventive maintenance, engineers built an open-deck steel viaduct to reduce the risk of water-related structural damage. (MTA 2013)

2005 December 20 the TWU strikes for the third time, shutting down the New York Subway system for three days. (MTA 2013)

2006 August 17, – The R160 subway car begins test runs on the line. One particularly notable new feature is FIND, the Flexible Information and Notice Display. The FIND allows Transit personnel to update digital messages and maps easily, which means R160 cars can travel on different subway routes and dispatch new information. (MTA 2013)

2007 August 8 The New York Subway floods, stranding thousands of passengers. Construction on the 8.5-mile (13.6) Second Avenue Subway line begins again. (Reis 2009)

2008 December 22, – New R160 subway cars start service on the  as part of a 1,662-car replacement rolling out on lettered lines to replace 45-year-old trains. (MTA 2013)

2010 June 3, – A solar thermal system, mounted on the rooftop of NYC Transit’s Coney Island Overhaul Shop and Maintenance Facility in Brooklyn, begins operations.  The system heats hot water to wash subway cars by using solar energy. (MTA 2013)

2012 June 10, – Because of fully integrating Communications-Based Train Control on the L line, which provides the ability to run more trains each hour, New York City Transit adds 98 weekly round trips to the L train schedule. (MTA 2013)

2012 October 30 The giant storm Sandy wreaked havoc on the New York City subway system, flooding tunnels, garages and rail yards and paralyzing the nation’s largest mass-transit system for days. (Reuters 2012)

Works Cited 

MTA. “New York City Transit – History and Chronology.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.

Reis, Ronald A. “Chronology and Timeline.” The New York City Subway System. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. N. pag. Print.

Reuters. “The Giant Storm Sandy Wreaked Havoc on the New York City Subway System, Flooding Tunnels, Garages and Rail Yards and Threatening to Paralyze the Nation’s Largest Mass-transit System for Days.” Newsgroup. Reuters. Reuters, 30 Oct. 2012. Web. <>.

The future of architecture or stubbornness?

It seems that people like to live on waterfronts regardless of the susceptibility to severe flooding after major storms. However, a developer might suggest the vulnerability of waterfronts is something of the past.

Anderson’s article titled “Sandy Who?” shows mixed views on the construction of a residential complex off the Gowanus Canal. Despite warnings and concerns against the construction of the project; Lightstone Group, the developer, claims to have a building designed “invulnerable to flooding”.

When discussing contemporary city planning, Ratcliffe and Krawczyk stress that present and future needs for effective city planning must be based on an understanding of past failures.

Is Lightstone’s invulnerable project of building on a waterfront an example of an avant-garde construction techinique, or has the project failed to understand the failures hurricane Sandy has made evident? What’s the use of a flood-proof building when your neighborhood has the whole Gowanus Canal on the streets?

Memo 1.- NYC Subway: goals and challenges for the 21st century.

To: Professor MacBride
From: Edson Flores
Date: Feb/12/2013
Re: Research topic proposal.

One of the things that sets New York City apart from other major cities is its public transportation system. However, as a saying goes: a city is as good as its subway system. The NYC subway, as convenient as it is, was shown to be vulnerable in the wake of hurricane Sandy, paralyzing the city and leaving thousands of New Yorkers stranded and immobilized.

In my research I plan to focus on the future of the New York City subway system, what challenges does it face today and what others is it likely to face in the long run. Particularly I am interested in the cost/benefit trade off of modernizing the subway system. What impact did hurricane Sandy have on the MTA’s plans for the New York City subway? Given the antiquity of the subway tunnels and stations, what measures are viable to modernize and reduce the vulnerability against the effects of nature of the subway system?  An interesting project to look at is the ongoing construction of Second avenue subway line, is it being built following a different approach towards efficiency and sustainability?

In order to conduct my research I first must delve into the history of the New York City subway. For this I will consult books written about the subject and also visit the New York Transit Museum to take a look at their archives. Once I attain sufficient background, I will contact the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York Department of Transportation for further reference and professional commentary. Additionally, I will look at the different metro systems from major cities around the world and find out what is being done there to improve public transportation via subway; what trends in modern subway systems exist, what environmental measures are being established and following in the construction of subways. I will compare and contrast the other subways with NYC’s and identify what elements could be implemented in New York to overall enhance our subway system.

Week 2: Engage

Rosensweig and Solecki focus on the programs created by Mayor Bloomberg to deal with climate change, namely PlaNYC and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Jacob mentions how the processes of city planning must consider the components of cities (cars, buildings, waste, etc) as real objects and not just abstractions.

Is Mayor Bloomberg aware that the problem with city planning is in the “physical sciences” or are his programs just a temporary patch that fails to provide a sustainable solution for the long run?


Comments by Edson Flores

"The main issue I see is the ethical consequence of what is done in San Francisco: let underpaid workers in Asia sort our "contaminated loads of recycled materials by hand in unsafe conditions". If New York is going to start recollecting all types of plastics, the city should worry about taking care of business of its own. The recollection and separation of plastics should be done locally. Once separated the recyclable plastic from the non-recyclable, then the city could start thinking of where to ship it, it could even become a commodity with a real market value. For this to happen, a comprehensive recycling program must be put in place, the main focus should aim to a plastic recycling literacy campaign. Hard and inconvenient, yes. However, if the campaign is successful, New York would become a model on yet another front. And that is always in the city's interest."
--( posted on Apr 15, 2013, commenting on the post What to do with plastics other than one and two? )
"Although I believe that each state should deal with the issue the state itself generates, the namely garbage disposal, I have come to understand that "a person's trash is another person's treasure" is more than a corny cliche. I came across an article recently about a situation that can best be described as a First World problem: Sweden ran out of trash and is being forced to import from Norway. Almost all of the energy produced in Sweden comes from incinerators that transform waste into energy, so they rely heavily on a constant generation of waste. Norway on the other hand has no incineration program and waste is a big problem since they do not know what to do with their garbage. This starts to sound like a trade agreement to me. I don't think shipping waste is a matter of morality or condescendence toward developing countries or other states. I think that if properly regulated and established, a new channel for international (or domestic) trade may arise, one in which both parties are incentivized to follow their best interests, not a feeling of being charitable."
--( posted on Apr 14, 2013, commenting on the post Where do we send the garbage? )
"Interdependency with the city's infrastructure is a strength if the right decisions are made on time; fail to coordinate efforts and the city crumbles down. Take for example the proposed waterproofing of the electric power system. A fix in that area will have a direct and positive impact in transportation and communication. The improvement would kill two birds with one stone. What I think is lacking in New York City’s current plan for infrastructure adaptation to climate change is a wider panorama of years ahead of us. As days pass from the Sandy aftermath, the conversation looses volume. New York City can't afford to rebuild what can be built in a more lasting and enduring way."
--( posted on Mar 4, 2013, commenting on the post The Interdependencies and Dependencies among NYC’s Infrastructure )
"Is full electric power during a storm worth $800 million? It certainly isn't any sum of money, but I believe it may well be worth it. I couldn't care less if the power outage left me without my ipad or TV, as a matter of fact I'd be thankful for having the perfect excuse to unplug my life for a little while. However, truth is that many highly important entities rely on continuous electricity. Hospitals for instance. We all witnessed how NYU Langone and Bellevue went to their knees once their generators failed. Coney Island hospital was left in the dark too. An uninterrupted flow of electricity is imperative for a city like New York. I believe the City should finance the waterproofing of the power system (yes, that means taxpayer money). A guaranteed flow of electricity would indeed enhance the experience of anyone who uses power in this city. There is a great number of social programs that have little or no impact in the majority of New York City residents. It's time for the city to illuminate all sectors of the population."
--( posted on Mar 4, 2013, commenting on the post Engage: Who’s footing the bill? )