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 Many solutions talk about draining and pumping, but the subway system has serious drainage issues, in part due to an outdated and archaic water recollection system, but also due to clogging and garbage.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.

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