MTA Escalator under water at South Ferry

Today is supposed to be a “back to normal” day in New York City, with businesses reopening, along with the stock exchange. But with most transit points closed, the city must be a complete nightmare to navigate today.

The MTA subway system continues to be closed, but so are the PATH, Long Island Railroad, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail lines into the city, with tunnels to Manhattan still flooded. The Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel are still closed, with the Lincoln Tunnel the only major tunnel open for autos. The MTA has free but limited bus service back on track, and most ferries and bridges are open.

But what happens if you manage to get a car into New York City? The city is not built to withstand parking for the swell of cars who have no other option. Lots are usually $40 a day, which is enough of a problem. But the anecdotal reports I’m hearing is that they, along with street parking, are all full. There’s just nowhere to put your car.

I don’t think people living in other parts of the country appreciate exactly how vital public transit is to the functioning of New York City. My dad took New Jersey Transit in from Trenton station, about 70 miles or so away, every day for 15 years. Vast amounts of people commute in from as far as the Philadelphia suburbs and all over New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. They have no way to do it today. And there’s no timetable for when those transit spokes will re-open. Mayor Bloomberg said “a couple days” and when he did, it sounded like a contractor saying the house will get done in “a couple weeks.”

This is what Marcy Wheeler’s talking about when she describes Superstorm Sandy’s “teachable moment” on infrastructure. Without durable infrastructure built to withstand the expected massive storms we’re going to see in a post-climate change world, cities like New York will simply shut down, causing massive economic dislocation and residual suffering, more than just the $25 billion in direct damage from the storm (a preliminary estimate). Moreover, it’s completely unclear where the money will come from in the case of the MTA, a self-insured institution.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is talking about a levee system, or barriers or sea gates. And it’s a long overdue conversation. The city’s vulnerabilities have been laid bare. And this impacts a giant stretch of the East Coast, a non-trivial percentage of the US population.

The time for talking in isolation about preventing the effects of climate change have ended. We’re in the era of adaptation.

Image by MTAPhotos under Creative Commons license