A Stronger, More Resilient New York - Transportation Chapter

A Stronger, More Resilient New York” is an adaptation plan (Plan) for New York City (NYC), which contains actionable recommendations both for rebuilding the communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy and increasing the resilience of infrastructure and buildings citywide. Chapter 10 of the plan is dedicated to transportation impacts, strategies, initiatives, and policy recommendations. This chapter details the impacts that occurred to the transportation system as a result of Hurricane Sandy, impacts that can be anticipated in the future as a result of climate change, and strategies for increasing the resilience of NYC’s transportation system.

The New York City region’s transportation network encompasses the largest public transportation system in America, made up of subway, bus, commuter railroad, and ferry networks. It carries one-third of all transit riders and two-thirds of all rail riders in the nation, includes the nation’s busiest rail hub and the largest bus and rail car fleets. It encompasses 6,000 miles of streets, 12,000 traffic signals, and nearly 800 bridges (including the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges), as well as the Staten Island Ferry. New Yorkers make extensive use of this system with 7.6 million daily subway and bus riders, close to 850,000 daily commuter rail riders, and almost 2 million people crossing the region’s major bridges and tunnels every day.

Chapter 10 of the Plan, ‘Transportation,’ describes the impacts to the transportation system in NYC caused by Hurricane Sandy: “nearly every element of New York’s transportation system shut down. Sandy’s storm surge flooded vehicular tunnels, subway stations, roads, and airports. Transportation outages followed, impairing mobility and access to, from, and within the city and the region, and affecting 8.5 million public transit riders, 4.2 million drivers, and 1 million fliers.” The Plan details the preventative measures that the city took to protect the transportation system the day prior to the storm. For example, the MTA installed plywood and sandbag barriers at critical station entrances and ventilation grates.  It also moved subway cars, buses, and trains to higher ground. Gangways were removed at ferry landings and terminals around the city, to allow floating elements to move with the tide and expected storm surge without damaging buildings and facilities.

The Plan also discusses the potential future risks to the city's transportation network due to climate change.  It notes that storm surge poses the greatest risk to the system as many critical pieces of transit infrastructure are located within the 100-year floodplain. Other significant climate impacts addressed are flooding, heavy downpours, sea-level rise, as well as heat waves and high winds. In general, the City’s roads and bridges are considered at moderate risk to climate impacts, while the city’s tunnels and subways are considered to be at high risk of impact. 

The sub-chapter, ‘Initiatives for Increasing Resiliency in Transportation’ describes 18 initiatives under three umbrella strategies:

(1) Protect assets to maintain system operations

  • Reconstruct and resurface 500-miles of damaged streets and include “upgraded resiliency features to prevent future damage.”
  • Integrate climate resiliency features into future street construction projects, and include stormwater management best practices.
  • Install flood protection measures for Manhattan tunnels, including flood gates, raising tunnel entrances and ventilation structures.
  • Integrate climate change resiliency into the City’s transportation plans, which prioritize funding for the New York region.

(2) Prepare the transportation system to restore service after extreme climate events

  • Increase temporary transportation services in the event of subway closure, such as high-capacity “bus-bridges,” ferry service, and dedicated bus lanes.
  • Identify critical transportation segments that must continue to function after a disaster to enable the delivery of emergency services, and prioritize resiliency investments to these routes.
  • Increase the capacity of the system by developing standard plans for instituting HOV-requirements, and by expanding pedestrian and biking facilities.

(3) Implement new and expanded services to increase system flexibility and redundancy

  • Increase redundancies in the system along critical corridors, such as increasing Amtrak’s rail capacity, MTA’s subway lines, expansion of other commuter rail lines, and ferry service.
  • Expand the network of high-capacity and express buses, and buses with priority limited-access corridors

The Plan was announced on June 11, 2013 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It drew upon the recommendations developed as part of the PlaNYC effort, which was also spearheaded by the Mayor.  In 2008, the Mayor convened more than 40 public and private infrastructure operators as part of the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force to develop PlaNYC. Task Force members used climate change projections developed by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) to evaluate the risks to their infrastructure and identify strategies to address them. The NYC Special Initiative of Rebuilding and Resiliency was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and was charged with producing this plan for rebuilding the City to be resilient to future impacts. The Plan incorporates the projections and strategies developed in the PlaNYC report.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on December 29, 2014.


Publication Date: June 11, 2013

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