How Greener Streets Can Protect New Yorkers from Floods


The aftermath of Hurricane Ida’s flooding has lead New York City authorities to the idea of creating more absorbent streets with green infrastructure in order to help protect New Yorkers against severe flooding.

The deadly flooding brought to New York City by the remnants of Hurricane Ida raised urgent questions about what authorities can do to protect New Yorkers from future floods. A StreetsBlog analysis last week proposed that one solution is to make the city’s streets more absorbent by installing green, permeable infrastructure.

The city has already installed at least 660,000 square feet of “pervious surfaces,” per StreetsBlog: storm-friendly design elements like “street trees, bioswales and planters that manage excess stormwater.” Still, advocates argue that the installation of floodwater mitigation measures is not keeping up with the dangers of climate change. One transit reform advocate told StreetsBlog that Mayor Bill de Blasio “controls 6,300 miles of streets and can immediately repurpose them for higher use, like stormwater management and other green infrastructure that mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change,” calling for authorities to prioritize street design as a defense against extreme weather events.

One major problem with the city’s existing infrastructure, according to StreetsBlog, is that the subway “can only handle rainfall of 1.75 inches per hour,” even though the city had acknowledged in legal filings that high-rainfall events are expected to increase drastically in this decade and the next. The Hurricane Ida remnants saw rainfall of three inches in an hour and dramatic flooding around the city. Hence, StreetsBlog argues, absorbent streets and sidewalks are essential to preventing widespread destruction—and possibly death—in the future.

Efforts to redesign New York City’s infrastructure will require cooperation between city and state authorities, given the mixed control over entities like the MTA and the city’s sewer and drainage systems (which fall under the state’s Department of Environmental Protection). Still, the analysis concludes, the effects of inaction will be much more devastating than the costs of action. “It’s uncertain how often we are going to see such an event, but we expect to see these extremes more often,” one climate expert told the publication. “The bottom line is that climate change makes these extreme events more probable and intense.”

More information on how New York City can prepare its infrastructure for extreme weather events is available via StreetsBlog.

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