How Extreme Weather Threatens Transit Systems

As weather events become more intense and unpredictable, transit agencies must take steps to protect their aging infrastructure from flooding, storms, and extreme heat.

Read Time: 2 minutes

August 18, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Writing in Next City, Whitney Bauck outlines some solutions for protecting public transit systems from extreme weather and other climate-related problems. “Transportation is responsible for 27% of U.S. carbon pollution, and public transit is a key tool for bringing those emissions down,” writes Bauck. “If train and bus service is disrupted by extreme weather, people may turn to more emissions-intensive ways of getting around, creating a negative feedback loop that fuels the global temperature rise that caused the disruptions in the first place.”

Bauck quotes Yonah Freemark, senior research associate at the Urban Institute, who says that one key factor is structural improvements: pointing to the flooding that has occured in New York City’s subway system, Freemark says “it’s crucial to address any potential entry points where water can get into the system, whether from sea water, as New York City saw in the case of Hurricane Sandy, or from excessive rain, as in the case of Hurricane Ida.” Alex Engel, senior communications manager at NACTO, adds that bus systems are also vulnerable to weather events, saying “climate adaptation needs to include the construction of high-quality bus shelters that shield riders from the elements in extreme heat and storms if they want passengers to keep using the bus system.”

In addition to transit infrastructure itself, preserving access to transit also means maintaining the routes that people use to get to and from transit stops. “When sidewalks are poorly paved, curb ramps are deprioritized and bike lanes aren’t protected, riders who need public transit the most — the vision-impaired, wheelchair users, or anyone who lives far from the places they need to go — may be unable to get to and from public transit stations safely.” Bauck highlights the benefits of greening cities with projects such as bioswales, trees, and landscaping that mitigate the effects of extreme heat and flooding and reduce air and water pollution, improvements that can help make and keep transit systems safe, efficient, and comfortable for riders.

Friday, August 12, 2022 in Next City

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