Transit in the NYC Region, After the Storm: Rebuild It Better

It was Rahm Emanuel who said, back in his White House days, “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste.” As far as crises go, the damage Sandy caused to New York City’s subway system, with its tunnels submerged in seawater, would certainly qualify. Throughout the region, other rail systems have been damaged too. Blogger Cap’n Transit notes that some powerful people are now on the record saying that this is the time to make the transit system stronger:

The South Ferry subway station in lower Manhattan, post Sandy. Photo: MTA on Flickr

Since they began to realize how much the subway system had been damaged by the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, leaders have been making statements like this one from Governor Cuomo: “We will rebuild the subway system and it will be better than before.” Tonight Stephen Smith scoffed at that claim, but I think it’s important to take it seriously, and to think about what it could mean.

We don’t know the full extent of the damage to New York’s transit system. We know that the Cranberry Street (A/C) tunnel is still flooded, and that the Rutgers Street (F) and Steinway (7) tunnels are not in great shape. We know that almost all of the PATH system was heavily flooded. We also know that there have been washouts along the Northeast Corridor between Newark and Secaucus, and in other parts of the commuter rail system.

Let’s look at this as an opportunity, like a really long Fastrack: if you could rip out a section of the subway or commuter rail system and replace it, with 90% federal funding, what would you improve? Obviously, some parts, like Hoboken Terminal, were recently renovated and it’d just be nice to have them back the way they were. Others, like the South Ferry station, are brand new and have never worked very well, and we’d just like them working. But some parts were kind of old and decrepit to begin with.

We’ve already missed our opportunity to connect the PATH system with the #6 Lexington Avenue line after the attack on the World Trade Center. Last year we missed the opportunity to use emergency powers to electrify the Port Jervis line or rebuild the Erie Main Line. Here are some other ideas:

The PATH train tunnels are very narrow and twisty. This constrains the Port Authority to use short, narrow train cars. Could the tunnels be widened and the curves smoothed out, to the point where they could handle bigger cars?

Elsewhere on the Network today: American Dirt explores how Sandusky, Ohio, resisted the suburbanization of its historic downtown and managed to retain major tenants. Systemic Failure reports that Fresno planning officials have raised concerns about whether the planned HSR station will be convenient to access by walking or biking. And Copenhagenize explains that even in famously bike friendly Denmark, streets that are used largely for bicycling can display a car-centric orientation.