With New York’s subways still shut down but some city residents returning to work, the city faces a new problem: what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people suddenly trying to drive. The city just isn’t equipped to let its more than 8 million people get around in cars, and the map below illustrates one reason why: If everybody who went to work in Manhattan every day had to drive there, the black areas represent the space the city might have to allocate to parking lots.
The map comes courtesy of transportation engineer Michael Frumin, who wrote back in 2009 that if the subway were ever shut down, 324,000 extra cars per hour would have to go into the center of Manhattan during the morning rush. And the city would have to have someplace to put them (an area about three times the size of Central Park). The map is just a guess at where parked cars might go, but Frumin ran specific numbers based on 2007 subway ridership and determined how much extra road the city would need to accommodate all those cars. Here are some options the city could build to take up the slack:
• 76 new Brooklyn Bridges
• 84 Queens Midtown Tunnels
• 200 new copies of 5th Avenue
• 67 West Side Highways
Obviously the word “options” here is figurative — what these numbers show is how very difficult it would be for the city to build anything approaching the capacity of the subway.
New Yorkers are feeling that difficulty now. Reports of heavy traffic in Manhattan started coming in early Wednesday morning, and ordinarily quiet Brooklyn streets were gridlocked with drivers trying to get into Manhattan.
If the storm is a reminder of how vital the city’s transit system is, it could also be a motivation to update it. Richard Barone, a transportation planner for urban research group the Regional Plan Association, said that as tragic as Hurricane Sandy is, it’s also an opportunity to really look at ways to update the subway system and city infrastructure to survive major storms — storms that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out may be the region’s “new reality.” As he walked down a congested 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, Barone told BuzzFeed the city could move to keep the subways from flooding by building flood barriers or rehabilitating surrounding wetlands to absorb flood waters. It could also make the system more resilient in the event it does flood, perhaps by installing a very high-speed pump system.
These fixes would cost a lot of money — climate scientist Klaus Jacob told New York Magazine before the storm hit that they could run $10 billion or more. But he also estimated that flooded subways and the lost revenue they caused might cost $58 billion. Post-storm, he’s looking pretty smart. “It will cost money to adapt our infrastructure,” Barone said, “but in the end, the benefits outweigh the costs.”