Author:Jones, Christopher

Introduction 1005 I. Background 1005 II. Economic and Social Equity Challenges 1008 III. Resilience and Climate Change 1011 Conclusion 1016 INTRODUCTION

This Article will describe the challenges facing regional transportation planners in American metropolitan regions in an era characterized by uneven growth and accelerating impacts of climate change. The Article focuses first on the way growing inequality and technological change affect the priorities for transportation planning. It then discusses how climate resiliency is adding a new dimension to the traditional concerns of planning for metropolitan transportation systems. It takes the New York region as an instructive example because of its size, the expansiveness of its transit system, and its vulnerability to climate change due to its extensive coastlines. However, the planning principles and solutions that this Article offers for the New York region can be applied to other cities around the U.S. and globally. Much of the research used in this Article comes from work done by the Regional Plan Association.


    In the last decade, the New York region began expanding its vast transit network for the first time in well over half a century. A growing population (1) and thirty years of investment to return subways, buses, and commuter rails to a state of good repair paved the way for new services, targeted primarily to the region's congested urban core. No. 7 subway line was extended to 11th Avenue and 34th Street to open up the last, large tract of land that could extend Manhattan's central business district. (2) On New Year's Day of 2017, the Second Avenue Subway opened to the public after a century of false starts, relieving the nation's most congested transit corridor along Manhattan's East Side. (3) The Long Island Rail Road's East Side Access Project, connecting the railroad to Grand Central Terminal, is scheduled for completion in 2022. (4) There is growing momentum for new rail tunnels under the Hudson River to supplement the aging existing tunnels that are straining to meet existing demand. (5)

    At a cumulative cost of thirty-five billion dollars, these projects reflect the urgencies of the late twentieth century. (6) By the 1990s, New York and its transit system had sufficiently recovered from its 1970s fiscal crisis to be able to consider large new transit investments. Yet, another steep downturn in the early 1990s reinvigorated fears that the city was losing its place in the global economy. From 1989-1992, the New York region suffered its worst recession since the 1930s. Moreover, a surge in crime in the mid-1980s threatened to undo investments in housing and transit that were just beginning to reverse years of neglect and deterioration. New York's economic performance had lagged behind the nation for decades. By the 1990s, cities from Tokyo to London seemed poised to leave New York behind in the competition for high-value businesses. (7)

    A 1996 plan by Regional Plan Association, (8) its third plan in its then seventy-five year history, captured the Zeitgeist of the time with its title, A Region at Risk. (9) It argued for major reinvestment in physical infrastructure and workforce capabilities to restore New York's international competitiveness, support more sustainable development patterns, and create a more socially equitable region. The plan included five campaigns to improve the environment, urban centers, workforce, governance, and mobility. (10) Notably, it launched a public debate that led to the expansion of the transit system. (11) The Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, new trans-Hudson tunnels, and new transit to Manhattan's far west side were part of the plan's transportation vision, and public campaigns in subsequent years created momentum for their implementation. (12)

    In 2017, the region faces a different set of challenges. New York is one of the most, if not the most, globally prominent cities in terms of economic strength and influence. (13) Its economic recovery since the early 1990s has been remarkable, spurred first by a recovery in the financial markets and sharp reductions in crime, and then sustained by national expansions, changing preferences that helped revive cities worldwide, and public investments in housing, education, transportation, and public spaces. (14)


    New York's economic and social successes are both incomplete and fragile. Economic growth has not resulted in rising incomes for most households, exacerbating long-standing inequalities. Growth itself has made an already dense and expensive region even more crowded and unaffordable. Challenges to the global economic order, such as rising nationalism that put the future of the European Union and other international alliances in doubt, could erode many of the advantages that New York has thus far offered. Further, climate change is creating a new map that will alter the region's future development and settlement patterns. (15)

    These issues underlie the rationale of a new plan under development by Regional Plan Association. (16) For the transportation elements of the plan, the challenges are in many ways more complex than they were in prior years, when the overriding goal was to support a growing economy by improving mobility.

    While twenty-five years ago, the goal was reviving New York's economy, now the goal is dealing with the endemic problems of the region's strong, but imbalanced, economic growth that, instead of bringing broadly shared prosperity, has produced rising inequality. Median household income has grown only for the top portion of households, and has declined for the bottom three-fourths. While this is a national problem, it has particular relevance for the New York region, which already had some of the widest disparities by income and race. (17)

    Transportation can be a powerful mediator in determining economic well-being and opportunity. As an example of both its creative and destructive power, the construction of the interstate highway system helped spur national growth in the 1950s-1970s, but also largely facilitated postwar suburban sprawl, urban deterioration, and metropolitan-scale segregation. (18) Conversely, recent studies by Raj Chetty and his colleagues at the Equality of Opportunity Project have identified a positive...

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