On February 10, about forty members and friends of the New York Chapter of Young Professionals in Transportation convened for a timely discussion on infrastructure resiliency in New York and New Jersey. The moderator, Joy Sinderbrand of the Port Authority, introduced the topic with the Rockefeller Foundation’s definition of resilience- “making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events – both natural and manmade – and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses”. Each of the three panelists provided their unique insight into how the region’s private and public entities are (and should be) working towards accomplishing this end.
As Tom Maguire, Assistant Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, pointed out, New York City has been focusing on sustainability for the last decade through policies that reduce the city’s carbon footprint and mitigate future impacts of climate change. However, the context shifted after Superstorm Sandy. Sustainability, he acknowledged, went from something to plan for in the future to something the city has to deal with today. He commended the coordination of entities such as the NYPD, Port Authority, DOT and MTA in immediate response to the storm, despite the unpredictability of its impact on the region.
John Boulé, Vice President/Senior Manager for Priority Project Delivery at Parsons Brinckerhoff, expanded on the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration. He urged the “blending of cultural differences” to bring engineers and planners together to become “solutioneers.” This will become increasingly important, he stated, as communities, in a rush toward solutions, are challenged to enhance not only resiliency, but also sustainability and livability.
Some smart solutions can come from proper planning and, encouragingly, Dave Warrington’s Office of Emergency Management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is working toward this goal. Through employing physics-based models that determine the probability of when the next big climate event will occur and how various storm severities would impact Port Authority assets, they are able to avoid “knee jerk reactions” to weather events. Instead of “rushing toward solutions” this technology will aid in thoughtful consideration of how best to fortify the region’s infrastructure.
As John pointed out, though, while the “technical” solutions are there, the real challenge is getting the different levels of government, various agencies, communities, the private sector and NGOs to build solutions and work together – before the next event, instead of in the response to it.
YPT-NY plans to continue providing members with the opportunity to engage the region’s transportation leaders. Visit www.yptnyc.org to learn about future events.
Annalisa Liberman is a Transit Management Analyst for MTA New York City Transit (NYCT), within the Capital Programs division of the Department of Subways. She serves on the YPT-NYC board as the Vice Chair of Administration.