MTA Adaptations to Climate Change A Categorical Imperative

For organizations to survive, flourish and deliver public services, they must adapt to changing conditions and demands. Climate change is such a demand. Already it has impacted MTA facilities and operations, and will do more so during this century and beyond. The climate-induced change of the physical environment necessitates that MTA find an effective way to adapt its infrastructure, operations, and policies. This chapter provides a risk-based framework for adaptations to climate change. A risk-based, systematic approach to adaptation is important now because of the long lifetimes of urban infrastructure, long planning horizons, and the significant social, economic, and environmental risks faced by urban coastal areas already. New Orleans and hurricane Katrina are an extreme case in a special location far from the MTA service area, but they can serve as a wake-up call: lack of preventive action in the face of known threats can lead to unacceptable losses and outcomes. But not just such extreme events need attention. More frequent seemingly lesser events cause considerable disruptions and losses, as demonstrated by the modest storm of Aug 8, 2007 (MTA 2007). It severely disrupted much of the region’s mass transit. In addition, MTA facilities face a long-term threat from rising sea levels and higher storm surges.

Adaptation measures fall into different categories, and may follow distinct timelines and decision paths: first, a general adaptation policy needs to be adopted to guide the MTA leadership and MTA agencies in their adaptation efforts. It should include the mandate to develop a set of general performance standards for its facilities and operations vis-à-vis climate change; the implementation of these policies will require, in turn, agency-wide vulnerability assessments of the MTA’s physical assets and operations; an engineering- based feasibility assessment of remediation options with estimates of the economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits associated with the various risk reduction measures; MTA actions may require extensive cooperation and integration with other stakeholders, agencies, governments, communities and planning organizations.

These emerging adaptation plans will need to be fully integrated into the fiscal planning process, including preparation of long-range capital spending plans. The planning process will need to develop solutions for different time horizons: a short- term horizon for the next decade or less; a mid-range horizon of several decades; and a long-range preview on the order of a century or even longer. Such long time horizons typically apply to long-lasting infrastructure (e.g. bridges, tunnels, rights-of-way). On these longer time scales some climate-change-related threats (e.g. sea level rise and related storm surge inundations) could become severe and may require much more broadly based (regional, multi-agency) land-use and urban planning solutions than the shorter time horizon’s tasks demand. The National Academies (2008) have issued a report that outlines a framework for climate change adaptation specifically aimed at the transportation sector. It provides valuable information and generic guidance.

Some major regional adaptation measures (e.g. whether to consider regional storm barrier systems or not) constitute substantial policy issues that will require full coordination and joint actions with many levels of government and with stakeholders in the public and private sector, since larger and very fundamental social, economic and environmental issues related to land-use, urban planning and sustainability of entire communities and their livelihoods are at stake, if not those of the entire City and metropolitan region.

Climate risks to coastal urban areas largely stem from temperature rise, changes in precipitation, and sea level rise (SLR) and consequent higher storm surges. They manifest themselves by the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events including heat waves, droughts, river and street flooding, and storm- and sea-level-rise-induced coastal flooding. Some of the MTA systems are more vulnerable than others: low-lying fixed structures such as below-sea-level road- or subway-tunnels, or near-sea-level railroad tracks, rail yards and shops are more prone to coastal and urban street flooding than bus routes that can be readily rerouted on short notice according to flood conditions.

In planning for adaptation, it is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach. For given expectations about climate change, different adaptations are appropriate for different types of facilities and their different life spans or criticalities. Rail yards, for example, may need hard protection against rising sea levels and storm surges, whereas other facilities, such as recreation areas, open space, and parking lots, can be allowed to flood temporarily at acceptable frequencies. A facility that will last for 20 years may not require significant adaptation now, whereas a substantial transportation facility with a lifetime of 100+ years and tied to a given right of way will require important adaptation elements with a well planned schedule. The timing of adaptations will differ according to rehabilitation and replacement cycles in addition to magnitude of risk exposure as, in general, adaptations to climate hazards are less expensive when undertaken as part of otherwise needed rehabilitation, replacement, or expansions.

The most challenging decisions may be those where MTA programs are tied to landuse-, community-, urban and regional planning that at some point in time may require the abandonment of land, real estate, or rights of way used for generations, or may need radical and expensive measures to raise or otherwise protect the infrastructure and/or communities from the risk of rising waters. As the last resort, options may include relocation and may require new rights-of-way at safer elevations.

This Adaptation Chapter expands on these general ideas as they apply to MTA facilities, operations, capital planning procedures, and related policies.

Literature Review: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Assessment, and Adaptation Approaches

Incorporation of climate change impacts into transportation decisions is still a relatively new concept. As decision makers in various sectors grapple with information on climate change effects and how they may or may not impact their core mission(s), they are turning to existing tools and approaches for guidance. To date, three closely-related approaches are being used to help transportation decision makers consider and prepare for future climate impacts: vulnerability assessment, risk assessment, and adaptation assessment.

  • Vulnerability assessment begins with the identification of existing stressors facing transportation systems and projects how climate change will impact and/or introduce new stressors in the future. The findings of the assessment can then be ranked to assess, prioritize, and address vulnerabilities.
  • Risk assessment evaluates the likelihood and consequence of climate-related impacts on transportation and can be rooted in engineering applications. Many times this assessment will quantify the product of the probabilities of exposure and vulnerability. This assessment provides transportation policymakers with guidance based on quantitative analysis of the level of risk associated with changing climate conditions.
  • Adaptation assessment identifies, plans, prioritizes, implements, and measures transportation management options available for effectively adapting to climate change impacts. This assessment may discuss ways to reduce transportation vulnerability, increase resilience and/or highlight regions of retreat.

These approaches have been applied at varying levels of sophistication in assessing climate change impacts on human and natural systems. This document details how these approaches have been or could be used to integrate climate change impacts into transportation decisions and ultimately increase the adaptive capacity of the highway system.

Supporting Local Climate Change Adaptation: Where We Are and Where We Need To Go

Local governments are on the front line of efforts to address climate-related impacts. Recognizing this, there is a growing movement to develop and deliver tools, resources, and services to support local communities’ climate adaptation initiatives. There is, however, limited understanding of what specific types of resources exist and how well these resources match the needs of local practitioners. To bring clarity to these questions, we: 1) assessed the current landscape of climate-adaptation resources and services; 2) surveyed community practitioners to learn how well these resources align with their needs; and 3) convened leading service providers and local practitioners to identify strategic opportunities for moving the adaptation field forward. Findings demonstrate that existing services and resources are meeting the early phases of local adaptation efforts such as conducting vulnerability assessments and creating adaptation plans, but are failing to meet the needs associated with implementing, monitoring, and evaluating adaptation activities. Additionally, a lack of funding and staff time to support adaptation, as well as inaccessible resource formats are barriers impeding local climate adaptation efforts. The mismatch between the types and formats of services being provided and the needs of local governments means that more work is needed to ensure that climate adaptation resources are responsive to the existing and future needs of local governments. Moreover, our research finds that there is a strong and growing need to organize and streamline the climate adaptation resource and service landscape so that practitioners can easily, effectively, and efficiently access the resources they need to build more resilient local communities.

Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation

The objective of this project is to provide transit professionals with information and analysis relevant to adapting U.S. public transportation assets and services to climate change impacts. Climate impacts such as heat waves and flooding will hinder agencies’ ability to achieve goals such as attaining a state of good repair and providing reliability and safety. The report examines anticipated climate impacts on U.S. transit and current climate change adaptation efforts by domestic and foreign transit agencies. It further examines the availability of vulnerability assessment, risk management, and adaptation planning tools as well as their applicability to public transportation agencies. The report provides examples of adaptation strategies and discusses how transit agencies might incorporate climate change adaptation into their organizational structures and existing activities such as asset management systems, planning, and emergency response. By focusing specifically on public transportation, and the unique assets, circumstances, and operations of that mode, the report supplements transportation sector wide studies whose scopes did not allow for more in-depth treatment of transit.

Saint Paul’s Gravel Bed Nursery Project: Maximizing the Benefits of Urban Trees

Location

St. Paul , MN
United States
44° 57' 13.3308" N, 93° 5' 23.8488" W
Minnesota US
Summary: 

Mississippi Park Connection and the National Park Service is coordinating volunteers to work on a gravel bed tree nursery project at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Saint Paul campus. The gravel bed nursery will feature trees that are adapted to climate change conditions, such as Kentucky coffeetree, and will eventually be planted in Saint Paul along the Mississippi River. Volunteers from the Minnesota GreenCorps program, the 2017 National Adaptation Forum, and the general public will perform the work. 

Maryland Coastal Resiliency Assessment

Location

Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave
21401 Annapolis , MD
United States
38° 58' 59.178" N, 76° 30' 18.8424" W
Maryland US
Summary: 

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recognizes that the presence of natural features such as marshes and coastal forests can reduce the impact of inundation and erosion on the state’s coastal communities. These habitats dampen waves, stabilize sediment, and absorb water, thereby providing residents with more time to select and implement other adaptation strategies. To better understand the resiliency benefits of existing natural features, the Department partnered with The Nature Conservancy to conduct a Coastal Resiliency Assessment.

Climate Change and Resilience within Remediation: Environmental Agencies’ Perspectives

Overview:

Please join us for the second in a webinar series co-hosted by EcoAdapt and the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) examining climate change and resilience within remediation of contaminated lands. This webinar will feature highlights of the programs being implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State Of Massachusetts. We will also discuss progress in SURF’s 2016 research initiative on this timely topic.

Presenters:

Carlos Pachon, USEPA

Carlos is an Environmental Protection Specialist, based at the USEPA headquarters in Washington, DC. He leads a cross-agency effort to advance the USEPA’s "Principles for Green Remediation" and climate change adaptation practices in cleanup programs. To this end, Carlos is privileged to collaborate with the 10 USEPA regions and work with all of the people implementing cleanups in Superfund and other programs. Carlos has been with the USEPA for 18 years and holds a B.S. in Watershed Sciences, a M.S. in Environmental Management, and a MBA.

 

Anne Dailey, USEPA

Anne Dailey is a Senior Environmental Scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation. Among other duties, Anne co-led development of EPA’s recently issued series of Superfund climate change adaptation technical fact sheets. In addition to climate change adaptation, Anne also works on groundwater issues and is the Superfund Completions Coordinator and Superfund Tribal Coordinator. Prior to joining EPA Headquarters four years ago, Anne worked for more than 20 years in EPA Region 10 (Seattle) in both the Superfund and Water programs. Anne has a Bachelor of Science in Geology and a Master’s of Science in Oceanography from the University of Washington.

 

Thomas M. Potter, Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection

With over twenty-four years of experience in the field of waste site cleanup, Thomas currently serves as the Statewide Clean Energy Development Coordinator for the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). Thomas previously served on the MassDEP’s Commissioner’s Office Environmental Innovations Team to help expand energy-environmental coordination across MassDEP programs and regions. Thomas also served for ten years as the Statewide Audit Coordinator for MassDEP’s Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup Audit Program. Prior to joining the MassDEP, Thomas worked throughout New England as an environmental consultant, concentrating primarily on sites regulated under the Massachusetts waste site cleanup program. Mr. Potter has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

 

Barbara Maco, Vice President, Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) US Board of Trustees

Barbara supports private and public sector clients with projects focused on sustainable remediation, redevelopment, and renewable energy generation on impaired lands. At the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, she served as a Senior Remedial Project Manager and Greener Cleanup Coordinator, and facilitated the first EPA Memorandums of Understanding with a military service. Her projects have included international and U.S. federal and state Superfund sites, brownfields, and military munitions response sites. Barbara served on the scientific committees for both the Third and Fourth International Sustainable Remediation Forums. Barbara holds a BA in Ecological Systems and a Masters in Business Administration in Sustainable Management. Barbara co-leads SURFs technical initiative researching Climate Change and Resilience within Sustainable Remediation.

The Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) is a multidisciplinary centre researching the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in socio-economic development.

Miami Beach Stormwater Master Plan

PUBLIC WORKS - STORM WATER

The Storm Water Utility Division manages and controls the amount of effluents which are discharged into the City's storm water system. This division is responsible for maintaining storm water lines; installing catchment filter basins to reduce and eliminate polluted storm water run-off; complying with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements; and relieving flooding conditions.

Storm Water Management Master Plan

The City is in the process of developing a new Citywide Storm Water Management Master Plan. On August 17, 2012, the City's consultant CDM Smith presented a summary of their findings and recommendations. Their sub-consultant Coastal Systems International, who developed the appendix on sea level rise, climate change and tidal boundary conditions also presented their findings and recommendations.

Resilient Oakland - It Takes a Town to Thrive

Oakland is one of the most diverse, creative and progressive urban coastal cities in the United States.

As a major city in the Bay Area, Oakland also sits within one of the most prosperous economic growth engines in the world. The benefits of this growth, as acutely felt in Oakland, are not equitably distributed. Today, particularly among low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, Oakland faces rapidly rising income inequality and housing displacement, disparate unemployment and education rates, and chronic violence. Aging housing stock and public infrastructure challenged by seismic and climate risk further threaten Oakland residents, particularly our most vulnerable communities. Resilient Oakland embraces Oakland’s strengths while tackling the daily and chronic stresses facing Oaklanders today and better preparing for tomorrow’s challenges.

Resilient Oakland is not a finished product or a plan in the traditional sense. Rather, this playbook is a call to action. Resilient Oakland sets forth the work we need to do to begin modernizing our City by integrating processes, policies and programs that achieve greater impact.

The Resilient Oakland playbook is a holistic set of strategies and actions to tackle systemic, interdependent challenges. This includes equitable access to quality education and jobs, housing security, community safety and vibrant infrastructure, which will better prepare us for shocks like earthquakes and climate change impacts.

Through this work, we are changing the way we do government. And in the process, we are making our institutions—both local and regional—more resilient and responsive to whatever may come our way.