Hurricane Sandy caused tragic losses of life and damage on an unprecedented scale in communities throughout New Jersey and New York. Scientists are saying that a storm like Sandy could happen again and that we need to accept the reality of such extreme weather events. Here are five changes that hard-hit areas like New York City and New Jersey need to consider to be better-prepared for the next superstorm.
1. Using Fossil Fuel Alternatives For Energy
Cars at a standstill on the Garden State Parkway waiting to fill their tanks and snaking lines of shivering people, red gas containers in hand: these have been too familiar sights on the East Coast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Gas rationing and the restoration of electricity to most but not yet all residents has eased the lines which have evoked unpleasant memories of the 70s gas crisis.
All this is a clarion call for us not just to consider, but to actively embrace alternative sources of energy, from wind turbines to solar energy.
The potential of the latter was made clear to me in the week after the storm when, on a street humming with generators, I noted that a solar-powered traffic sign near a school (closed because it had no power) was lit up just fine.
2. Putting Utility Lines Underground
Power lines in a V from a fallen tree trunk have become a ubiquitous site here in New Jersey. Almost two weeks after the storm hit, thousands of people remain in the dark and cold as utility crews, with workers from California and elsewhere, still removing the trees, telephone polls and power lines and fixing equipment.
All of this lends weight to a stark argument for putting power lines underground which are less vulnerable than elevated cables exposed to the elements and, basically, sitting ducks for natural disasters like Sandy. Advocates also say they would pose fewer dangers to low-flying aircraft and to wildlife. Governments in California are working on burying utility lines and the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, has expressed concerns about the costs but expressed deep support for the idea.
3. Creating More Bike Paths
The fuel crisis has also made it clear that we need to create more alternative transportation options and an infrastructure for them. One is to build bike lanes.
Yes, I’m sure bike riding is the last thing most people would think of doing in the weather conditions (gale force winds, rain, snow, sleet) that we’ve had here in the past few weeks. People do bike here, but in the midst of vehicular traffic. Bike lanes would make it safer for current riders and give others an incentive to power themselves to places using their own energy.
After the storm, I definitely noted more people walking and biking — often, it is true, armed with fuel containers.
4. Rethinking Urban Planning and Design
The hurricane has wreaked thorough havoc on the system of trains that makes it possible for commuters to live deep in New Jersey’s pastoral horse country or in shore communities near the ocean. Regular train service is only being restored, gradually, two weeks after Sandy struck.
We live close enough to Manhattan to see the orange glow of its lights in the sky at night but it has taken my husband hours to get into the city this past week. With so few trains running, and only one train tunnel connecting New Jersey to New York, he has spent a lot of time standing (with crowds of commuters) on platforms watching trains packed like sardines simply roll on by.
Is it no longer viable for people to live in bedroom communities out in the suburbs and have long commutes into the urban areas? Or if they do, we need to ensure that there is an infrastructure so they can get there.
5. Stronger Regulations For Waterfront Development
The New Jersey coast, the “Jersey shore” where thousands flock in the summer, was devastated by the hurricane. So were communities on Staten Island and in the Rockaways in Queens, as well as too many other places.
Some are saying that more stringent regulations for beach and ocean front building are in order. At the least, says the New York Times, officials in New York and New Jersey must consider
…whether it is sensible to replace buildings on the Manhattan waterfront, the Jersey Shore or the Long Island coast — and continue to dare nature. After all, the waters surrounding New York have been rising an inch a decade, and the pace is picking up.
Rebuilding “with resilience in mind” is more than called for, writes Andrew Revkin on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog. One suggestion: have real estate developments file environmental impact statements about the implications on the environment of their undertakings. Should people really be building million-dollar beach houses on the beach of a barrier island?
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Photo by Kristina Chew