Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Transportation Planning in an Era of Inequality and Climate Change

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Transportation Planning in an Era of Inequality and Climate Change

Article excerpt

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


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. …

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