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Flood-Proofing NYC’s Subways Means Closing Them

Even in the best case scenario, storms will keep closing New York City’s public transportation system.

A subway map.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

New York City’s subway service was hit hard by the rains and flooding that hit the city today: The B, G, W trains were all suspended, while every other line either saw delays or partial suspensions. This is, as the Wall Street Journal's Ted Mann tweeted (or whatever we’re calling it these days), a sign of how vulnerable the subway system still is to flooding. But it’s also worth pointing out that the MTA’s best-case scenario for a subway system that’s been hardened against extreme rain and flooding would force many of the city’s underground stations to close anyway. At some level, if the MTA’s plans ever come to fruition, service disruptions would be a sign that things are working as intended.

A bit of context: After Superstorm Sandy inundated the city in 2012, the MTA asked the engineering and design consultancy Arup to develop a barrier that could close off the entrances to subway stations during extreme rain, preventing water from coming down the stairs and flooding tunnels. Arup and manufacturing firm ILC Dover came up with a system they called Flexgate, which is essentially a fabric cover that can be rolled out to cover ground-level entrances and stairwells. It’s been rated to withstand flooding from Category 2 hurricanes; in 2019, The Verge’s Justine Calma wrote about how the MTA intentionally flooded a subway entrance in Brooklyn for a few hours to test the system out.

Of course, the problem with gates that roll out across station entrances is that ... you can’t really use those stations. This is the problem with hardening subway systems against flooding generally: The Flexgate is one of many solutions the MTA has been testing post-Sandy, but protecting stations and tunnels from water does, inevitably, mean some level of service disruption.

But hey, at least our feet will be dry when the trains start running again.

Neel Dhanesha profile image

Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan.


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