If we want equitable cities, the post-pandemic revival of mass transit systems must prioritize both day-to-day and extreme-event climate resilience, says a new in-depth study by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).
As U.S. transit agencies across the country prepare to receive the US$109 billion in new funding, on top of a $30.5-billion pandemic relief package already approved this past spring, MBTA researchers have been working to uncover how that money should best be spent, reports Bloomberg Green.
High on the priority list, say the study authors, must be climate-proofing the nation’s buses and subways to better protect a ridership that skews heavily into the most vulnerable communities.
“It’s critically important to prioritize the needs of historically marginalized communities,” said Tulane University professor and report co-author Jesse Keenan. To ensure resilience, he told Bloomberg, cities must move beyond looking at infrastructure through only an engineering lens, setting out instead to serve the people who rely on transit most.
Complicating matters is the need to vastly expand transit systems while keeping them “hardened” against catastrophic events.
Bloomberg points to Boston’s transit system as a case in point. While “coastal flooding exacerbated by climate change means that a big storm could render half the subway system inoperable by the end of the decade,” the MBTA study found that “even that threat pales in comparison to the likelihood of routine service interruptions and delays caused by steady sea level rise in coastal areas.”
And there is a direct link to climate justice, too: “Many parts of Boston’s system most vulnerable to flooding also serve low-income communities, which are particularly dependent on good service for mobility to and from jobs and child care.”
The report authors recommend that “money currently allocated for expansion would be put to better use improving the flood drainage around specific high-traffic stops in low-lying areas such as the JFK/UMass station in Dorchester, an area that also has a large low-income population,” Bloomberg writes.