New York City is flooding subway entrances to prepare for climate change

Just your average NYC commute.
Just your average NYC commute.
Image: courtesy Kaye Blegvad
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On a bright autumn afternoon in Brooklyn on Wednesday (Nov. 20), illustrator Kaye Blegvad was about to take the subway home. But as she approached the G train entrance in the South Williamsburg neighborhood, she saw something was very off. The station entrance, a staircase leading underground, was completely flooded. The water level appeared so high as to be flush with the sidewalk.

Blegvad did a double-take. The scene evoked “surreal David Lynch feelings,” she said. But like any true New Yorker whose stride is briefly broken by a bizarre scenario, she swiftly shrugged it off. “The other subway entrances were dry and normal and nobody seemed to be freaking out, so I just got on the train,” she said. “Only once I was on the train did I start thinking, wait, that really was quite insane.”

She tweeted a photo of the scene, which quickly went viral.

As a reply, the MTA, New York City’s transit authority, cracked a joke about submarines before replying that the deluge was intentional. They were testing a barrier that could seal off subway entrances in the event of another flood like the one that hit the city during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. They linked to a video about how the gate system works.

“We’re doing this because climate change is real,” the MTA wrote.

During the 2012 hurricane, several subway lines were inundated, causing $5 billion in damage to the transit system. Most subway tracks are about 20 feet below ground, which means that floodwaters have the potential to penetrate the tunnels farther inland than those on the surface could.

The MTA explicitly draws the connection between storm surge preparedness and climate change in several of its projects. “With intense weather events like Superstorm Sandy expected to occur more often, we need to act now to protect this vital part of our system, so we can keep trains running safely,” they note on their website, in reference to a climate change-preparedness program at another station.