Every time a storm hits NYC, the subway falters

An spatial analysis shows how Brighton Beach and Flushing Meadows are two of the most vulnerable areas in the New York City Transit system

The rise of the sea level, the more frequent of super storms and the insufficient investment in the transit system, threaten the daily commute of New Yorkers

Flushing Meadows in Corona Park lies just south of LaGuardia Airport, past Astoria, and is remote, by the standards of most Manhattan-dwelling New Yorkers. Despite its distance from Midtown, Flushing Meadows hosted two World's Fairs during the 1900s and is currently home to Citi Field, where the New York Mets play. It is also home of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

Flushing Meadows is a world-class area for tourists, but has one gaping flaw in its subway infrastructure.

The Mets-Willets Point subway station serves Citi Field, the US Tennis Association’s championship arenas and the Queens Museum. The rail is elevated, but to use the station, passengers must walk through the parking lot under the rails to access staircases. During rainstorms, walking becomes wading.

Early spring rainstorms are less of an issue, but baseball season hits full swing at the peak of New York’s hurricane season, which usually occurs between August and October. The US Open, held in late August and early September, also falls in hurricane season. 2018 set an opening-day attendance record of over 61,000 fans, and the tournament attracted nearly 700,000 visitors in all.

Christian commutes by rail to the Bille Jean King Tennis Center, where he works. He gets off at the Mets-Willets Point station.

“A lot of people use that station, and for the Mets games, too,” says Christian.

The population of Douglaston and Bayside, two of the neighborhoods that surround Flushing Meadows, is over 60,000. Like Christian, most of them have to deal with the subway everyday as they commute to other areas in the city.

In the opposite area of the city, Brighton Beach with its beach and theme park offers a wide different range of leisure activities. Yet, as in Flushing Meadows, the commute there is getting harder day after day. Brighton Beach subway station is one of the stations threatened by the rise of the sea level.

As a spatial analysis of the subway system and its deficiencies shows, the shutdown or the malfunction of a subway station could cause ripple-effect in this densely-populated city.

More than eight million New Yorkers rely on the subway to commute to work and navigate the city, and most all of them love to hate the subways. Subways are frequently delayed and run with reduced service on nights and weekends.

One of the most overlooked issues in New York’s subway system is its vulnerability to flooding. Superstorms, like Sandy, and more frequent storm surges caused by rising sea levels mean that New York City’s underground stations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding.

Thirty stations lie in the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA)’s 100-year flood plain. On some of these vulnerable lines, there are no other nearby stations, meaning that a flooded station would leave residents and commuters with long walks, or force them to find an alternate means of transportation.

As a result, the subway system does not cover the needs of all New Yorkers. The walking time to the nearest subway station is over ten minutes in several populated areas -- especially in Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods where a high percentage of its population commute every day to Manhattan.

New Yorkers living in Brighton Beach in Queens are some of the most affected ones by these disfunctionalities.

Brighton Beach features densely-populated residential areas, as well as subway lines with more than one vulnerable station. In the event of a flood, residents would need to walk several stations away to access the subway system.

New Yorkers living in Seagate, Manhatten Beach and Sheepshead Bay have to walk more than 15 minutes to get to their nearest subway station.

In Flushing Meadows, the 7 line takes passengers to the Mets-Willets Point station, where they can access Citi Field, the US Tennis Association facilities and the Queens Museum.

Christian, a daily commuter to the Flushing Meadows area, notes that the parking lot under the rails often floods. “I wouldn’t say every month, but if it’s raining hard, like if it’s been raining all day, it’ll flood,” says Christian. “It doesn’t take much for it to flood.”

Yet, the fact that the Mets-Willets Point station usually floods provokes unexpected delays and invonveniences for those New Yorkers who live or commute to one of the least connected areas to the subway.

Sources and Methodology

The data for this story comes from NYC Open Data portal, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Primary Land Use Tax Lot Output (PLUTO) and the Census.

To create the maps, we have used QGIS and QNEAT3 (QGIS Network Analysis Toolbox 3) plugin.