Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Climate Change Resilience planning in Philadelphia
Long-range planning for climate change is a work in progress in the transportation community. Everyone (well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) knows it needs to be done but the theory and practice are still in a very formative state. A current “best practice” that planners should look at is the Future Forces report published by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as part of their long-range planning effort. The Future Forces report (short version here, long version here) identifies five forces that seem likely to shape the future. (I have had the opportunity to be part of this effort. Some general comments here.) One of these forces is Severe Climate.
The “What-If” Scenario for Severe Climate in the greater Philadelphia region takes us to what things might look like in 2045. There are lots of problems worldwide: flooding, extreme weather events, droughts, food shortages, infrastructure failure. However, things are not actually so bad in Philly: “Relative to other areas, Greater Philadelphia has become a more desirable place to live due to less risk of sea level rise and continued water availability.” In fact, a population increase is predicted due to “climate change-driven immigration.” I think this is a critical point. The DVRPC planners recognize that the ill effects of climate change are not going to be evenly distributed. There will be lots of regional variation. How we plan as a nation should be complemented by how we plan as regions.
This doesn’t mean that Philadelphia gets a free pass. Problems in 2045 will likely include flooding threats to Philadelphia International Airport, port facilities, the Northeast Corridor rail line, and highways. Higher river levels may reduce effective bridge clearances and restrict ship traffic. Infrastructure maintenance and repair costs will increase. And current projections suggest that things really start to turn ugly after 2045.
The report identifies “top regional actions” that are recommended to prepare for the effects of each of the Future Forces. For Severe Climate adaptation (mitigation is also included in this section), the recommended actions include:
· Identify vulnerable community and transportation assets and take steps to minimize risk,
· Improve emergency preparedness,
· Make improvements to wetlands and build levees as needed to prepare for flooding, and
· Update building codes.
In addition to scenario-specific actions, the plan identifies “universal actions” – actions that are “beneficial to the region regardless of which forces come into play in the future.” This is the approach that is sometimes called “no regrets” planning. Among these universal actions is improving resiliency:
“Create and implement regional infrastructure resiliency plans. Increase funding for projects that reduce vulnerability, and enhance flexibility and resiliency of infrastructure to the effects of climate change. Accommodate relocation of critical assets where possible and harden them where it is not.”
DVRPC deserves congratulations for tackling long-range climate change planning aggressively and skillfully. We all have a lot to learn in this department, and the Future Forces effort helps our education.