New York’s a Lot Like Venice. It’s Sinking.


Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll hear from a scientist who figured out that New York City is sinking, in part because all the buildings weigh 1.68 trillion pounds. We’ll also look at why the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing raising the base fare to $2.90.

Maybe you have had that sinking feeling lately. A recently published scientific paper suggested that all of New York has and will continue to.

The paper said that New York sinks between two millimeters and four millimeters a year under the weight of all the buildings, “with some areas subsiding much faster.”

A couple of millimeters is so little that the finding almost sounds amusing. Four millimeters is three-twentieths of an inch. But the finding about the city’s slow and gradual descent was not intended to be funny. “And that’s the point,” said Tom Parsons, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey who was the lead author of the paper.

The concern is that the downward force of the buildings, coupled with rising water levels from global warming, could make the city more prone to natural disasters. Those factors “imply an accelerating problem along coastal and riverfront areas,” he wrote in the paper, published in the journal Earth’s Future. “The point of the paper is to raise awareness that every additional high-rise building” along a river “could contribute to future flood risk.”

What is happening in New York is “quite comparable to what’s happening in Venice,” he said in an interview. “They’re sinking at the same rate.” But in Venice, climate change is outrunning the projections that a $5.3 billion system of sea walls was designed to withstand.

And Indonesia is building to build a new capital city from scratch because the current one, Jakarta, is sinking. The president, Joko Widodo, gave up on trying to save Jakarta after raising sea walls and trying other measures. My colleague Hannah Beech called them “duct-tape solutions” that could not put Jakarta beyond the reach of the water.

Parsons is not calling for a new New York on higher and dryer ground. “It’s not an emergency now,” he said. “What we wanted to do is provide this science that’s help for planning down the road. It’s easy for scientists to show up as an emergency is happening, but it’s more useful to start talking about this early enough that something can be done to mitigate it.”

“That’s the main question I get, how do we mitigate this,” he added. “The answer a lot of people don’t want to hear is the greenhouse gas side of it. We can slow sea-level rise if collectively we can find a way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That’s not an easy task, obviously.”

He cited a United Nations projection that 70 percent of the world’s population will inhabit cities by 2050. “When you build a city and it gets full of people, you end up with subsidence,” he said, saying that New York City was “emblematic of a place that people migrate to and that obviously has a high concentration of construction.”

He and his co-authors calculated that there are not quite 1.1 million buildings in the city — 1,084,954, to be exact. After estimating the number of floors in each and doing some computer modeling, he calculated their total weight to be 1.68 trillion pounds. Then he factored in the pull of gravity and other factors to determine how much the city would sink.

Parsons said that some parts of the city are sinking faster than others. He mentioned areas along the East River in Queens and Brooklyn, as well as Coney Island, Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways. Most Manhattan skyscrapers are anchored to bedrock, which is “far less compressible” than soil.


Weather

Enjoy a sunny day with a high near 68 and light winds. At night, expect a mostly clear sky with light winds and a low around 54.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Friday (Shavuot).



The Consumer Price Index for the New York area jumped 3.7 percent in the 12 months that ended in April 2023 — even more if food and energy were taken out of the calculations. Against that backdrop, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is joining the parade seeking more from its customers.

The agency wants to raise the base fare for a single subway, bus or paratransit ride 5 percent, to $2.90 from $2.75. It would be the first increase in the base fare since 2015. The agency is also looking to charge $34 for a seven-day MetroCard, up from the current $33, and $132 for a 30-day MetroCard, up 4 percent from $127 now, their first increases since 2019.

Fares for express bus service, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad would also rise, as would tolls at the authority’s bridges and tunnels.

“This is a reasonable increase, given inflation,” Neal Zuckerman, the chairman of the agency’s finance committee, said on Monday after agency officials had delivered a presentation about the proposed fare increases.

The authority’s board expects to hold public hearings on the proposal next month and vote on it in July.

Zuckerman noted that ridership is 30 percentage points below what it was before the pandemic. As my colleague Ed Shanahan notes, even at 70 percent, the subway carried four million passengers on several weekdays since last month.

Each of those passengers, and every bus and commuter rail customer, would have to pay a little bit more for each ride under the authority’s proposal. But the authority sought to limit the pain for working people by raising the fares more modestly on weekly and monthly MetroCards, officials said.


METROPOLITAN diary

Dear Diary:

As I sat on the subway on a Wednesday morning, my eyes drifted from the clock on the upper left screen of my phone to the charge signal on the right. I was going to be late for a meeting, and my phone was at 1 percent.

I looked up to see how many stops I was from my Midtown destination and realized I had gotten on the wrong train. I sighed and got off in the heart of Chinatown.

With my phone now asleep, I removed my headphones and headed toward a different station, listening to the bustle and murmurs coming from a sidewalk fish market as I started to walk.

When I got on the next train, there was a young couple with a stroller sitting across from me. As my eyes drifted to the right, I saw an older woman sitting near the couple playing peekaboo with the baby in the stroller.



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