Perhaps a year ago, perhaps more, blue and white street signs began cropping up on Staten Island (and, I assume, in the other boroughs) directing drivers, in case of an emergency, to the nearest disaster shelter.
Are the disaster planners (an unfortunate term, but you know what I mean) seriously relying on private cars to shepherd New Yorkers to safety? In the aftermath of a disaster, designating private cars as a principal means of mobility is folly. Especially in parts of Staten Island and the other outer boroughs, where local roads are often three-lane former cowpaths or the equivalent. It's a prescription for Road Rage on Steroids.
When disaster struck downtown on 9/11, people didn't wait in vain for a cab or waste time looking for their car keys, assuming they had any; no, those who could, walked or ran from disaster as fast as their feet could carry them. Uptown, downtown, across bridges and onto ferries with 6,000-passenger capacities. Any way they could get away.
GIVE WALKERS MORE LEG-ROOM
The lesson here is that walking should be a central element of the city's disaster preparedness strategy. Which means that we should be doing much, much more to promote walking--not only as a good health strategy, but as a transportation option just like a bike, a bus, or the train.
But there's got to be more to the effort than feel-goody public service announcements. And what's needed is not only more space, but more access:
•In too many outer-borough neighborhoods, the roadway is for cars and the space on either side of the road is somebody's lawn you're not supposed to walk on. Install sidewalks on streets that have none, and maintain them for active use
•Every East River bridge has a pedestrian walkway, all in active daily use by walkers and bicyclists. It's long past time to retrofit all major regional bridges with pedestrian walkways to maximize access and egress for those who don't drive or own automobiles. I'm a Staten Islander, so the Verrazano, the Goethals and the Outerbridge Crossing are the three that come immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are many others.
Because they enhance citizens' ability to cope in an emergency situation, these projects should be paid for, in my opinion, by Homeland Security and/or other appropriate funding sources (FEMA?).