Catastrophe to Hit New York City

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It now seems certain that a massive catastrophe is going to hit New York City this weekend.

I am not, however, referring to Hurricane Irene. Neither am I imagining another great earthquake like that of a few days ago.

I am referring instead to the decision by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo to have all public transportation shut down beginning at 12 noon tomorrow. (The hurricane, or whatever remains of it at that point, is due to be over New York City the following day: Sunday.) This includes all subway trains, city buses, commuter railways in the area—everything. As far as I know, this is completely unprecedented; i.e. for a complete system-wide shutdown to be announced a day in advance, for what will presumably be the best part of 48 hours.

Blizzards, floods, terrorist attacks … they can stop the subway for an hour or two, but nothing like this deliberate and extended shutdown of all public transportation has ever occurred before. There have been strikes—very rarely—but at least there was time to prepare for those, and contingency plans with cabs and private buses. And even the strikes did not afflict every public transportation option in the Greater New York area.

The knock-on effects of shutting down all public transportation are almost impossible to conceive.

I just battled with shoppers in several local supermarkets. I wasn’t there because there was some wind and rain coming, but because with no public transport, I wondered how many of these stores will be open tomorrow and Sunday. How many employees won’t be able to get to work? Or will be afraid to come to work knowing they might not get home? So, knowing other people would be thinking the same, and rushing out to strip the shelves, I joined the maddened throng, braving the long lines and short tempers at Fairway Market and Key Food.

Tomorrow and Sunday, what if we pick up the phone to call for Chinese, or Mexican, or sushi, and … no one answers?

I’m being mildly facetious, perhaps, but the truth is that Hurricane Irene is only a potential disaster in and of itself, and it seems highly unlikely that it will be a strong hurricane by the time it grinds its way to the New York City area. Shutting down the subways and all public transportation in New York and environs for 48 hours is not a potential disaster; it is instead a guaranteed, unprecedented, premeditated, and self-imposed catastrophe.

The politicians have decided it’s better to be blamed for overreacting than for failing to react with sufficient seriousness. For my part, I prefer natural disasters to man-made ones. In a few days hindsight will be the arbiter.