In ways both simple and complex, our lives revolve around infrastructure.
Turn on the lights or a faucet, and a complex network of systems kicks in. Use your smartphone to text or email a friend and your message gets delivered via cell towers and underground cables in real time. Your commute to work or school depends on roads, subways, and bike lanes that form the backbone of a dense transportation infrastructure, much of which has evolved over the past century.
Today, infrastructure has taken on a new meaning, and is a key tool to achieving equity citywide. Digital connectivity is not a luxury intended for entertainment, a fundamental right and an essential tool for modern living — whether it’s helping your child with homework, searching online for housing, or running a start-up or small business. But digital infrastructure also complicates our lives, raising questions about personal privacy and cybersecurity. Today’s challenges, such as climate change and public health force us to rethink infrastructure needs to meet the challenges of today and the future.
The strategies detailed in OneNYC 2050 will modernize the city’s infrastructure. We are working toward universal broadband to close the digital divide, and improving our capital planning processes to accelerate upgrades to core infrastructure such as roads, water, sewers, parks and libraries. And as we face new risks, the City will ensure our risk management and emergency management planning practices are strong enough to protect residents, businesses, and government agencies from these threats.
New York City’s critical infrastructure is essential to the smooth functioning of the City and the local and regional economies. Yet the delivery of essential services depends on infrastructure that is currently in need of significant repair, investment, and modern asset management.
Much of the city’s infrastructure was built a century ago and has suffered from historic disinvestment, neglect, and poor maintenance. On average, our sewer mains are 85 years old, water mains are 70 years old, and the electric grid dates back to the 1920s. Transportation infrastructure suffers from performance and capacity issues, with a subway system suffering from unreliable service and overcrowding, and significant funding gaps for the Gateway Program — which will replace critical trans-Hudson tunnels damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown — a major transportation gateway to the city — was built in 1950, and despite renovations over the years, is over capacity and has physically degraded. To meet the needs of a growing population and economy, and to prepare for a changing climate, we must fortify and upgrade our infrastructure.
Construction activity is at a record level across the city, contributing to rising construction and materials costs. Meanwhile there is insufficient urban infrastructure spending at the federal level. State and local regulations add substantial burdens to capital project delivery, inflating costs and timelines, and legacy technology systems impair the City’s ability to analyze, track, and ensure accountability on its projects. Therefore, it is more important than ever to identify and resolve inefficiencies in the City’s delivery of capital infrastructure projects.
To keep pace with a growing population and economy, our core infrastructure must be adapted for the 21st century, especially in terms of digital infrastructure — to make it easier and more affordable for all residents and small businesses to gain broadband coverage, be digitally literate and aware of cyberthreats and misinformation, and make New York City a global leader in smart cities cybersecurity. The City’s 2015 commitment to universal broadband relied on cooperation from the federal government to require higher quality and affordability standards from the private sector. Since 2017, the federal government has undercut our policy gains, undermined local authority over public property, and eliminated net neutrality protections, leaving the City alone in striving to ensure more broadband options are available to all New Yorkers. These challenges, however, will not stand in our way.
As part of the City’s more than $100 billion Ten-Year Capital Strategy, the City has made strategic improvements to key infrastructure networks. For example, in 2015, to address long-standing concerns about flooding in Southeast Queens, the City will invest $1.9 billion over ten years for a robust, area-wide drainage system, and to replace old water mains — including 45 separate capital projects in St. Albans, Rosedale, Jamaica, Laurelton, and Springfield Gardens. With the opening of the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station, the City has completed the last of the nine facilities envisioned in the long-term Solid Waste Management Plan. NYC Ferry, launched in 2017, has become a popular and widely used addition to the City’s transportation network, with ride prices equal to those of the subway.
In 2019, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) released A Strategic Blueprint for Construction Excellence, which strives to improve the agency’s capital project delivery, and provides a model the rest of the City can follow. In 2016, the creation of the Front End Planning units, which work with client agencies on project scopes, schedules, cost estimates, and risk assessments before the formal commencement of projects has ensured the scope of work and budget meet necessary requirements, thereby reducing project delays and cost overruns.
New York City has also taken action to counter growing vulnerability from cyberattacks, creating the New York City Cyber Command (NYC3) in 2017. NYC3 has developed a coordinated approach to mitigating cyber risk, pioneering world-class approaches to preventing, detecting, responding to, and recovering from cyberthreats.
Of the more than 14,000 respondents to our citywide survey, 57 percent selected transportation and infrastructure as a challenge facing the City. The most frequently cited theme was a need for more investment in citywide infrastructure to support the increasing population, as well as a push for new innovative funding streams to support this goal. Respondents also emphasized the importance of updating the city’s digital infrastructure — for example, by increasing connectivity and cybersecurity — to meet modern demands. As one person recommended, “Provide better internet security measures that will prevent scams and hackers on mobile and personal computers.”
What we Will do
Modernizing our infrastructure requires a commitment to data-driven capital planning that anticipates the needs of the future, while improving the capital delivery process to deliver more projects on time and on budget. A modern city requires smart infrastructure that includes high-speed broadband and is able to properly mobilize and respond to any risk, whether it be cyberattacks, financial risks, or infectious disease.
The City will continue to improve its capital planning practices to direct resources and build out infrastructure, using population projections and the development pipeline, in addition to considering demographic shifts, the impacts from climate change, equity improvements, and community perspectives. In addition, significant funding has demonstrated the City’s continued dedication to achieving a state of good repair. Emerging sensor technology, along with supporting data infrastructure, enables data-driven asset management, allowing the City to be proactive rather than reactive to problems as they arise. To accelerate the pace of infrastructure projects, the City will reform capital planning processes to ensure projects are fully funded and delivered on time and on budget. Meanwhile, the continuous upgrading of legacy technology systems offers the possibility for greater data integration, analysis, and performance management. Furthermore, the State has already begun implementing best practices in capital delivery such as design-build, for its own projects, and the City will continue advocating for expanded authority to do the same.
To put New York City on the path to universal broadband, we will incentivize new providers in more parts of the city, with options for faster service and respect for personal privacy. We will, through digital literacy programs, ensure residents are able to take full advantage of available broadband access, and create the world’s most robust cyber ecosystem. The City will continue to pioneer cutting-edge approaches to address cybersecurity threats, and grow the local talent pool to spur innovation and encourage the establishment of new cybersecurity companies across the five boroughs.
A Connected City
Today’s digital and physical infrastructure is more intertwined than ever before, helping New Yorkers stay healthy, safe, and connected, 24/7.