The long-term reliability and functioning of the transportation system will increasingly need to consider and plan for climate change and extreme weather events. Transportation systems have largely been designed and operated for historical climate conditions that are now frequently exceeded. Emerging knowledge of how to plan for climate change largely embraces risk-based thinking favoring more robust infrastructure designs. However, there remain questions about whether this approach is sufficient given the uncertainty and non-stationarity of the climate, and many other driving factors affecting transportation systems (e.g., funding, rapid technological change, population and utilization shifts, etc.).
This paper examines existing research and knowledge related to the vulnerability of the transportation system to climate change and extreme weather events and finds that there are both direct and indirect “pathways of disruption.” Direct pathways of disruption consist of both abrupt impacts to physical infrastructure and impacts on non-physical factors such as human health, behavior, and decision making. Similarly, indirect pathways of disruption result from interconnectedness with other critical infrastructure and social systems.
Currently, the direct pathways appear to receive considerably more focus and assessment than the indirect pathways, and the predominant approach for addressing these pathways of disruption emphasizes strengthening and armoring infrastructure (robustness) guided by risk analysis. However, our analysis reveals that indirect pathways of disruption can have impacts that are on par with disruptions via direct pathways, while also being less amenable to risk/robustness-based approaches. As a result, we posit that concepts like flexibility and agility appear to be well suited to complement the status quo of robustness by addressing the indirect and non-physical pathways of disruption that often prove challenging - thereby improving the resilience of transportation systems.
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Markolf, S. A., Hoehne, C., Fraser, A., Chester, M. V, & Underwood, B. S. (2019). Transportation resilience to climate change and extreme weather events – Beyond risk and robustness. Transport Policy, 74, 174–186. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tranpol.2018.11.003