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When floods hit the road: Resilience to flood-related traffic disruption in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond

Graph of flood roads
Science Advances
Vol. 6, No. 32
August 5, 2020
Indraneel G. Kasmalkar
Katherine A. Serafin
Yufei Miao
I. Avery Bick
Leonard Ortolano
Derek Ouyang
Jenny Suckale


As sea level rises, urban traffic networks in low-lying coastal areas face increasing risks of flood disruptions. Closure of flooded roads causes employee absences and delays, creating cascading impacts to communities. We integrate a traffic model with flood maps that represent potential combinations of storm surges, tides, seasonal cycles, interannual anomalies driven by large-scale climate variability such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and sea level rise. When identifying inundated roads, we propose corrections for potential biases arising from model integration. Our results for the San Francisco Bay Area show that employee absences are limited to the homes and workplaces within the areas of inundation, while delays propagate far inland. Communities with limited availability of alternate roads experience long delays irrespective of their proximity to the areas of inundation. We show that metric reach, a measure of road network density, is a better proxy for delays than flood exposure.

The research was primarily supported by the UPS Endowment Fund and Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and partially funded by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs.