Bus Depots a Symptom of Environmental Injustice


Gotham Gazette talked recently with Cecil Corbin-Mark, of West Harlem
Environmental Action
(WE ACT), about environmental justice in Upper Manhattan.

WE ACT formed in 1988 to fight the siting of a sewage treatment plant, a bus
depot and a garbage transfer station in an area already bearing an undue share
of the city’s environmental waste. Things are better today, Corbin-Mark says,
but the city has yet to balance environmental costs and benefits.

The burdened neighborhoods are not hosting facilities that are serving only
their own neighborhoods. For example, in the case of the bus depots, the depots
in northern Manhattan have bus lines that run routes through Manhattan and the
Bronx. So that’s a benefit to the broader society. But when those buses go home
at night, they are repaired and fitted, in some instances, to venting mufflers
so that the exhaust doesn’t build up inside the depot. That sends the diesel fumes and particulates into the surrounding neighborhoods. Many of these bus
depots are located next to homes, schools, or recreational facilities.

Corbin-Mark applauds Council Member John Liu for legislation to apply "best
technologies" to mitigate school bus emissions while keeping pollutants out of
bus cabins. ("Right now it’s actually worse for children to be inside the
school bus than to be outside," he says.)

The interview, conducted as part of Gotham Gazette’s Reading NYC Book Club, centers on Julie Sze’s Noxious New York. Released in December 2006 by the
MIT Press, Noxious New York chronicles "urban planning and environmental health
activism" in West Harlem, the South Bronx, Sunset Park and Williamsburg. The
book casts Rudy Giuliani as a "villain" for the "belittling of environmental concerns of local neighborhoods." Corbin-Mark says the Bloomberg administration
has been responsive by comparison.

This mayor has a greater environmental sensitivity, for sure. A number of
forces have propelled him, as mayor, to this, because I don’t think he
necessarily started out that way.

Photo: Infinite Jeff/Flickr

  • crzwdjk

    The only long-term solution to this problem is eletrified transportation, whether in the form of streetcars or trolleybuses, which produce no local pollution and do not poison their occupants with fumes. Electricity can be produced from renewable sources, and even if it isn’t, emissions are much easier to clean if they come from a single centralized smokestack.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Agreed, crzwdjk, but natural gas buses have significantly lower emissions.

  • crzwdjk

    CNG has lower emissions of particulates and sulfates, but about the same emissions of carbon monoxide and nitrates. And unlike electric rail vehicles, they produce the same amount of carbon dioxide too. Plus, I hear that CNG-fueled engines have a much shorter lifespan than gasoline or diesel ones.


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