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Why do poor school kids have to clean up rich commuters’ pollution? (cityobservatory.org)
117 points by oftenwrong on Mar 7, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments

Passenger cars create a negligible amount of particulate pollution, and are certainly not the cause of the air quality issues encountered here. Transport trucks, in contrast, create a lot of air pollution (both greenhouse gas and particulate), but the story isn't as interesting when the villain are the goods and products that everyone consumes.

This doesn't seem to be true: see pages 83 and 84 of the link below, suggesting around 20% of UK PM2.5 emissions come from road transport - this is not negligible.


That isn't refuting my statement. Road transport includes all vehicles on the road, and my statement is that trucks are by far the largest source of particulate matter on the road. The standards on trucks (and buses) are exponentially worse than passenger vehicles -- justified by the notion that they're doing something more worthwhile -- and many horribly polluting older models are grandfathered in. The average age of a passenger car on the road is much, much newer than the average age of a transport truck.


The crux of that is that particulate pollution had a low correlation with passenger car volume, and a high correlation with trucks. Indeed, they found low utilization trucking routes had worse pollution than the busiest highway in North America (which would have been much more pronounced if the latter didn't also have significant truck volume).

Though it is worth noting that there are a number of worse sources of particulate pollution. Wood burning fires, for instance, or home gardening equipment with virtually no pollution control.

> The standards on trucks (and buses) are exponentially worse than passenger vehicles

How can one group be 'exponentially worse' than just one other group? How can you see an exponential relationship between two data points? That doesn't make any sense. You'd need to be looking at a relationship between at least three data points to say it was exponential.

You’re not wrong, but colloquially it’s common for people to use “exponentially” to mean “a lot”. Just like it’s common for people to use “massive” to mean “big” (i.e. large spatial volume).

It was just an idiom as this isn't a technical discussion. I think most readers could get the idea.

Exponentially is often used to mean "10 times more". So if one date point is 10 times higher than a second data point, than the wording would hold colloquially.

Are you confusing with 'an order of magnitude'? Exponential is a rate of change, so you simply can't determine it on two data points. Order of magnitude is the relative change itself, so you can determine between two data points.

You are literally correct, and literally could not be more wrong (and I'm deliberately using both the correct and colloquial - but depressingly also dictionary defined - definition of the word 'literally' there).

Language evolves, and not always for the best.

No, but I agree that OOM is the better word choice. That's the great thing about the English language - whatever it means today, it won't tomorrow!

Also, to address the definition of "exponentially", I refer you to the second definition here [0]:

  -- "any positive constant raised to a power."
[0] - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/exponentially

That's not what that definition means in this content.

Think about it - you can express any change from A to B as a positive constant raised to a power. So if that's what you think it means then you're saying any change from A to B is rising 'exponentially'.


If I have 5 accidents and you have 25 accidents you've had exponentially more. You don't need 3 data points, x^2 is an exponent.

Why is truck regulation so substandard? To enter the metropolitan London area (600 sq miles), HGV’s have to meet stringent pollution standards for particulates and NOx or else they pay £120 a day. Under those circumstances they aren’t a dominant source of pollution.

You’re definitely right that wood burning stoves and static plant are big sources, although location of emission is very important, someone using garden machinery intermittently on their own property or a wood burning stove out in the country is mostly polluting themselves, the same can’t be said for a freeway being driven through an urban neighbourhood.

Passenger cars in North America saw incredible advances in emissions almost entirely courtesy of California, that state spearheading demands to respond to the LA smog crisis that peaked in the 1980s. Other jurisdictions, like my home province of Ontario, just went along with the giant. It's why diesel cars are so rare, and as we know often lied (quite aside from the VW thing, every single instance where a diesel vehicle has been measured under actual use has seen emissions dramatically worse than claimed).

Big trucks, however, couldn't make the transition as quickly, and for the necessary torque still rely upon diesel. And they've gotten away with much, much worse, though again California is taking the lead and in the next few years older trucks will be banned from the roads.

Regarding the location of particulate sources, I've read that even in London, England, something like 75% of the particulate matter is from outside the city, blown in from farms and rural areas.

I was just reading about pollution sources, and you’re right that 75% comes into London from outside, compared to only 20% of NOx. Although levels of PM are double the concentration along roads compared to the background, so there is a local as well as a regional effect.

Yeah, diesel cars and trucks are a menace. I remember getting black soot in my nose in London.

I read somewhere that 50% of particulate pollution comes from brake discs/pads and tyres, meaning that electric cars will still cause air pollution. But hey, half as bad is twice as good.

The existence of regenerative breaking means that the amount of pollution from the little friction breaking still necessary should be much less.

Regenerative breaking doesn't wear pads, so only emergency breaking would count towards that 50%.

> black soot in my nose in London.

That's probably dust from the London Underground, which is mostly iron (from the rails and wheels), brake dust (ceramic) and dead skin.

There are far more diesel passenger cars in the UK than in the US. Diesel is generally far worse for particulate emissions.

I still can't believe we paid for public awareness campaigns to promote turning off the water when you brush your teeth

This is known as bikeshedding.

Something like turning off water is something anybody (also the campaign agency) can comprehend. Turning off water safes water, easy.

Now think about trying to reduce exhaust pollution, you can't see it, people don't know how much pollution is generated by a car, and most importantly: there is no easy solution to reduce it. Yes, you can ask people to leave their car at home and commute to work by bike, but that does not work for everybody and reduces comfort for most people.

The campaign agency could have done an awareness for exhaust pollution, but that would have been much harder to do, and probably they won't make much friends while doing so. Where as something easy as a water saving campaign will give that loads of goodwill.

Saving a liter or two of water two times a day for every person doesn’t seem like a bad start. It’s takes very low effort and you don’t lose any functionality, the water is literally just pouring down the drain.

Or am I missing some sort of sarcasm joke?

Many people feel an obligation to take care of the environment. If they make an effort to turn off the water when they're brushing their teeth and buy LED bulbs to replace their CFLs, maybe even upgrading their 2005 Corolla with a 2015 Prius, they'll feel like they've abundantly satisfied that obligation.

If they're (hypothetically) a commercial driver, spending the day at work driving around in an 1980s diesel truck, or installing golf course sprinkler systems, they'd still feel that they're an environmentally responsible person.

If the ad campaigns instead of suggesting toothbrushing habits informed the public of the disproportionate pollution caused by old trucks or vilified inefficient agricultural watering practices, that person might have a 100x more effective impact from their personal obligation if they advocate replacement of the truck or change agricultural practices. Also, consumers of these polluters might help encourage change by, say, preferring a waste disposal company that uses newer trucks or by changing consumption to eat peanuts grown with rainwater instead of desert-grown aquifer-fed California almonds.

You're framing this as if there can only ever be one initiative, and that saving water while brushing teeth was the wrong choice.

Realistically there could be a new initiative like that 1-5 times a decade. Society rarely behaves in the most optimal way, and as I said saving water is very low effort, though it might also be low impact. The real faillure not following up with more and better initiatives.

What if none of the available waste disposal companies are using newer trucks, are you supposed to call them every week like with congress people? And how is buying a bag of peanuts branded with some promise of ecological responsibility any different from saving water brushing their teeth? A single bag of peanuts from a different brand doesn't make any impact by it self and it only serves to make people feel like they've done their part adequately.

Not at all; just that of the possible initiatives one of the least effective options was chosen.

By analogy, if you were trying to help someone get out of debt, would you advocate they take unpaid time off work to walk along the roadside collecting cans for the deposit, or work overtime hours at $50/hr?

There's limited energy and funds available for these initiatives; by advocating ineffective ones more harm than good is done.

Saving water at home is nice but it's literally a drop in the bucket compared to the water wasted by inefficient agricultural practices. It won't make a difference one way or the other.

>It won't make a difference one way or the other

Goal is not to make a difference, it is to make you feel better for yourself.

And more importantly, distract everyone from the real perpetrators with special interests.

It's a very bad start because it effectively accomplishes nothing but waste the very limited bandwidth we have to convince the population to do anything. It also makes people feel like they're "doing their part", which isn't really true at all.

In some rural parts of Germany that are losing population that is actually not helpful at all. The sewer system is built for a certain amount of water and if less than that is used the utility company has to flush it with - more water.

So it really depends on the situation as well.

The story is pretty clear that the villains are ODOT who built a highway right next to a school.

Only the article is incorrect as pointed out in my other comments down voted comments. And this does matter because it changes a lot of the tone and basis of the article.

Sure there was some building of some sort there back in their 1962 photo. But that isn’t Harriet Tubman school we are talking about today. The school was only opened in 1982. Built after pressure by community activists who wanted a school in their neighborhood. Further it was actually closed in 2012 and then reopened in 2018. With much written at the time of reopening about the pollution problem.

So really the “villain” (if there should be one) would have to be Portland Public Schools that built, closed, then reopened a school next to an existing traffic sewer. In 1980s it is somewhat forgivable mistake, we weren’t as aware then. But in 2018 they knew full damn well the pollution problem. Nobody can deny that.

This school shouldn't be there. Is pollution bad? Yes. Was Robert Moses and his cohorts a disaster for urban environments? Yes. Do cities need to be greener and have better transit? Yes. But still, the school simply shouldn’t be there. So the article really falls apart on a number of levels.

In this case I think people using the existence of the school to campaign against this freeway project are doing a selfish disservice to the students. I'm generally anti-freeway, very pro-transit, very pro-urban. But let's be clear: the current levels of pollution are unacceptable as is, regardless of widening. The school shouldn't stay where it is even if the freeway doesn't get widened. So the people using it as a prop in their campaign to prevent widening are essentially arguing it is fine to stay where it is. This is sad and IMO a selfish use of this bad situation for the students of this school by the anti-freeway campaigners.

If that were the case, the title would have been, "Why do poor school kids have to clean up ODOT’s pollution?" But that wouldn't have gotten as many clicks, as OP stated.

The title is poor, yes. The content of the article is pretty clear that ODOT is the problem, though. I don't think the title was claiming that "rich commuters" should pay for it, so much as it was trying to emphasize that the children are in no way responsible for it. The author could have chosen better, though.

Likewise in Seattle they built i5 straight though the city cutting it in half.

I’m not actually actually sure that’s the case, as long the regulation is in place HGV’s have the weight and cost margin to include really solid filters, so particulate pollution at least from the engine is equivalent to passenger cars. Tyre and break wear would be more, but then the numbers of vehicles would also be a lot lower. Do you have any evidence that passengers cars have a nominal effect? I wouldn’t expect that to be the case.

Exhaust processing of current trucks basically doesn't work with a city driving profile (~high idle fraction, very low loads, average speed 15-25 km/h).

They need periodic runs on decent speed roads, I’d have thought this road itself would do the trick. Presumably it doesn’t run at 20kmph.

For several hours a day the people using this road would be ecstatic if it were that fast.

The I5 does often run at those speeds in this location, which is why they want to add lanes here.

Since it has been several years since dieselgate, how much pollution does the average car create during freeway speeds?

This is easier to know for new cars than old, because it's only been measured consistently since 2008.

fueleconomy.gov will let you look up cars, and the "Energy and Environment" tab will show you CO2 emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, each on a grams/mile driven scale.

A 2019 Volve V90 station wagon emits 328g/mile of CO2 and 444g/mile of GHG.

A 2019 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid emits 51g/mile of CO2 at the tailpipe and 140g/mile total including the upstream electricity production, assuming you live in Beverly Hills.

A 2019 Tesla S P100D emits nothing at the tailpipe and 120g/mile.

A 2019 Honda Accord Sport/Touring is 345g/mile CO2 and 410g/mile total GHG.

Does that help?

So who should then pay for the pollution reduction in the non-interesting version of the story?

The regulations on trucks (and diesel service vehicles in general) needs to be much more stringent, especially those that pass through urban centers. That is an industry that has pushed back at every turn and people just get misdirected to blaming Sally Suburban. The same thing happens regarding roads in general where we often imagine that industry and goods still appear at their destinations and the world rolls on if all of the roads were turned into parks.

That's the general case, though. This school might be dealing with other particulate sources, as another comment mentioned a large number of industrial sources nearby (e.g. cement plants are a big source). In which case maybe the school just isn't in the best place.

And it's worth noting that we now measure and pay attention to this but it was much worse in the past. Smelling the wonderful smell of a wood burning fire is usually an indication that you're in a dangerous particulate zone.

Does that analysis to apply to the area immediately adjacent to the freeway, before particles disperse over a wider area? Even when trucks are absent, traffic smells bad.

Also the passenger cars contain the people who own houses and pay the city and county property taxes that fund the schools. So the passenger cars are the ones paying for the pollution controls. Those that don't drive, to a much higher extent than those who do, don't have jobs and don't pay property taxes.

TFA makes it clear that the people using the highway at peak times are not local residents, they are just passing thru.

Also, there's no "unemployed exemption" to property tax, that I know of.

If you live in Clark County and work in Oregon, you get to pay Oregon income tax.

To a much greater extent than those who do, those who do not own cars do not have jobs or own real estate. Those who own real estate are the ones who pay property taxes and that, plus the state lottery, plus federal subsidies, pay for the schools.

Of course there are retirees who don't work but own real estate. These folks generally own cars, but don't drive them as much as those who work, yet they generally don't have children or even grandchildren in the schools and yet have to pay for the schools. Which is fine.

The category of people who don't have cars is largely comprised of people who don't have jobs because if you don't have a car you can't get to work. These people don't own real estate. They generally live with others who do, or in subsidized housing and live off government benefits of some kind or another such as disability or aid for people with dependents.

There's reason to doubt freeway traffic is the primary source of pollution at Tubman Middle School. Just across the freeway from the school is a non-trivial amount of industrial activity including:

* A Calportland cement facility (2500 ft mi)

* A Union Pacific rail yard (4000 ft)

* Tyree Oil, a small petroleum distributor (1200 ft)

* What looks like a power transfer station (2000 ft)

* At least two glass-makers and a ceramics studio (<1000 ft)

* A sheet metal fabricator and neon sign manufacturer (1100-1400 ft)

This article appears to have originated with a Bike Portland (and No More Freeways) campaign against freeway expansion and for decongestion pricing.

Why would you build a school in what sounds to be an industrial zone?

Cheap land. My district built a high school in an industrial zone at the northern edge of town across a freeway from the rest of the community. When you think about it, it makes sense. It's a warehouse for kids surrounded by warehouses.

Why are we assuming the commuters are rich? The person who is coaxing their ancient Pinto to carry them to their job at the paint store is just as much a commuter as the executive taking a phone meeting in his BMW. And everyone in the area pays taxes to support the school; it's not just the students and their parents. It seems like an equitable, if roundabout, way of paying for an air filter system for the school.

From the article:

"Peak hour, drive alone commuters from Clark County, Washington have average household incomes of $82,500; and 75 percent of them are white, non-Hispanic. More than two-thirds of Tubman students are people of color; and half the student body is poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price meals."

This lacks several points from being conclusive:

- it describes only "peak hour, drive alone commuters" without apportioning the fraction of total pollution caused by that group.

- How much does evening peak rush-hour pollution affect school-day air quality? (morning peak would probably have a direct effect)

- by dealing with averages, it obscures the distribution - it could be that the majority of the pollution is caused by lower-income commuters driving older vehicles, but Tesla-driving higher income commuters drive up the average income

- it assumes that the money paid for the pollution somehow belongs to the students, when it is apportioned from the tax dollars paid that fund the school district budget. Maybe those dollars already come from the high-income commuters.

- it brings in race purely to add to the emotional content of the narrative

If you disagree, please describe why you find this narrative rationally compelling.


Hmm, not sure this is the best debate strategy:

"I destroyed one of your points, and I could foresee myself doing the same with the others if I bothered to answer them. Therefore it's invalid for you to raise these questions."

I'd also point out that you didn't actually address any of the questions listed. A general study about American vehicles as a whole being single occupancy doesn't imply much of anything about this particular case, hence "by dealing with averages, it obscures the distribution", which you demonstrated with your response, rather than undermined.

TIL average household income of ~82K, about ~41k per parent, is "rich"

Agreed, that's a bit "rich" :p

However, we mustn't forget that there are families living on 41K combined (two parents @minimum). Or 20K (single mom @minimum).

80K is far from rich. But quite comfortable compared to many, many, Americans.

Wealthier ppl have new cars with stricter emissions.

In fact, gasoline cars since port injection have made negligible amounts of particulate emissions (which is the only pollution that matters in this case, CO2 are only globally important). Direct injection might screw everything up soon (their intake valves foul like crazy).

The emitters, therefore, are ppl with old cars; tractor trailers; city buses [0]; working class ppl driving, old ill maintained vans and pick ups.

Really, the only significant particulate emissions I can think of from rich suburbanites are their gas mowers and blowers. But they're (a) polluting the air around their homes (b) quickly switching to electric.

Now, if you want the rich sub-urbanites to pay to relocate the school, that's cool. I'm down. But they're really not the problem.

[0] In my mid western city, at least, the buses are diesel powered and not LNG, and they appear to have the particulate filters ripped off. Dunno about Clark County's buses in particular.

> Why are we assuming the commuters are rich?

I don't know the particulars in this case, but in the mid 20th century it was a very common strategy to run main arteries into the city through the poor & ethnic inner city neighborhoods (not to mention tearing those neighborhoods down and destroying their communities for "urban revitalization"), hence the historical assumption of poorer city residents dealing with the noise & pollution of the rich suburban commuters. As time goes on this will become less and less true thanks to America's urban renaissance, but still property values near expressways tend to be much lower due to the noise pollution & air pollution.

Interestingly, the most high-profile American expressway failure (in Manhattan) gave rise to one of the most valuable urban regions in America. I personally doubt this is a coincidence.

Car ownership is innately expensive. Between regular maintenance, the cost of fuel, insurance, inspections, and the aggregated costs of getting a replacement every ~10-20 years you are easily spending several thousand dollars a year in vehicles even if you try to be optimally frugal about it. Most people are easily over 10k a year in car expenses, especially on some of the ludicrous commutes people on the west coast put up with.

If you have never met them consider yourself upper crust, but there exists a substantial population in the US and all other western countries of those who can not afford a car. You often don't see them because it turns out traveling any substantial distance from your often impoverished neighborhood without functional public transit or private car ownership can be quite prohibitive.

So even the guy driving the "clunker" car down this highway is still probably in the upper half of wealth in the area, easily, assuming they are actually affording to inspect, license, and insure themselves and their vehicle. A lot of people don't, but its a bit egregious to try to count people breaking the law driving on the road in the first place as contributing to the average wealth of the drivers on said road.

Why are DOTs still trying to widen highways? There examples after examples that show this doesn't speed up travel times and traffic will suck just as much as before they widened the highway. If we were smart, we'd put that money into public transportation. Portland is a big enough city to support a world class public transit system. Many US cities are, we just choose not too. Portland has an urban population of 1.8 million. Stockholm has only 1.5 million and yet they seem more than capable of funding full subway, bus, and commuter rail systems. Why the fuck can't we? This would do wonders for air quality. And come on, commuters can pay for the air filtration and they should.

stockholm is 2x as dense as portland. and portland has funneled billions of taxpayer money into public transportation.

taxpayers have been footing the bill: Oregon is the third highest taxed state in the country and portland is a high tax city. and property taxes are set to increase again this year, after last years increase. this is on top of congestion pricing, increases in vehicle registration costs, and gas taxes.

Stockholm's core is definitely denser but the population is still there in Portland if the routes were built right. And you're right, Oregon and Portland already do have high taxes. They couldn't fund this themselves. No city does. The federal government would need to provide a lot of funding. In Portland and all around the country. But I just wish the conversation in the US would change. Bold public transportation projects are almost immediate shut down as being unrealistic. It doesn't have to be this way. Nobody talks about the cost and feasibility of highways and roads or the enormous costs of car ownership. We just all default to that and don't question it. Cars are the default, everything is expensive and unrealistic.

ok, you concede that taxes are high at both the local and state level, and your solution is to raise them on everyone, at the federal level? why should the good folks in Hawaii, Texas, Ohio, etc., foot the bill for your shitty transit that no one uses (look up the ridership stats)?

public transit gets shutdown not because it's unrealistic--anything is feasible if you throw enough money at it--but precisely because it's a massive waste of taxpayer money.

California just learned the hard way, but at least Newsom had the balls to call-it-quits on the idiotic high speed rail project. well at least you'll be able to go from Merced to Bakersfield or whatever it is. how many billions were spent on that again?

People in big prosperous states should absolutely pay for infrastructure in other states and they already do. States like California, Texas, and New York pay far more in federal taxes than they receive back in funding. They pay for roads in Iowa and social security checks in Vermont. It's because they are not islands but part of a nation. Sure they might have to pay "more" but it's because if it were not for the nation as a whole, that prosperity wouldn't be there to begin with. If you take this argument down to an individual level, why should we even pay taxes if we'd all be "better off" not paying taxes? It's because we'd all have far less wealth to tax if we didn't have the roads, schools, healthcare, and yes, public transportation that they fund.

Public transit just isn't a waste of money by just about any measurement. The travel and density it enables produces far more economic value than the cost of construction. By international standards, the high speed rail in California is quite expensive and they should be working on ways to bring that cost in line with other countries. But at the end of the day, California would be better off with high speed rail in the long term. Take New York City. They would be far less wealthy if they didn't have a subway system. You would need far more roads, cars, and infrastructure to support that population if it weren't for the subways. Everyone there would be poorer for it. By that same token, cities like LA and San Fransisco could be far wealthier if they had public transit that matched their population and density. Creating far more wealth and taxes dollars that can be used to subsidize those roads in Iowa or social security checks in Vermont, benefiting everyone.


Everything sucks, there is serious injustice, and no foresight to building the highway.

Portland still needs the highway and the school. So just use the highway's powers to make room for a school.

If you don't have foresight, then at least make things right.

Yes, this is the answer. Moving the interstate is a non-starter. And even if there were political will to do so, the costs would be dramatically higher than just building a new school farther away.

This is the only correct answer. Anyone using the school as a prop in a campaign to prevent widening of the highway is essentially arguing it is fine for the school to stay where it is if the highway is not widened. This is simply untrue. The pollution is too high as is. This annoys me because it feels like a very selfish use of this situation by those campaigning against the freeway. They don't care about the students, they're using them for their own interests which are to prevent the widening.

The school needs to move regardless of whether the freeway is widened or not. I've tried pointing out elsewhere that the article is incorrect in identifying a building on that location in 1962 as being the school. The school was not opened on that location until 1982. [1] Further is was closed in 2012 then reopened in 2018. [2] In 1980s we may not have known about the pollution problem. But by 2018 when it was reopened there are countless articles about the pollution problem and concerns with the schools location that clearly demonstrate the school district knew of the problem.

The only solution can be to move the school. But having invested in reopening it I can see why the school district will be very hard to move on that.

[1] https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/07/04/a-middle-school-prized... [2] https://expo.oregonlive.com/news/erry-2018/08/c7c3d773398362...

People who commute from that county in Washington to work in Portland have to pay Oregon state income tax. Income tax makes up the bulk of Oregon's state budget which partially funds their K-12 system : https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_state_budget_and_finances . So the commuters are technically paying for some of the costs, maybe not enough?

"Why is the school district paying for the pollution controls? Why aren’t the 120,000 vehicles that drive past the school every day paying for it?"

Don't drivers pay taxes, which also go to the school district - so actually, the vehicle drivers ARE paying for it?

Not that I want to justify the situation. But the spin seems wrong.

Also, in a twist, the kid's family may only be able to afford living in the school's district because pollution makes it unattractive to live in.

Everyone's take-away is different, but I find the general argument that the cost of driving is hugely under-priced to be compelling. In my opinion this piece hits on a good example: the overall cost wasn't really appreciated when the highway was built and the department of transportation seems to be trying to ignore the cost even today.

I too find the argument compelling that driving is under-priced, but I'm always leery of any reasoning that stops there, as the next step usually seems to be "well, we need to correct the price," which is only a good solution in a vacuum.

As the Macron government in France learned the hard way, underpricing one mode of transport for decades has a profound effect on multiple other markets, and suddenly trying to correct it has a very real human cost. When driving is underpriced, public transport can't compete, and investment in it wanes. Meanwhile, residential development adapts to automotive transport with sprawl.

And so a significant part of the population has no fallback if they become priced out of driving. A good policy solution must take the transportation, housing, and labor markets into consideration when pricing in the externalities of driving.

Passenger cars are a rounding error compared to freight trucks when it comes to pollution and road wear. Rather than waste money trying to squeeze more money out of people commuting to work, perhaps we should jack up the taxes on the freight companies. It may be fashionable to blame car culture, but even people without a car benefit greatly from our transportation system.

I don't know how Portland/Oregon funds this, but based on my experience in Texas:

1. If the drivers are in a different district, their taxes are primarily going to other schools.

2. The drivers aren't paying taxes to pay for this that bikers, bus-riders, and remote workers don't also pay, so it's not correcting the externality. It's not that the drivers are paying for it; the drivers and everyone else are paying for it.

As for 1, I think it wouldn't be the fault of the drivers. They pay for using the roads. If the tax system isn't distributing it properly, how is it their fault? You could argue they don't pay enough, but there is no info about amounts they pay in the article.

As for 2, i was assuming there are specific taxes for cars, or at least for petrol. That's the case in my country, don't know how it works in the US.

You're right that this is a bad-tax-allocation problem, not a "rich people shouldn't commute through poor neighborhoods" problem.

There are petrol taxes and car registration fees, but that mostly goes to funding road construction and maintenance. This makes sense at first glance, but the article illustrates that it's missing a lot of the costs of driving.

Public education in the US is funded to a large extent by local property taxes. (The result is that rich neighborhoods have considerably better-funded schools than poor neighborhoods.)

Commutes in the US are commonly long enough that it's entirely normal to find people end up driving through poor school districts, while their education-directed dollars go mostly to their own schools. If dealing with the pollution comes from the local district's property taxes (or simply leaves the students breathing polluted air), you've got an uncorrected externality.

If you work in Oregon you pay Oregon income tax, regardless of where you live.

> Don't drivers pay taxes, which also go to the school district - so actually, the vehicle drivers ARE paying for it?

In many states and certainly federally, the fuel tax does not pay for the roads themselves, much less their externalities.

One of the many ways that driving is subsidized, is that nobody is paying property taxes for the property that the roads use.

In most cases, local property taxes are earmarked for the local municipality, so in many cases, the inner city school does not get funding from the commuter.

Furthermore, many states with a highly disparate representation of suburban/rural vs urban representation (ie counties and cities based on geography), tax revenue is often taken from the city to support suburban/rural initiatives and roadways - this is also true on the federal level (ie Manhattan is a giver to rural military bases)

You could argue if roads should be paid for by the government, and I would be sympathetic to it. But you could at least make a case that roads benefit everyone (even people who don't drive buy the goods that trucks deliver via roads), and that it would be too impractical to privatize all roads. In any case, it would be a different discussion from "rich people are ruining the health of our kids". That's what I criticize about the article - the spin. Personally I actually hate cars and think they are given too much space in modern society.

Not collecting property taxes for roads would be just another way of the government paying for the roads.

> taxes

The highway carries a lot of cummuters from Clark County in a different state.

> twist, the kid’s family may only be able to afford...

The district used to be poor and black (back when the school was created) its pretty middle class and gentrified these days though. The freeway that cuts through there mostly is surrounded by industry and a hospital until it gets further north of the school. Part of this widening proposal is actually to cap sections of the freeway where it cuts through the more commercial part to the south of the school.

Unfortunately the school is really in a shit place regardless of widening or not. It shouldn’t be next to a freeway.

If they are commuters, they are paying Oregon income tax.

What is that, four identical posts saying the same identical thing? You're so excited about Oregon's income tax rules that you've forgotten the only relevant fact about USA public school funding. Schools aren't funded by income taxes. School districts are funded by local property taxes. The property taxes paid by Clark county residents and their landlords go to their own children's schools. The schools of the children they poison every day don't see a dime.

How are the drivers paying for it? From what I understand from the article, the school isn't receiving any extra money to clean this up, and the drivers aren't paying any additional road tax to drive on this piece of road.

As the article points out, and as has been known for decades, car drivers don't pay for most of the external costs they cause, and this is an excellent example of that.

I think the argument that they should pay extra taxes for that specific road is very strange. I think in generally they pay fuel tax and maybe something on cars (don't know the US system), and in theory that should pay for the roads and other externalities. It could just be distributed so that places with more pollution get more money.

Of course it's possible they don't pay enough, but that has nothing to do with that particular school.

I'm not saying they should pay some extra toll for that stretch of road, I'm just pointing out that they're not paying for the damage they're causing. The school or the kids aren't receiving money for the damage that's caused by the pollution from those cars.

If that's the case, I don't think it is their fault. The tax collectors should then distribute the taxes they collected in a different way.

Also, it stands to debate of the kids are forced to live in the pollution.

While the article mentions that the school was there before the highway, the students were probably not born yet. So they (or their parents) made a choice to live there and go to that school.

So who is paying for the increased health care costs of the kids?

Maybe the people living there should factor it into their decision for living there?

If they could afford that they probably wouldn't be there in the first place.

So the Highway is doing them a a favor, by making the place affordable.

I didn't know about the Coase Theorem. The link between property right, transaction cost and externalities is not obvious and interesting.

We could imagine many tech examples similar to the school and highway :

- An ISP provides a connection with poor delay/jitter and it creates problem for software developers (Skype, multiplayer games,...) --> should the ISP compensate the developers or the developers pay the ISP to fix the problem?

- A developer is selling created a program that degrades the performance of another program if they are both run simultaneously. Who should pay who to compensate/fix the problem?

Coase Theorem doesn’t say _how_ you should divide up property rights - that’s a normative statement that’s outside the scope of economics - but rather that as long as _any_ property rights are assigned, regardless of which way the assignment goes, the outcome will be economically efficient.

Also it assumes transaction costs are negligible, ie in the example in the article, the negotiations between the railway and the farmer can be done cheaply and quickly. This is somewhat like assuming a frictionless plane in physics.

I've often thought one of the only ways we would ever reclaim green space from development would be some kind of silent spring creeping moral nimbyism around highways. If only we could scare people and governments into putting an exclusion zone around highways, for every additional bit of setback distance the effect could be huge. Like the environmental boon that the korean dmz became, or Chernobyl. Ideally bears and caribou would one day have mental maps of the interstate, and forest land could have its transport system restored.

This decreases density further, making greater travel distances.

This is approaching the problem backwards. You don't want to spread people further out with token green spaces in between miles of concrete. If for no other reason than those areas are way less effective at being "green space" that green space well separated from human civilization. The kinds of trees you can plant along boulevards or in inner-city parks or along highways are quite limited to a subset that can subsist on poor nutrient quality from the soil and much reduced sunlight availability from the pollution they are meant to "keep at bay".

Its the same reason "urban farming" is ridiculous. You end up spending way more in technology to make urban settings livable for plant life than you get back in value from having the plants in the first place.

If you want environmental boons like you describe, you want to dramatically expand nature preserves and increase the density of human settlement so we consume less of the livable footprint of the Earth with our societies and pollute the world less all the same.

This isn't a problem to hide behind a row of malnourished trees.

This would be incredible. Have you heard about the massive wildlife overpasses in Canada?

I agree, polluters should compensate at the very least financially. It is sad that it was even allowed to be built right next to a school.

Driving should be more expensive in the US, full stop.

Many like to attack higher gas taxes as 'regressive', but they are fair. The more pollution you create, the more you pay.

There are also partial fixes to the regressive nature of auto fuel taxes. Credits for low income residents are a simple "fix" (not arguing it's the best approach, just one way to make the tax less regressive).

Or, we can increase (re-implement?) the "gas guzzler" tax. Anything that gets <20mpg (or whatever value) pays an extra annual tax. Removes actual consumption from the scheme, but still provides an incentive to buy fuel-efficient vehicles.

Aren't paying for externalities like these like this exactly why we pay taxes to state government? Why is the school paying for it's own air filtration? This sounds like a problem of ineffective government, not highways and pollution. It's the state's job to use tax money to smooth out these kind of issues in a roughly equitable manner.

In defense of Coase, the "flaw" is part of the theorem and discussion in the original paper, and Coase himself wrote extensively about the problem of using his conclusion while ignoring his assumptions.


You can actually see purple-air monitors at the school:


Note that the black-circled spots are monitors inside the building.

Here's the report with details of the monitoring equipment and the recommendations.


I have two takeaways:

1) Traveling by private automobile has huge negative externalities.

2) Highways are usually built in economically depressed areas.

Off-topic: Meanwhile Delhi has no plans to do anything about their problem. People don't even wear masks. Air pollution readings are in the red for the majority of the year. Live readings - https://aqicn.org/city/delhi/

My coworker went there last year. When the factories were on he couldn’t see the hotel adjacent to his. When they were shut down it was almost crystal clear with blue sky. Reminded me of a distopian SciFi movie like Bladerunner or Johnny Pneumonic.

On the other hand, other Asian countries are throwing tons of money at the problem.

It's not that easy though because you need to take the chemistry into account. Some pollutants react distructively with others, so if you reduce those first you'll get more pollution than before. Oops. (China is in that situation, for example.)

Unless the commuters are coming from out of state, wouldn't the people driving (being residents) be paying the taxes which would pay for this anyway?

I get that it is coming out of the budget of the school, but ultimately the taxpayers _are_ paying for it, albeit in a round-about kind of way.

Many commuters are coming from out of state, as noted in the article it’s people commuting from Washington state into the portland area

They pay taxes if they work here.

I don’t entirely agree with your argument, but the article actually says the commuters are coming from a different state.

Schools are mostly funded by the town, not the state

Well, in Oregon they are poorly funded, because it's a low tax state, but many expensive things like teacher salaries are state funded. This is due to a Supreme Court decision requirement to provide equal education, and it's unclear if they have fully complied, but generally your statement is not correct.

In many large states (Texas, California, NY) schools are almost fully state funded.



If Texas schools are state-funded, I'm paying way too high property taxes to live in Westlake! (Austin TX)[0]...

[0] Yes that was an exaggerated response - but not by as much as you might think. https://www.texastribune.org/2019/02/15/texas-school-funding...

The commuters are from out of state.

If it's true they are from out of state they are just people passing through the state, not commuters on their way to work each day. However significant amounts of the passenger vehicle traffic there is intrastate and intracounty, as can be seen both from the existence of much more traffic during the morning and evening rush hours, and also the traffic thinning out once it leaves the city.

> If it's true they are from out of state they are just people passing through the state, not commuters on their way to work each day.

Have you looked at a map of where this school is [0]? It's literally between the Washington/Oregon border and downtown Portland. Why wouldn't there be a large commuting population in the Wash State Portland suburbs into downtown Portland?

I'm not deeply familiar with Portland's geography, but it sure looks to me like the urban area goes right up to the Columbia river, so "the traffic thinning out once it leaves the city" would likely be... in Washington.

[0] https://www.google.com/maps/place/Harriet+Tubman+Middle+Scho...

I know exactly where it is. It's several miles south of the border and all of this intermediary space - in Oregon - is taken up with very high density city, mostly residences. In these residences are people who work in Portland and drive to work each day, taking the several on and on ramps along this route. As you drive south through this area in the morning, there is heavy congestion at each on-ramp as people are getting on 5 to go south to work. The school is also directly south of the 405 exchange and north of the 84 exchange, both being major point of congestion that daily intrastate and intracity work commuters use extensively.

Schools are usually mostly funded by property tax of people/businesses in the school district.

That may have once been the case, but it is no longer the case. Almost all states, including Oregon, are required by equal education interpretations of the Supreme Court to share funding state wide. See links on comment below.

How about we take all the school’s money, give it to the parents, and let them decide to which school to send their children?

Simply stop funding schools based on local taxes, fund all schools equally based on federal and state taxes. Many problems solved.

Oregon and California are already run this way. It sucks. Creates more problems than it solves.

Because private industry would not build schools for those students in depressed and poor neighborhoods, even at the guarantee of the general fund of the school that was there, because most schools in the US are operating at a substantial loss to their direct income from school / property tax.

Its part of why "bake sales" to fund schools are so common in many depressed and poor areas. Its also why schools are so strongly incentivized to seek funding for sports, sports programs, and sports arenas. If you can build a fancy stadium on a state grant it can bring in supplementary income to keep the power on for general ed.

Private enterprise would only be interested in building schools for poor kids only offering public dollars if there were profit to be made from said dollars, which is innately more inefficient than a public school that simply operates at, or better, under cost - especially when that general income is coming from direct local residents.

Who said anything about private industry? Give parents their school money to spend at the school of their choice. Maybe if I call it “universal basic school income” you would like it.

The unpredictable nature of school funding would then be a pretty big problem, and the results for students who choose wrong, have the schools in their neighborhood all but defunded / can't afford to commute to a better school would also be bad. It would basically be the existing school funding issues, on steroids.

This seems based on the assumption most parents are too stupid to realize whether or not their kid’s school is good or bad.

Angry at the wrong people. The freeway users are just trying to get to work.

Has anyone considered moving the school by 1 mile away from freeway?

"Students attending schools located near and downwind from busy highways had lower rates of academic performance, higher absenteeism and higher rates of disciplinary problems than those attending less polluted schools."

Is it because of the pollution or because kids who live near highways come from poorer socio-economic environments? Kids who grow up in poor rural areas nowhere near cars also have performance and behavioral problems.

Also, some of the top schools in the NYC metro area are situated near highways or high traffic areas. Why aren't these kids affected as negatively? Could it be many of them come from higher socio-economic situations?

Finally, isn't it a bit disingenous to say poor kids pay for it when they don't pay taxes. Also, the article claims these kids receive free lunches, so most likely they parents don't make enough money to pay much in taxes. So the "wealthy" who pay taxes are already paying for the poor kids, their school and their air filtration system are already paying taxes to clean up the pollution. So they already paid, what more do they have to pay for?

Ideally, it would be great if every kid had a school in a middle of prisinte woods without any pollution, but then people would complain about the destruction of pristine nature.

The study they link to claims to account for this by tracking the same students between different schools. They also track different schools which are the same distances from a highway but suffer different pollution because of wind patterns. It would have been quite easy for you to click that link and read the abstract.

Yeah while pollution is no help clearly and lead poisoning is known for bad options it sounds like the mechanism for worse academic performance from power lines - lowered property values and the fact poorer kids tended to live in "undesirable" locations.

The simplest solution to numerous large problems in the US education system (while politically infeasible) is to fund schools based on student count uniformly, based on federal and state taxes, and not at all based on local township taxes.

I really hate direction american politics (and hacker news to some extend) is going lately.

There is a problem with car pollution. That is pretty common and has well known solutions.

But this article has zero numbers, zero solutions. It hijacks the problem and weaponizes it into hate and "class struggle". I read similar stuff in communist news-papers 30 years ago.

> Why do poor school kids have to clean up rich commuters’ pollution?

They don't have to, they aren't going to, and they wouldn't if given the choice.

TIL if I pay taxes it's ok for me to poison kids going to school

Schools (and lots of things) shouldn’t be built next to freeways. It appears [1] this school was created in the 1980s long after that freeway existed. It was closed in 2012. Then reopened last year. Perhaps the whole school should be moved (there’s nearby vacant blocks that could accommodate a new school).

[1] This is based on very brief search so may be incorrect. Actually this is odd the article shows a picture of the school being their before the freeway. Was that the school then or was that a building repurposed into the school? This is where I got the 80s thing from: https://expo.oregonlive.com/news/erry-2018/08/c7c3d773398362...

The school was there first, but they have added another building since the freeway was built. That may be where the confusion comes from.

This article says it opened in 1982 as well [1]. And quoting from the original article “...that prompted Tubman’s creation in the 1980s, ...until..advocates got their way and Tubman was built, the school district bussed thousands of black children out of their own neighborhoods rather than provide them a school of their own.”

I’m trying to find out what it was before it became Harriet Tubman school but not finding anything.

(It doesn’t matter who was there first because we shouldn’t have a school there now. The problem should be corrected and moving the school is the only way. Air filters do not let kids play outside.)

[1] https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/07/04/a-middle-school-prized...

I didn't need to do any search since TFA addresses this point in an unsurprisingly titled section Who was here first?.

It shows a photo. And used that as the basis for the claim. But the article I linked which is long and gives a lot of the story of the school states a number of times it was created in the 1980s. I don’t know if it was repurposed from an old closed building or school or what.

Whether it was there first or not seems irrelevant anyway. If we care about the health of the students the whole school should be moved (unless you think we can move the freeway instead).

As others have pointed out, the school was there first. However, that doesn't mean the school can't be moved. Clearly a school shouldn't be this close to a freeway. Either the freeway should be moved, or ODOT should pay to move the school.

Others have asserted it was there first on the basis of the aerial photograph of a building in the same location. But as I have linked Harriet Tubman school was clearly, 100% created on that spot in 1982. Now if that repurposed an old previously closed school building that’s possible but I haven’t found evidence of that. It’s pretty clear from what is written that Harriet Tubman was built there in 1980s in response to activism from the local black community wanting a school in their neighborhood.

You obviously did not read the article, since it says right there that the high school was first, and even provides a photo of the school next to freeway under construction.

The article might be wrong, but then you'd react to that.

Given that the school was closed for 6 years during which they undoubtedly did not run the climate control systems, the school most likely has mold problems.

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