Residents Take on MTA at September 7th Rally

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Press Release

Date: Monday, September 8, 2003
Contact: Christopher Greaves, Communications Director, (212) 961-1000, ext. 304 or

With kids already gasping for air in the country's Asthma Capital, why is New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority coming to the rescue with a fleet of tailpipe inhalers? WE ACT, elected officials, and East Harlem residents posed this query to the MTA with bullhorns and placards this past September.

Ignoring evidence that bus emissions potentially cause cancer, precipitate heart attacks, and trigger asthma, the MTA reopened the 100th Street depot in East Harlem—a neighborhood that leads the country in childhood asthma hospitalizations. Seeing the move as a slap in the face—the facility at 100th Street is substantially larger than the depot it replaces—bewildered residents voiced their distress with indignation. 100th Street's September 7th opening day, on an otherwise picturesque Sunday afternoon, was thus met with a raucous response from residents and their advocates.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, this bus depot has got to go," shouted Cecil Corbin-Mark, WE ACT's program director, as residents clustered around chanting buoyantly in support. Protestors clad in protective air filter face masks added a note of drama to the display. "The MTA won't be happy 'til everybody's wearing one of these," exclaimed one resident, illustratively snapping a mask over his face. Several MTA workers emerged from the building to observe the crowd in action.

The decision to organize the rally came after Gov. George Pataki ignored a letter from four elected officials and twelve local environmental groups asking him to delay the depot's opening. Although WE ACT filed an official complaint with the Department of Justice charging the MTA with violating residents' civil rights in November 2000, the investigation has been sluggish. WE ACT's September letter to Pataki expressed displeasure with the MTA's decision to reintroduce the 100th Street Depot in residential East Harlem as it closed the Hudson Depot in an industrial area downtown. Pataki was asked to forestall the reopening and address residents' objections. When the governor failed to act this September, WE ACT helped residents take the issue to the streets.

"Six out of Manhattan's seven bus depots are located in Northern Manhattan's communities of color," said Peggy Shepard, WE ACT's executive director. "People of color bear an inordinate amount of the city's pollutants and are suffering real and quantifiable health risks as a result," she said.

The rally was one of the latest development in WE ACT's ongoing efforts to safeguard public health and secure environmental justice in communities of color, a battle it has public health and secure environmental justice in communities of color, a battle it has fought on behalf of Northern Manhattan since 1988. In addition to organizing the local response to the MTA, WE ACT is pressuring the agency to comply with a 1999 directive from the governor to convert at least one depot per borough to compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Though Long Island MTA converted its buses some time ago, the MTA has been slow to act in the boroughs. Studies show that CNG buses emit 40 to 86 percent less particulate matter, and 38 to 58 percent less nitrogen oxide than diesel buses.


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