Which approach is better: ‘jobs to people’ or ‘people to jobs’?

healthline health tech corridor
healthline health tech corridor

A GCRTA Healthline bus rolls down Euclid Avenue past the MidTown Tech Park campus in Cleveland’s Health Tech Corridor (courtesy of the Anchor District Council).

Back in September 2015, I was fortunate enough to take part in a focus group discussion at the Fund for Our Economic Future on a report they were finalizing that examined access to jobs in Northeast Ohio.

On the whole, I found the report, The Geography of Jobs, to be a valuable first stab at a conversation that desperately needs to occur in this region. While the comments from some of the business community representatives gave me pause, as they did not seem to fully grasp the gravity of sprawl and weak transit for our economy, it was nevertheless a useful discussion.

Jobs to people or people to jobs?

It was with that in the back of my mind that I eagerly read an op-ed on this topic from Peter Truog, the director of civic innovation and insight at the Fund. In this piece, Truog responded to a study out of Cleveland State by Richey Piiparinen and James Russell, which examined whether or not transportation policy is inhibiting the region’s movement towards a “knowledge-based economy.” The authors reached a fairly clear conclusion on job access and transportation in Cleveland, writing:

Specifically, it may not (sic) prudent to advocate for limited transportation funding in the creation of transit connections to disparate areas governed by maturing labor markets. Put simply, will bringing a bus to the likes of Solon fix what is largely structural? Probably not.”

It was this conclusion that Truog took exception to in his piece. He argued that the CSU study “risks encouraging ‘zero-sum’ transit funding discussions where urban centers vie to win a larger share of a fixed transit investment ‘pie.'” Instead, relying on the Fund’s report, he argued that we would be doing a disservice to low-income, low-skilled workers in struggling neighborhoods if we fail to improve transit service to manufacturing job hubs, like Solon.

So who is correct here? Should Northeast Ohio, forever plagued by enormous challenges and insufficient resources, choose to invest in the types of supply-side approaches to addressing job accessibility advocated by Truog? Or should policymakers instead focus on Piiparinen and Russell’s demand-side approaches, which call for concentrating economic development in areas with existing infrastructure and labor pools? To use Truog’s nomenclature – should be focus on bringing people to jobs or jobs to people?

Focus on Central

First, I want to examine the validity of Truog’s claims, particularly as they relate to Central, the Cleveland neighborhood that the Fund focused on in its report. According to Truog, residents of neighborhoods like Central have not benefited from new investments in the City, like the Health Tech Corridor along Euclid Avenue.

Instead, these residents depend upon suburban locations, like Solon, which “have a high concentration of manufacturing jobs” and “will remain important economic hubs with jobs for multiple skill levels.” As a result, Truog asserts that it is ” an economic imperative to include these communities in the transit discussion.”

But what do the data say? To answer that question, I decided to check the 2015 5-year data on commuting habits from the American Community Survey (ACS) for the 5 census tracts located in Central, as illustrated in the map below.

census tracts central

Census tracts from the 2010 Census located in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood (courtesy of NEO CANDO).

At first glance, the data seem to support some of Truog’s claims. Residents of Central are far more likely to take transit to work (35.5%) than Cleveland residents as a whole (10.2%). The share of Central residents who do not own a car (42.7%) is also vastly higher than the City’s (10.2%). But that is more or less where Truog’s claims start to lose merit.

Manufacturing is not as important for Central residents as Truog asserts. Just 11.2% of workers in the neighborhood are employed in the manufacturing sector, compared to 13% for all city residents. In contrast, a plurality (40.6%) of workers in Central are employed in educational services and health care/social assistance – more commonly known as eds and meds – nearly double the citywide rate (26%). And, contrary to what Truog may claim, manufacturing sector employees are not more transit-dependent than other workers. In fact, a larger percentage of eds and meds workers take transit both within Central (28.6%) and citywide (8.35%) than manufacturing workers (24% and 7.5%, respectively).

Interestingly, not owning a car does not necessarily seem to make one totally transit-dependent. Nearly 12% of Cleveland residents who live in a zero car household drove alone to work, while another 10.8% carpool. Just over half (54%) take transit.

Now, none of this discussion is to say that the status quo represents the ideal situation for every worker or would-be worker. In a perfect world, I imagine that we would see people travel differently, but the end result would likely be a higher drive alone rate among low-income Clevelanders, regardless of the location of their jobs. Car ownership remains a major aspiration for many low-income workers, though one that is largely too expensive to obtain.

When it comes to length of commutes, 15.2% of workers in Central spend more than 60 minutes traveling to work each way, more than twice the city average of 6.2%.  Of those Central residents with commutes shorter than 30 minutes, roughly one-third drive to work, while just 10.8% take transit. For those with hour-long commutes, these numbers are 7.4% and 85.9%, respectively.

These numbers may suggest that those who already have lengthy commutes – perhaps to suburban job hubs like Solon – are already able to utilize transit. More likely, it reflects how much longer it takes transit riders to get work, limiting the number of jobs they can access. According to the report from the Cleveland Fed, just one-third of all jobs in Northeast Ohio are accessible via transit.

Examining the evidence from the Bay Area

While the latter explanation seems far more likely, the ACS data do not tell us the direction of the relationship. To get a better sense of whether the “jobs to people” or “people to jobs” approach is better, we need to dig into the literature.

In a 2003 study (paywall), Harry Holzer from Georgetown and John Quigley and Steven Raphael from Berkeley looked at the results of a natural experiment in the Oakland area to parse this issue.

Voters approved a sales tax increase in 1986, allowing the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to expand its network into the Oakland suburbs. Two new stops – the Castro Valley in the Oakland urban core and Dublin/Pleasanton in its eastern suburban ring – opened in May 1997.

 

To examine how the transit expansion may have affected job access and employment opportunities among blacks and Latinos, the authors conducted two surveys of employers in the area. The first occurred in April-May 1997, while the follow-up survey was done in April and July 1998, after the lines had been fully operational for a year.

They broke employers into two groups: those who were located within 6 miles of one of the new transit stations were part of the treatment group, while those outside of this radius were part of the control. This allowed the authors to determine whether proximity to the new stations influenced an employer’s propensity to hire people of color.

Interestingly, the authors found a strong, statistically significant relationship between an employer’s distance from a station and its odds of hiring a Latino worker. The likelihood that an employer would hire a Latino declined by 1.5-2.% for each mile of distance that an employer is located from the station, increasing the demand for Latino labor by roughly 8%.

But no such relationship existed for black workers. On the contrary, there was a slightly higher chance – though not statistically significant – that employers located more than 6 miles from a station would hire black workers.

The authors suggest this may stem from the fact that, while Latinos were more evenly dispersed throughout the Oakland area, black workers were heavily concentrated in urban core neighborhoods. Latinos were also employed at nearly double the rate of black workers to begin with. These conditions may have made it easier for them to locate and take advantage of jobs opened up by the new transit service.

Ultimately, Holzer, Quigley, and Raphael concluded,

Given some of the extreme distances between urban neighborhoods and suburban employment centers in modern metropolitan areas, along with the low-density sprawl development that characterizes many suburban employment centers, these patterns indicate that the potential of transit policy to foster large increases in reverse commuting is limited.

What about the Midwest though?

But that’s just the Bay Area, so perhaps the study has limited applicability to Northeast Ohio. Fortunately, we can draw from another study by Nebiyou Tilahun of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Yingling Fan of the University of Minnesota, focused on Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In their article, Tilahun and Fan consider the effects of long-range transit plans (PDF) from the region’s metropolitan planning organization (MPO), the Metropolitan Council. In their plans, the Council calls for adding 14 new transitways by 2030, which would ramp up transit connectivity in the metro area.

By modeling various scenarios, Tilahun and Fan are able to examine the “jobs to people” or “people to jobs” debate in a Midwestern context. They model the effects of four separate scenarios:

  1. Transitway-focused centralization: people and jobs cluster along transit lines; closest to transit-oriented development (TOD)
  2. Decentralization scenario: people and jobs continue to sprawl outwards
  3. Reference scenario 1: jobs cluster along transit lines, while people continue residential sprawl
  4. Reference scenario 2: people cluster along transit lines, while jobs continue to sprawl

To examine the impacts of these scenarios, the authors consider the accessibility of jobs in the Twin Cities via transit, including walking time, waiting time, and transfers. If a person can reach a job via transit within 30 minutes, it is considered accessible to her/him.

In 2010, a randomly chosen person in the Twin Cities could access 117,611 jobs within 30 minutes via transit. Under the transit system envisioned by the Metropolitan Council, this number would grow by 7.5% through 2030. Considering the alternatives, the authors note,

Results from the scenario analysis show that the highest gains in accessibility result from a policy of concentrating both jobs and population along transitways. Given the current (and anticipated base) patterns of population and jobs, if one had to choose between centralizing population or jobs, the accessibility gains suggest that one should focus on centralizing jobs along transitways.

Reference scenario 1, in which jobs but not people locate along transit, increases accessibility by 4.5%. This is more than double what can be achieved by centralizing people only. Even if residential sprawl continues, focusing on TOD for jobs significantly improves accessibility.

Ultimately, Tilahun and Fan conclude,

Under these scenario analyses, we show that centralizing housing and jobs along transitway corridors is the best strategy to follow if increasing regional accessibility is the goal. Particularly a strategy that focuses on targeted jobs centralization along transitway corridors would have significant payoffs…

By bringing jobs closer to public transportation corridors, higher accessibility gains can be achieved than can be by the provision of the transportation service alone. This can move forward broader access equity questions among the region’s population by enhancing access to car-less or other transportation disadvantaged groups.

Taken together, these results throw cold water on Truog’s advocacy for the “people to jobs” approach to Northeast Ohio’s serious accessibility challenges. They also lend support to Piiparinen and Russell’s findings, which call for more coordinated regional investment in TOD projects like the Healthline.

Nevertheless, each of the articles and studies I have considered here treats transit as an exogenous variable. In other words, they act as though the provision of transit and its effects on job accessibility occur in a vacuum, free from larger institutional questions. That is simply not the case (though it makes sense in an academic sense, as you want to isolate your independent variable).

But, given that this post is already absurdly long, I will punt that issue to a second piece. There, I will examine the broader trends of job sprawl in Northeast Ohio and how larger, systemic issues like racism and exclusionary zoning influence the impact of transit on job access for minorities in Cleveland.

Don’t listen to NEOMG – closing Public Square to buses leads to more air pollution

public square bus protest
public square bus protest

Protestors, including Councilman Zack Reed, call for the opening of Public Square to buses on December 3 (courtesy of Cleveland Scene).

One can generally count on Advance Ohio/NEOMG/Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer/whatever they are going by nowadays to defend vigorously the interests of the entrenched powers-that-be. This outcome particularly holds true when it comes to shiny, big ticket megaprojects.

Regardless of whether or not said megaprojects actually have merit, Cleveland’s largest media conglomerate and newspaper seems all too happy to eschew logic or internal consistency in their quest to carry the water for the region’s political and business elite.

One need look no further than their breathless coverage last week of the “transformation plan” for Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland.com even created a helpful landing page for the proposal, complete with 13 separate stories. Erstwhile good journalists twisted themselves into knots trying to defend a plan that will cost taxpayers some $160 million over the next two decades to bring up to snuff an arena that just hosted the Republican National Convention, in the hopes of “boosting the city’s ability to attract major events, such as political conventions.” Check your logic at the city limits, folks.

With all of that in mind, it is really no surprise that NEOMG/the PD/whatever would happily defend Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s inexplicable decision to close Superior Avenue through Public Square to buses. A lot of ink and words have been spilled on this issue, and I’m not here to relitigate this fight. Instead, I just want to focus on a relatively narrow issue.

Two weeks ago, just days after a contentious City Council hearing on the issue, the PD published an editorial that dutifully parroted the Jackson administration’s talking points on the subject, right down to the hyperbolic fear-mongering about terrorist acts and bus drivers mowing down children in the street.

Putting aside those claims for a minute [which, honestly, we shouldn’t, because hoo boy], there was one particular part that really caught my attention,

Public squares were designed in a quieter time before terrorist considerations and wheezing block-long buses were prevalent.

When I read that sentence, I think my eyes damn near rolled out of my head and onto the floor.

Forget the absurd claim that “public squares were designed in a quieter time before terrorist considerations,” which is, obviously, insanely ahistorical. One can easily date terrorism back the first century CE, and the word itself has its origins in Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, which took place two years before Moses Cleaveland even established this city.

Leave aside the assertion that GCRTA employs “block-long buses,” which is preposterous. The average block in downtown Cleveland is roughly 500-600 feet long. GCRTA’s longest buses are…not.

About those “wheezing” buses…

But that’s still not what I want to talk about. While you may want an analysis of the merits – or lack thereof – of the arguments put forward by the administration and its water carriers at 1801 Superior Avenue, I gotta be me. And, as Area Air Quality Nerd, I cannot get past the “wheezing” part of that ludicrous sentence.

Read literally, the PD’s editorial board argues that allowing GCRTA buses to use the dedicated bus lanes on Superior Avenue through Public Square would allow them to belch out diesel exhaust, fouling air quality and damaging the lungs of passersby.

Except that is prima facie absurd. Perhaps the members of the editorial board don’t quite understand how mobile emissions work, but that isn’t it. On the contrary, forcing buses to travel around, rather than through, the Square should produce more emissions, as the buses are forced to drive farther and sit in traffic as they compete for road space with other vehicles. But how much?

Fortunately, I do this sort of thing for a living, so I can estimate the additional bus emissions associated with closing Superior Avenue through Public Square to buses.

The method to my madness

Let me briefly lay out my methodology. According to GCRTA data, roughly 1,445 buses drive through/around Public Square on a daily basis. Because those buses are not able to access their dedicated lanes on Superior Avenue, they are forced to transit another 0.1 miles around East Roadway/West Roadway/Rockwell, adding some 52,754.5 miles per year. Additionally, because the buses are now in traffic, they must travel at reduced speeds and idle as they wait to get back on Superior Avenue.

Below, I lay out the additional emissions that result from closing the Superior Avenue bus lanes through Public Square. In one scenario, I assume each bus trip is delayed by 2 minutes – the lower estimate which the administration provided at the Council hearing. In a second scenario, I assume each bus trip is delayed by 4 minutes, which, while double the administration’s estimates, is still below observed delays of 6 to 10 minutes from GCRTA riders. The former scenario leads to 17,851 idling hours per year, while the latter adds up to 35,162 hours.

I utilized MOVES2014a, the most recent version of the U.S. EPA’s mobile emissions modeling software, to develop emissions factors per mile and for each additional hour of idling for the GCRTA bus fleet. I then converted total emissions into additional metric tons per year. The results are shown below.

additional emissions public square

Additional emissions from closing Superior Avenue through Public Square to buses (authors estimates using MOVES2014a).

Closing Superior generates more emissions

As you can see, the additional distance the buses must travel (0.1 miles per trip), leads to de minimis emissions. But when you add in the idling emissions, those numbers climb significantly. Carbon monoxide (CO) emissions total 0.71 and 1.13 tons, respectively, based 2- and 4-minute delays, while nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions total 1.96 and 3.16 tons, respectively. Closing the Square also leads to an additional 535.98 and 860.96 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year for each scenario, respectively.

And those emissions have real costs

On the whole, these are not particularly eye-popping numbers. But they do carry real costs and consequences. When the City of Cleveland and GCRTA initially sought federal funding for the Healthline BRT project in 2001, they estimated the emissions savings the project would generate. As the table below shows, the additional emissions from closing the Square to buses nullifies a portion of those emissions.

costs from additional public square emissions

Costs associated with additional emissions from closing Superior Avenue through Public Square to buses (authors estimates).

The additional CO emissions only takes away slightly more than 1% of the estimated savings; that said, vehicle CO emissions have plummeted nationwide since that point due to new vehicle emissions controls, so that’s not surprising. But the additional NOemissions could wipe away almost half the estimated savings under a 4-minute delay scenario.

These extra emissions carry real social costs. I have also estimate the social costs of the additional emissions, using damage estimates from the Federal Highway Administration. Again, the numbers are not staggering, but they do amount to tens of thousands of dollars in additional social costs tied solely to the Mayor’s decision to close a 600-foot piece of road.

Don’t forget those unknown unknowns

Furthermore, I cannot calculate any additional emissions that may result from the ripple effects of this ill-conceived decision. GCRTA has already cut more bus revenue miles than any other major transit agency, and it recently enacted a two-step fare increase. Add to that a potentially catastrophic budget hit from the loss of sales tax revenues on managed care organizations, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Tacking on another $1.6 million in operating expenses and increasing delays will make the experience worse for riders, possibly driving those who can afford it off the bus and into private cars. Given that GCRTA buses release 19% fewer average emissions per passenger mile than single-occupant vehicles (320 grams vs. 396 grams of CO2e, per my estimates), this outcome would just add even more emissions.

So while I expected the PD to support the Jackson administration’s choice, they should tread more carefully when it comes to verifiably inaccurate statements. There are no block-long buses hurtling through Public Square, belching out emissions. Just the opposite, in fact.

On LGBT issues, Cleveland needs to get its house in order first

gay games cleveland
gay games cleveland

Downtown Cleveland decked out in rainbow lights after the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Gay Games.

Last week, PayPal announced it was scrapping plans to expand its operations in North Carolina. The company’s decision to call off its $3.6 million expansion in Charlotte, which would have created 400 jobs, came in reaction to a despicable (and almost certainly unconstitutional) law that Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed into law on March 23.

The bill, which bars municipalities from extending non-discrimination protections to LGBT individuals, particularly targets transgender residents by requiring that they use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

While Gov. McCrory sought to tamp down some of the controversy this week by issuing an Executive Order “clarifying” the bill, it amounts to little more than putting lipstick on this proverbial pig. As David Graham of The Atlantic notes, all public buildings will still enforce the draconian bathroom restrictions on transgender individuals, and the state still precludes any effort to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination by private entities.

PayPal was just the latest in a series of groups that decided to pull out of North Carolina in the aftermath to this law. Deutsche Bank froze plans to hire 250 people in the state, and entertainers including Bruce Springsteen cancelled their performances.

All of this gets to a larger debate about the impacts of these types of boycotts. There is no doubt that applying economic and political pressure on states in response to such acts of blatant discrimination is an important tool – one that has worked on a number of occasions.

These sorts of boycotts can also have unintended consequences. For one, they may drive supporters of these bills to simply dig in their heels against outside pressure. More importantly, they may harm innocent people living within these states (including LGBT individuals) who oppose such laws. Blue cities, like Charlotte and Raleigh, already chafe under the control of GOP-dominated state legislatures. Economic boycotts of this sort might punish them further for policies they ardently oppose.

This should be readily apparent to those of us in Cleveland, a deep blue city stuck in an (artificially) bright red state.

But the tone deaf political and business leaders of Northeast Ohio completely missed this point. Following PayPal’s announcement, a group of leaders, including Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, sent a self-congratulatory letter to CEO Daniel Schulman. In the letter, Budish et al. commend Schulman and his company for their progressive values, noting that “the City of Cleveland shares those same values.”

The letter highlights the fact that Cleveland is, in many ways, quite progressive on LGBT equality. Both the City and Cuyahoga County governments extended benefits to same-sex couples prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The administration flies the pride flag above City Hall each year during Pride Week. And, of course, we hosted the 2014 Gay Games, which I helped plan and execute.

pride flag cleveland

The pride flag flies above Cleveland City Hall in June 2014.

But, in their haste to sell the Cleveland Renaissance narrative, Budish et al. end up coming off as too cute by half.

The authors completely ignore a number of important details. First, Republicans rammed this legislation through the North Carolina legislature as a direct response to a law passed by Charlotte’s City Council. That bill extended nondiscrimination protection to LGBT residents and required that all public and private entities allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identities. PayPal is not leaving Charlotte because the city does not “share its values,” but because state leaders went off the deep end to legislate against those values.

Second, Budish et al. conveniently ignore that Cleveland City Council failed to pass exactly this same type of legislation last year. While Charlotte leaders stood up for their constituents, transgender Clevelanders had to listen as members of Council and the local media evoked the bullshit specter of transgender predators invading bathrooms around the city. As a bill opponent said, with a straight face, that “the most discriminated against group of people in this country…is not transgender people or gay people, it is people of faith.” As Plain Dealer editorial board members claimed allowing them to use the bathroom could “create a fertile environment for predators to strike.”

But the reality that transgender Americans are nearly twice as likely to be the victims of a sexual violence as cisgender Americans did not win the day. The fact that three transgender women were murdered in this city in less than a year did was not enough. No, the hatemongers peddling their lies on the pages of the PD made sure the bill never even got a vote.

Third, unlike North Carolina, the State of Ohio has no protections in place for LGBT residents. A gay person can still be legally fired for being gay; a lesbian can still legally be evicted for being a lesbian. In the wake of Gov. McCrory’s Executive Order, North Carolina is now more progressive than Ohio on this front, for government employees at least.

Moreover, the only way for a transgender person to guarantee access to services and accommodations that match their gender identity in states like Ohio and North Carolina is for them to go through the absurdly arduous process of getting a new birth certificate issued. Except, you cannot actually do that in Ohio at all, because this is one of just three states that refuses to issue updated birth certificates to transgender residents.

There is no question that Cleveland is a fairly welcoming place, regardless of one’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The week of the Gay Games was an incredible experience specifically because of the way that Clevelanders graciously welcomed LGBT people from around the world with open arms. I will never forget seeing a Cleveland police cruiser with a rainbow flag bumper sticker parked outside of the Convention Center.

But none of this does away with the truth that we still have an awful lot to do in order to ensure that LGBT Clevelanders are guaranteed their equal rights. I just wish that our leaders would spend more time working on this and less time patting themselves on the back.

Air pollution adds to a number of Cleveland’s ills. So why does no one talk about it?

vehicle exhaust
vehicle exhaust

Vehicle exhaust contains a number of harmful pollutants, including fine particulate matter, and it is increasingly the primary source of urban air pollution (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

A few weeks ago, Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner from The Plain Dealer released their roughly 26-part series,Toxic Neglect,” which provided an incredible deep dive into the City of Cleveland’s chronic lead poisoning crisis. The series is truly outstanding journalism, something that is becoming increasingly rare in Northeast Ohio these days, and enough to max out your rage meter. If lines like “[Cleveland puts] more money into baiting for mosquitoes to curb West Nile virus and to prevent rabies in raccoons than we put into lead poisoning” and “national policy for decades has been to use primarily poor, minority children as household lead detectors” don’t enrage you, you don’t have a heart.

Dissell and Zeltner’s thorough investigation shines a light upon a major issue that is too often ignored in this region – the fact that at least 2,000 Cleveland children are poisoned by lead each year – and documents the City’s completely inability (desire?) to mitigate the crisis. They attempted to put a price tag on the problem, noting that lead reduces IQ and lifetime earnings potential, increasing healthcare costs, and contributes to violent crime in a city already plagued by them.

Dissell and Zeltner do an incredible job of displaying how the environment into which Cleveland children are born and in which they are raised irrevocably affects their futures. Their investigation centers on the city’s legacy of lead paint in its aged housing stock, the chief source of lead in the region. While airborne lead used to be an urban scourge, tetraethyl lead was finally phased out of all gasoline in the US in 1996. While much of that lead remains in our contaminated soils to this day, it is no longer the main culprit.

This series is just the latest in a string of great work from Zeltner, including earlier explorations of childhood asthma and infant mortality. But whereas it makes sense to minimize the role of air pollution in the lead series, this omission makes far less sense in the other two cases. We know that it is a important driver for both. But, for some reason, people in Northeast Ohio keep turning a blind eye to a problem that, quite literally, is all around them at all times.

It was with all of this in the back of my mind that I read a recent article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that examined the impacts of vehicle emissions on the cognitive development of children. The study, written by a group of public health professionals in the Boston area, focused on how exposure to pollution from traffic during late pregnancy and early childhood affects the brains of children later in life. The authors looked at the results of cognitive analyses for 1,109 children, aged 6-11 years old, who were part of an existing health study from 1999-2002. Because they tapped into this cohort, the authors had access to data on a number of variables, including household income, mother’s IQ, exposure to lead, and whether or not the mother smoked. Accordingly, they were able to control for each of these factors when conducting their analysis.

They split their sample into three main groups: those children living less than 50 meters from a major roadway, those living between 50 and 200 meters away, and those living more than 200 meters away. These distances are significant, as coarse and fine particulate matter rarely travels more than 10 to 100 meters in the air before settling back to the surface. This allowed them to examine how children growing up in close proximity to heavy daily automobile traffic would fair later in life. The results were stark:

Among children residing primarily in urban and suburban Eastern Massachusetts, prenatal residential proximity to major roadways (< 50 m) predicted lower nonverbal intelligence, verbal intelligence, and visual motor abilities in mid-childhood.

Those children living closest to heavily trafficked roads scored, on average, 7.5 points lower on nonverbal IQ tests, 3.8 points lower on verbal IQ tests, and 5.3 points lower on visual motor skills tests. In other words, the cognitive effects of growing up alongside a major roadway is comparable to an increase from the 5th percentile of childhood blood levels to the 95th percentile. In fact, at a 6.9 point decline in IQ from lead, the effects of traffic appear to be even greater.

Interestingly, the authors were unable to find a statistically significant effect of traffic-related air pollution on childhood IQ, perhaps because the effects of pollution were so tightly entangled with socioeconomic factors.

But the evidence does not stop there. In a 2008 study using another cohort of children from Boston, Suglia and colleagues looked at the connection between early childhood exposure to black carbon, a particularly harmful component of fine particulate matter, and cognitive function when children were 8 to 11 years old. They found that children exposed to high levels of traffic-related black carbon pollution saw their IQ scores fall by 3 points, even when controlling for socioeconomic variables, exposure to tobacco smoke, and blood lead levels. The authors noted that this IQ decrement was comparable to those experienced by children born to smokers (4 points) and by children poisoned by lead (1-5 points). Additionally, a separate 2011 study found a connection between prenatal exposure to traffic pollution and an elevated risk of childhood autism.

All told, mounting evidence suggests that children exposed to high levels of traffic-related pollution before and after birth are far more likely to have lower IQs and to suffer from developmental disorders. Just because we rarely see visible pollution like that from the mid-20th century these days does not mean that the problem is behind us.

It’s incredibly important for a city like Cleveland, which is struggling to break free from repeated cycles of poverty and abandonment, to come to grips with this reality fully, for two main reasons.

First, it may force us to recognize the consequences of our individual actions. Our driving habits are responsible for the majority of fine particulates and nitrogen oxide emissions in this region. We are part of the problem. Maybe the girl growing up on East 79th or West 98th is struggling in school, at least partly, because of the toxic environment into which she born. If we finally start to talk about this, perhaps we can make changes, even if just on the margins. Was driving half a mile to the store really worth aggravating her asthma? Was idling so you could run the AC while waiting to pick up your child worth the extra pollution you exposed him to?

Secondly, acknowledging these issues will force us to rethink our regional development choices. If we want to help improve the lives of low-income Clevelanders, should we really be, say, building a $331 million urban highway that will just bring more traffic, noise, pollution, and dislocation to communities that already have a surplus of them? Is that wisest use of our limited resources? Are we honestly going to help lift people out of poverty by exacerbating some of its causes?

We can’t drive our way out of a driving problem, and we can’t sprawl our way out of a sprawl problem. I don’t know if air pollution is topic that can bring all of this to the fore. Obviously I’m biased. But it’s also a ubiquitous problem in this region, and it plays a factor in a host of our pressing problems. It’s time to make it a permanent part of the conversation.

Ohio House budget slashes additional funding for public transit

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed its version of the state’s biennial budget, HB 64. The proposed budget, which is the largest in state history (by far), appropriates $131.6 billion in total spending for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This includes $71.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, which, based on reports from The Plain Dealer, will pay it no mind and develop a budget of its own. The next two-plus months should be…interesting.

HB 64 sets aside more than $700 million less than Governor John Kasich had requested in his budget proposal, which he released in February. Yet, according to Plunderbund, the GRF spending is still 43% more than the final budget passed under Governor Ted Strickland. Moreover, HB 64 far exceeds the cap on increased GRF spending set in place by the Republican-controlled stated legislature in 2006. As Plunderbund explains, while the State Appropriation Limit law dictates the state cannot increase GRF appropriations by more than 3.5% in any given year, this budget blows that (stupid) limit out of the water. Under HB 64, GRF spending would spike by 11.3% in FY 2016 and 4.7% in FY 2017.

Last month, I noted that the Governor’s budget increased GRF spending on public transit by $1 million per year, to $8.3 million annually for FY 2016-2017 from $7.3 million in FY 2014-2015. (According to Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), the state actually spent $10,134,611 during FY 2014.) As I argued at the time,

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

Well, it looks like even this modest enthusiasm was misplaced. HB 64 does away with this additional funding, locking in GRF spending on transit at $7.3 million for the next two years. Whereas transit accounted for a pitiful 0.035% of the GRF in FY 2014, this number will decrease to just 0.02% in FY 2016 and FY 2017.

Let’s express that in per capita terms, shall we? Based on projections from state’s Development Services Agency, Ohio’s population will reach 11,549,120 this year. That should grow to roughly 11,554,270 and 11,559,420 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, the state will spend a whopping $0.63 per person on transit each year.

Clearly, Ohio does not prioritize public transit. To show how little our legislators care about this issue, I have collected a few other budget line items from the Ohio House’s budget, for comparison’s sake:

  • Ohio Grape Industries (spending to promote the state’s wineries): $970,000 per year for FY 2016-2017
  • Art acquisitions for public properties: $225,000 per year
  • Choose Life (state issued license plates to discourage abortions): $75,000 per year
  • Ohio State Racing Commission (“dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of horse racing and its related industry components”): $31,535,000 million per year
  • Ohio State Fair Harness Racing: $235,000 per year
  • Coal Research and Development Program (a program to “development and implementation of technologies that can use Ohio’s vast reserves of coal in an economical, environmentally sound manner” LOL): $234,400 per year
  • Coal Research & Development General Obligation Bond Debt Service: $5,991,400 in FY 2016, $5,038,700 in FY 2017
  • Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative (a program to “improve agricultural trade and R&D ties between Ohio and Israel”): $200,000 per year
  • State printing costs: $21,568,075 in FY 2016, $21,688,106 in FY 2017

This is just a small selection of the things that Ohio lawmakers would rather fund than public transit.

We already know, for instance, that ODOT spends more money to mow the grass alongside Ohio’s highways than it does on transit. We’ll also apparently spend nearly $1.2 million to find “a less costly and easier way to cut the grass and manage the trees and shrubs along the state’s interstates and highways.” Oh, and did I mention that the state has set aside more than $200,000 for legal fees to uphold our ban on same sex marriage? But $1 million more for transit is unthinkable.

Sadly, I can’t even say that this budget passed strictly alongside party lines. That’s because, while 5 Republican representatives jumped shipped and voted against the bill, 3 Democrats actually voted in favor of it. All three of these legislators – John Barnes, Bill Patmon, and Martin Sweeney – hail from Cleveland, where nearly one-quarter of households lack access to a car.

One day, maybe we’ll break the car-centric fever raging through the Statehouse. Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through in a state that has no problem spending $429 million on a freeway bypass for a county that’s home to 25,000 people, but cannot find another dime for the nearly 250,000 people who ride transit each day (PDF) in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.

Update: (4/24 2:20pm): To provide some additional context on just how far Ohio’s level of transit funding has fallen, I wanted to add the comparable funding data from 2000, the year in which transit funding peaked. In 2000, Ohio’s GRF reached $20.2 billion. That same year, the state spent $44.32 million from the GRF on transit. As such, transit expenditures accounted for 0.11% of total GRF spending, 10.6 and 11.12 times more than it would reach in FY 2016 and FY 2017 under the House’s budget, respectively.

I also had some questions about how I got the number of people who ride transit on a daily basis in Ohio’s three largest cities. I took the annual number of transit riders for each city in 2011 from the American Public Transit Association, summed them, and divided that number by 365. That total was 243,299.5 riders per day. Because this is averaged across the entire year, it obviously overestimates the number of riders on weekends and significantly underestimates the number of commuters on weekdays. It also fails to account for any of the other transit authorities in the state.

At this rate, Ohio will fully fund transit sometime in the 22nd century

e 79th rapid station
e 79th rapid station

The nearly decrepit East 79th rapid station, which the Greater Cleveland RTA estimates will require $16-18 million in renovations to reach ADA compliance (courtesy of Cleveland.com).

Governor John Kasich released his biennial budget proposal for 2016-2017 last week, and there’s some good news for transit users in Ohio: the budget actually proposes increasing state transit funding! In this budget, the Governor lays out plans to increase the amount of money that the Ohio Department of Transportation allocates from the state’s General Revenue Fund to $8.3 million from $7.3.

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

ODOT transit funding study

But, about that bigger picture. Last December, ODOT released the preliminary results of a study it commissioned to explore unmet transit funding needs in the state. The report, from respected consulting firm Nelson Nygard, states that the state needs to double the amount of money it spends on public transit each year to meet projected demand. Moreover, just to fulfill unmet demand in 2015, ODOT would need to increase its transit spending by $289 million ($192 million in capital spending and $97 million in operating costs). As The Plain Dealer‘s Alison Grant noted at the time,

A decade from now, Ohio would have to be spending roughly double its $900 million annual outlay on public transit, or $1.8 billion, to meet expected demand. The ODOT study recommends that the state portion of the budget rise to 10 percent instead of today’s 3 percent.

In light of these realities, I decided to put the Governor’s budgetary outlay into perspective: does it really put Ohio on the right path to meeting transit demand? Does this increase in funding seem to represent an actual change in trends, or is it a minor blip for a state that will continue to lag behind its neighbors?

Placing Governor Kasich’s proposal in context

Let’s do some back of the napkin calculations, shall we? The Nelson Nygard study estimates that Ohio will need to spend $1.842 billion on transit from all revenue sources (rate payers plus municipalities, the state, and the federal government). In 2012, Ohio spent a total of $893.1 million. ODOT contributed $27.3 million, or approximately 3%, of this total, with $7.3 million from the GRF and $20 million coming from federal Flex Funds, which states can allocate to transit or highway projects. If the state increases is portion of total transit spending to 10%, as Nelson Nygard recommends, that would require a total investment of $184.2 million from ODOT, or an increase of 674%.

Accordingly, ODOT needs to come up with an additional $157 million in the next decade. Taking into account that the Governor’s current budget proposal would lock in spending levels through 2017, that reduces that time period from 10 to 8 years. So, to get to the levels suggested by ODOT’s study, Ohio would need to increase spending by $19.5 million per year, on average. That’s considerably higher than what the Governor is recommending.

Where would the Governor’s proposal leave us, then? Well, let’s consider 3 separate proposals. First, we will assume that the state increases GRF funding for transit by an average of $1 million per year (given that the state operates on a biennial budget cycle, this would likely mean that funding increased by $2 million each budget cycle). Second, let’s project that ODOT increases total transit funding by the same year-over-year rate that the Governor is proposing in his current budget. Going from $27.3 million to $28.3 million represents a 3.66% annual increase. Third, let’s be extremely optimistic and imagine that Ohio actually proposes increasing GRF funding for transit by the same rate as we find in 2016-2017 budget. Using the numbers provided, that would give us a 12.05% annual increase in GRF spending, which, of course, is little more than a pipe dream. But anyways.

Scenario 1: Increase of $1 million per year

This estimate isn’t exactly rocket science. Ohio needs to come up with another $157 million to meet projected needs for 2025. So at an annual increase of $1 million per year, the state is currently on course to meet 2025 demand in the year 2172. Now, that number is actually a bit misleading, because it doesn’t take into account inflation. As the total amount of money that ODOT contributes to transit grows, each $1 million funding increase gets proportionally smaller. Assuming a 2% annual rate of inflation (the average rate for the US economy since 2010), state funding would fail to keep pace with inflation starting in 2057. That would dramatically extend the end date for achieving full funding beyond 2172.

Perhaps even more depressingly, if we follow this same trend line, the state would not even return to year 2000 funding levels until 2052. Of course, that number once again fails to take into account inflation; the state would have to spend $60.93 million today to equal the real value of its $44.32 million investment in 2000. Another way of looking at it – the state’s current investment of $7.3 million is only worth $5.3 million in USD 2000. So, for Scenarios 2 and 3, let’s recognize that these quick calculations are nominal, not real, values. Real values would make things that much bleaker.

Scenario 2: Increase in total transit funding by 3.66% per year

If ODOT increased its annual GRF outlay for transit spending by 3.66% each year – a value which should keep pace with inflation, on average – the state would see its transportation funding reach $184.2 million in 2099, just in time to ring in the 22nd century. In nominal values, we would finally get back to year 2000 funding levels in 2063. This estimate is later than that from Scenario 1, as GRF funding grows at an annual rate greater than 3.66% through 2035 in that scenario.

Scenario 3: Increase in GRF funding by 12.05% pear year

Lastly, we get to run this wildly optimistic scenario, which has essentially no basis in reality. If the state continue to increase the amount of money it contributed from its general fund to transit spending at a rate of 12.05% per year, it would still take until 2043 to meet 2025 needs, in nominal terms. Hell, we wouldn’t even catch up to year 2000 funding levels until 2031! And just to emphasize how unlikely this scenario is, it would mean that, by 2068, the state would commit more just to public transit than ODOT will spend in total for 2015. Not happening.

Conclusion

Ultimately, as these scenarios demonstrate, Governor Kasich’s proposed increase in public transit funding hardly amounts to a drop in the proverbial bucket. And that’s only if it gets through the legislature untouched, which is highly unlikely. Keep in mind the Ohio House is more conservative than at any time in the state’s modern history, and the Tea Party generally frowns upon public transportation. Consider, for instance, the all out war on transit launched by the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity. It’s hard to see how Ohio can get itself on the right course in this current political environment.

I give the Governor credit for at least restoring a sliver of the transit funding that he has slashed since taking office in 2011, but we need to keep things in perspective. This state has consistently failed to support its citizens who rely on public transportation, and it will take a Herculean effort to fix the problem. Providing $1 million more per year is little more to putting a band-aid on a severed artery.

Here’s the editorial on carbon emissions the PD should have written

coal plant carbon emissions

So The Plain Dealer is at it, once again, on climate change and carbon regulations. As I documented last June, when President Obama announced his plan to use his executive authority to curb power plant carbon emissions, the PD has a history of drafting inaccurate, lazy editorials on this subject. Surprise surprise, they’ve struck once more.

On Saturday, the paper posted a piece titled “The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written.” Needless to say, the editorial rehashed the same tired, easily refuted, arguments that the EPA’s proposed rule on power plant carbon emissions will kill jobs, raise electricity costs, and drive investments out of Ohio.

The PD seems to hold some impressively incongruous views on climate change. They can call for action on the issue, writing that inaction would force us to “watch some of our most beloved and vital cities be eaten away like sand castles on the beach” and decry SB 310 as “obnoxious” and “an unacceptable bill,” all while criticizing anyone who tries to actually tackle the challenge as a radical. I imagine any other person might find it difficult to stand up straight given the vertigo that holding such contrary views would surely produce.

I took the liberty of rewriting the piece for the editorial board to make it more accurate and intellectually honest. Since that link expires at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10 (the only draw back of shrturl), below you will find the original text of the piece, overlain with my changes. The original text that I’ve deleted is crossed out, and my additions are in red. Feel free to use any of these, PD editors.

The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written: editorial

The EPA’s proposed carbon rule is an overdue step to tackle climate change: editorial

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a major step this week toward battling climate change by announcing a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent nationally by 2030.

It’s an ambitious goal designed to reduce the country’s reliance on coal, boost the use of natural gas and renewable energy, improve plant efficiency and shrink consumer demand through conservation.

Climate change already poses serious risks of catastrophic ocean-level rises and other impacts both globally and domestically, ranging from of catastrophic sea level rise, to crushing heatwaves, to deadly floods. Policy actions to reduce the manmade carbon emissions causing global warming are long carbon emissions known to contribute to global warming are overdue. More than 97 percent of climate scientists and every major national academy of science agrees on this point.

Ohio needs to do more — far more — than it’s doing now to expand its energy portfolio, encourage energy conservation, support energy innovation and renewable-energy jobs and clean its air. The current legislative backsliding in Columbus on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency requirements is embarrassing and terribly shortsighted.

Nonetheless, the proposed EPA carbon rule as written is unacceptable.

It raises more unanswered questions and unpredictable scenarios than there are electrons on the grid. The lack of specifics about potential impacts on coal-reliant states such as Ohio is especially worrisome — as are the short time lines and large reductions involved. The obvious politics of the effort, driven by the White House, leaves it vulnerable to destructive political demagoguery in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible elimination by the next occupant of the White House.

At a minimum, the rule needs to be drastically revised before it’s finalized, to reduce the size of the mandate, extend the timeline and add safeguards to prevent devastating utility-bill increases in states with the greatest reliance on coal power.

Given these facts, the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations constitute an important, if ultimately inadequate, step to tackle the preeminent policy issue of our times.

The rule, as written, is highly flexible and takes into account the different energy mixes in each state. It provides significantly more leeway for states that rely heavily on coal for electricity production, like Ohio. The plan is part of President Obama’s attempt to tackle climate change before leaving office in January 2017, a commitment he made in his 2008 convention speech.

It would obviously be preferable for Congress to act on this issue by passing a national cap on carbon emissions, much like the 2009 cap and trade proposal that passed the House but floundered in the Senate. But, due largely to the rampant rise of the radical, climate change denying wing of the Republican Party, such talk is anathema on Capitol Hill.

The rule, which seeks to meet President Obama’s 2009 Copenhagen commitment to cut carbon emissions, puts the United States on the right path. Moreover, it has already begun to pay dividends at the international level, as China has committed to implement a national carbon cap by 2016. The rule may help foster the good will needed to secure a binding global agreement next fall in Paris.

The EPA says it In crafting the rule, the EPA applied a national formula to each state’s individual power profile to set target emission rates for “carbon intensity,” defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity generated by all types of fuel, be it fossil, nuclear or renewable. Each state can come up with its own plan for meeting the mandate.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis says Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030 is The proposed rule sets Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030, less than that of 31 other states. West Virginia and Kentucky, which is are even more coal-reliant than Ohio, has a target rate of 20 percent have targets of 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Steve Frenkel, Midwest director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Ohio has already begun to chip away at its reliance on coal, and that meeting the mandate is not only doable but affordable because it will create a more efficient and sustainable energy system less subject to the price volatility of coal.

“It requires investment, there’s no question,” he said, “but we think that investment will pay dividends.”

Just how much investment remains to be seen, but it most surely will be substantial. He’s right. The investment may be substantial, but it will put Ohio on a path for more sustainable growth. Ohio’s net electricity generation in 2012, according to the federal Energy Information Agency, was nearly 130 million megawatt-hours. With nearly 70 percent of Ohio’s generation attributable The state currently gets 65 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants, so a 28 percent reduction in the carbon emission rate, as foreseen in the EPA rule, would be equivalent to conserving, producing more efficiently or finding cleaner power sources for about 25 million megawatt-hours of electrical generation by 2030.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy likened any short-term national rate increase as a result of the mandate to the price of a gallon of milk per month, and said that by 2030, average rates should be down 8 percent.

That’s unlikely to be the case in Ohio. Moreover, it seems irresponsible to make such assertions when there are so many moving parts to take into consideration, and when state plans are at least two years from being finalized.

Fortunately, Ohio can cut its carbon emissions while lowering electric prices and creating jobs. From 2009-2012, Ohio reduced its electricity consumption by more than 5 million megawatt hours, even as the state created jobs, and energy efficiency lowered electric bills by 1.4%. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the proposed rules could be a boon for the state. The proposal has the potential to created 8,600 new jobs and cut the average household’s monthly electric bill by $6.80.

EPA will be soliciting more input on its draft plan over the next three months with all states required to submit complete or initial plans by June 30, 2016. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold.

Climate change is a real concern that could have serious impacts, including in the Great Lakes region, whether by producing a larger number of violent storms that overload sewers and flood basements, contributing to the formation of dead zones in Lake Erie or nurturing the growth of toxic algal blooms.

It’s about time Ohio got serious about addressing carbon emissions and repositioned the state for the future energy and energy-innovation marketplace. The question is whether the EPA rule is the best or proper way to achieve those goals. If Ohio’s economy tanks because its electricity costs are three times those of Pennsylvania, Michigan or New York, there will be major economic and, likely, health impacts.

At a minimum, the rule should be significantly altered before it is finalized to lower the targets and protect against burdensome rate hikes in coal-reliant states.

All the evidence suggests it is. While opponents in the coal industry will claim that this plan will doom the economy and drive up energy costs, we’d be wise to ignore their claims. They have been wrong before – time after time – and they will be wrong yet again. This rule is an excellent first step in the right direction, but we must do more to ensure that we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Tackling this crisis is an imperative to protect not just to ourselves, but to the generations to come.

The sin tax and the income gap in Northeast Ohio

Keep Cleveland Strong fail

The battle over Issue 7, whether or not to renew the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes, revenues from which finances upgrades to our professional sports facilities, ended up being the main event in Tuesday’s primary here in Cuyahoga County. Ultimately, Cuyahoga County residents voted 56%-44% to continue the tax for another two decades.

The arguments for and against the sin tax, at least as it is currently defined, have been laid out quite effectively and ad nauseum; I’m not here to rehash them. It was nearly impossible for anyone watching, listening to, or attending a Cavs or Indians game to avoid being hit over the head with pro-Issue 7 ads.

The Browns, Cavs, Indians, and their allies – particularly the Greater Cleveland Partnership and The Plain Dealer (which basically acted as the official media mouthpiece of the campaign) – outspent the ragtag anti-Issue 7 crowd 170-to-1; the groups spent roughly $1.2 million and $7,000, respectively. While the anti-Issue 7 campaign mounted an effective charge on social media and built a solid, if motley, coalition around the issue, the group never really stood a chance against those odds.

In a post yesterday, Cleveland Magazine reporter Erick Trickey argued that this debate perfectly encapsulated how politics works in Northeast Ohio. Lines don’t really break down according to party affiliation – this is one of the most Democratic counties in the country. Rather,

The best way to understand most Cleveland political debates isn’t party politics. It’s, do you believe in spending tax money on “public-private partnerships” that draw people and business downtown? Or do you thinks that’s corporate welfare, giveaway of money better spent on other needs? That debate has run through our politics for decades, from tax abatement in the ’80s through Gateway in 1990 through the convention center debate in 2007, to the sin tax rematch yesterday.

This got me thinking about the political economy of this issue. We already know that all sin taxes are inherently regressive; they are consumption taxes assessed equally, regardless of income, ensuring that the poor pay more than the wealthy as a share of their income. Accordingly, it’s perhaps not surprising that, while the sin tax had already passed twice in Cuyahoga County, it failed each time in Cleveland.

Given these facts, I wanted to explore the relationships between per capita income and Issue 7 results. Below, you will see the correlation between median household income from 2006-2010 (5-year average) and the percentage of voters voting yes on Issue 7 (PDF). Income data are drawn from the American Community Survey (via NEO-CANDO), and elections results are from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.*

median income & issue 7 all cities

Correlation between median household income and Issue 7 results for all 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County.

As you can see, the relationship is quite strong (the correlation coefficient is .607). As income increases, so too does the percentage of voters supporting the sin tax. But, as you can see, there are a few municipalities on the right side of the chart that may be skewing the data due to their extremely high income levels. These include Bentleyville and Hunting Valley, where the median household income is $191,250 and $250,001, respectively. For comparison, the median household income for Cuyahoga County was $59,583 for this period.

In order to account for this potential skew, I removed the five municipalities who had incomes more than 2 standard deviations greater than the mean. These were Moreland Hills, Gates Mills, Pepper Pike, Bentleyville, and Hunting Valley – your extremely tony eastern suburbs. (On a related note, Gates Mills also has the highest household carbon footprint of any municipality in the region). As you see below, when I remove these five outliers, the correlation becomes even stronger (correlation coefficient of .621).

median income & issue 7 no outliers

Correlation between median household income & sin tax results with the 5 outliers removed.

Issue 7 only failed in six municipalities; these had an average income of $47,744, more than $11,000 less than the median for the County as a whole. Five of these cities are middle class, inner-ring suburbs located just south of Cleveland; the other two are the city of Cleveland and Valley View. Shockingly, East Cleveland, easily the poorest city in the County, actually voted for the sin tax 53%-47%.

Clearly, there is a major income divide over this issue, with lower-income voters, who will bear the burden of the tax, far less likely to support it than higher-income voters. Maybe that would have made a difference if voter turnout in Cleveland wasn’t 13.85%. But it is what it is, at this point.

 

Update (5/9/2014, 9:38am): A few updates. First, per Sam Allard at the Scene, the election results were compiled Christopher Lohr, a graduate research assistant at Cleveland State’s Center for Economic Development. Credit to him. Secondly, due to discrepancies between the datasets, I had to fold the election results for Chagrin Falls and Chagrin Falls Township together.

What Kelly Blazek’s cyberbullying tells us about policymaking in Cleveland

kelly blazek twitter profile
kelly blazek twitter profile

Kelly Blazek’s now-defunct Twitter profile (courtesy of the Cleveland Scene).

**Update (7:52pm): Apparently Ms. Blazek apologized in a statement to Cleveland.com while I was offline. I hope she learns from this episode, is humbled by it, and works to make herself a better, more considerate human being. I can only imagine this will haunt her for a while. Now that this is over, hopefully we can back to focusing on issues that actually matter tomorrow.**

For those of you who (luckily) don’t know who Kelly Blazek is, let me give you a quick primer. Ms. Blazek is a “senior communications executive with nearly three decades of experience in global diversified industrials, professional services, PR agencies and economic development nonprofits” and the principal partner of Gemba Communications.

Among other things that she lists as accomplishments, she notes that she “earned her Six Sigma Green Belt” and is “a frequent speaker on creating a gamechanger resume, interviewing, maximizing LinkedIn during a job search and boosting one’s professional presence.” Whatever that means.

Anyways, in addition to being a self-described superstar communications expert, she also hosts a Yahoo Group/email listserv for approximately 7,300 people that aggregates job openings “in the marketing, PR, events, fundraising, non-profit management, media, journalism and graphics industry.” For the nominal fee of $150, she will deign to send out an email with your job posting to this listserv; it is surely a worthwhile investment.

Now, because she is a busy and important professional, Ms. Blazek has established a firm set of rules to be included on her listserv. Every email includes the following disclaimer:

kelly blazek dislaimer

From the February 10, 2014 Cleveland Job Bank email.

She has clearly built up quite a following, and she even won the 2013 “Communicator of the Year” award from the Cleveland Chapter of of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Yet, despite her public persona as a communications expert, Kelly Blazek does not always communicate in the most, shall we say, appropriate way. When a young job seeker who was moving back to Cleveland tried to connect with her on LinkedIn, she received this in reply:

blazek email

Courtesy of the email recipient, @PettieBettie

Lest you think this email was something of an aberration and does not reflect Ms. Blazek’s character, writ large, there are several other instances which, taken together, begin to present a clear pattern.

Interestingly, despite supposedly being a crisis communications consultant, Ms. Blazek has chosen to reply to this controversy with complete radio silence. She shut down her Twitter account (which, as she notes, has 2500+ followers) and closed her personal blog, opting to house it under a new name, at least for the time being.

A few other outlets have examined how this episode may affect Ms. Blazek professionally. But I would argue there are larger issues at play here. First, we should judge people based not upon how much power or prestige they have, but, rather, upon how they treat those with less power. As Immanuel Kant wrote in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

By deviating so grievously from this dictum, Ms. Blazek’s actions were not simply unprofessional; they were immoral.

But, regardless of her actions, Kelly Blazek is not the only person at fault here. We must also point the finger at the people in power throughout Northeast Ohio who have built her up to the point where she holds herself in such esteem that she believes she can – and should – behave this way.

For some reason, a large (and seemingly increasing) number of well-connected people throughout Greater Cleveland have chosen to place all of their faith in the hands of self-appointed marketing and communications professionals to resurrect the region. We continue to pay these individuals ever larger salaries and provide them with increasing amounts of taxpayer money so that we can live under the delusion that all this region needs to grow and thrive once more is to change our PR campaigns, not our policies.

This viewpoint frequently graces the pages of The Plain Dealer, where writers spill ink over the details of these new marketing campaigns, rather than focusing on more important issues. Somehow the debate over whether or not Cleveland “rocks” or is a “plum” matters more than our insanely high infant mortality rates, our 1960s-era transportation policies, or the air pollution that routinely sends poor black and brown children to the ER with asthma attacks.

Those with the most significant platforms breathlessly hype ever project or concept as the “next big thing” that will save us, regardless of how expensive, impractical, pointless, or destructive they may be.

As a result, we end up undervaluing people with real policy expertise and fresh ideas that people in much of the rest of the country would value. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a job bank like Kelly Blazek’s could exist and, it appears, even thrive in Northeast Ohio’s economic ecosystem, yet we have nothing comparable for public health, environmental issues, alternative transportation, affordable housing, etc.

We have purposefully and intentionally decided, as a region, that we would rather pay people to repackage crappy ideas than think critically and develop good ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t good, hardworking, intelligent people focusing on these issues; there are. But the fact that we don’t know their names and tend to undervalue their work is no accident.

Ultimately, we will need to come together as a region and rethink our priorities. Because when you put policymaking authority in the hands of marketing professionals, you end up with terrible public policy, regardless of the spin.

5 ways the Opportunity Corridor is like Keystone XL

keystone xl protest
keystone xl protest

12,000 people rallied around the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2011.

Angie Schmidt has a post on Rust Wire that explores how all large development projects in Cleveland, including the so-called Opportunity Corridor, are framed through a “jobs” lens. It’s a good piece that’s well worth reading, but it got me thinking about the similarities between the Opportunity Corridor and the Keystone XL pipeline.

[For those of you who are unfamiliar with road projects in the city of Cleveland, the Opportunity Corridor is a proposed three-mile boulevard that would pass through some of the poorest neighborhoods on the East Side of Cleveland. The road would more readily connect I-490, a freeway that ends abruptly at East 55th Street, to University Circle, the heart of Cleveland’s biomedical and arts industries. The Ohio Department of Transportation calculates that the project will cost $331.3 million to complete, putting the cost per mile at an astounding $110.4 million.]

In the first post I ever wrote on this site, I examined the fight over Keystone XL according to social movement theory. Many of these insights are surprisingly relevant for the Opportunity Corridor discussion as well. So let’s explore a few of these similarities.

Bipartisan support from powerful decision makers

Keystone XL has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle. Although the pipeline has become increasingly partisan in recent months, particularly as House Republicans have made it a cause célèbre in budget and debt ceiling negotiations, it has enjoyed broad support from powerful players. TransCanada’s main US lobbyist, Paul Elliot, was the national deputy director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, while a majority of Democrats (54%) still favored the project as of last September.

Similarly, the Opportunity Corridor has enjoyed support from a wide array of political leaders in Ohio. Republican Governor John Kasich is, unsurprisingly, firmly behind the project, using it as a way to garner additional support in heavily Democratic Northeastern Ohio. But several Democratic lawmakers, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive (and gubernatorial candidate) Ed FitzGerald. Possibly the project’s biggest booster has been the center-left Plain Dealer, whose editor is a co-chair of the panel backing construction.

No longer a done deal

As recently as 2011, most policymakers assumed that Keystone XL was an inevitability. More than 70% of “insiders” in an October 2011 National Journal poll said the project would get final approval before the end of that year.

But the insiders underestimated the opposition to Keystone, which coalesced in the summer of 2011. Bill McKibben, the head of 350.org, worked to build a coalition of environment, labor, and social justice organizations that has effectively stalled the project for almost three years.  The fact that President Obama has publicly dismissed many arguments that Keystone proponents have made demonstrates just how effective this organized action has been.

Likewise, a movement has begun to build in opposition to the Opportunity Corridor. Angie Schmidt has been a leader in this movement, and she formed Clevelanders for Transportation Equity last year as a focal point. While the project still seems fairly likely to go forward, it has not been without backlash. The GreenCityBlueLake Institute continues to question its utility, while residents of the “Forgotten Triangle” have begun to speak out against the impact the project will have upon them.

Social and environmental costs

Thirdly, both projects would carry clear social and environmental consequences for populations that are politically, socioeconomically, and ecologically vulnerable.

Poor, marginalized communities of color live along both ends of Keystone XL. The pipeline begins in the tar sands fields of northern Alberta, where a number of First Nations tribes have lived along the Athabasca River for generations. This area has undergo dramatic changes in the past several years. Tar sands extraction has polluted the water extensively, and cancer rates in the region are 30% higher than average. At the other end of the proposed pipeline – Port Arthur, Texas – extensive pollution from oil refining creates severe health issues for residents who are overwhelmingly low-income persons of color. Children living in this area are 56% more likely to contract leukemia.

Likewise, the Opportunity Corridor is slated to run through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland. Five of the six affected neighborhoods have poverty rates higher than Cleveland’s 31.2% rate; in two of them, roughly two-thirds of residents live in poverty. The people living in these are also overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic and suffer from health outcomes more common in least developed countries than the United States.

minority populations opportunity corridor neighborhoods

The six neighborhoods affected by the proposed Opportunity Corridor are overwhelmingly home to persons of color (courtesy of ODOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement).

In 2008-2009, the asthma rates in this area stood at 15.6% (PDF), nearly double the national average (8%). In 2009, infant mortality rates in these neighborhoods were staggering, reaching as high as 69 deaths per 1,000 live births; that number is higher than the rates for Bangladesh, Burma, Haiti, Pakistan, and Rwanda. Many of these health disparities are due, at least in part, to extremely high rates of air pollution. Even ODOT acknowledges that truck traffic will increase in these neighborhoods and will run at much higher speeds (approximately 45 mph), which may exacerbate these issues further.

Given the severe environmental health implications of these projects, it is unsurprising that the EPA has cast shade on the environmental impact statements done for both projects.

Symbols of a larger issue

Both projects are major symbols of the paradigms they represent. Keystone is part of our fossil fuel-driven economic model that is slowly destroying our climate with every ton of greenhouse gases emitted. The Opportunity Corridor, in turn, is a microcosm of Northeast Ohio’s obsession with the sprawl-based, car-centric development model. While stymieing either project would fail to topple the superstructures that they represent, it would be a symbolic victory that allows us to say we are not going to be blindly beholden to such models any more.

It’s all about jobs

Except when it isn’t. Rather than portraying these projects for what they are – a pipeline that will benefit Canadian oil companies and a large highway project that will supposedly reduce nonexistent congestion – proponents have framed them as jobs projects. And it’s certainly hard to argue with the need to invest in our infrastructure and provide employment opportunities to the hard-hit construction industry.

Keystone XL’s supporters have used industry-driven studies to claim that it would create tens of thousands of short-term construction jobs, along with thousands of permanent jobs in related industries. Opportunity Corridor backers have also claimed that it would create jobs for construction workers and help spark a manufacturing renaissance on the city’s Southeast side.

But the evidence suggests that these claims are overblown. If you really dig into the numbers, you find out that, not only are these projects unlikely to live up the hype, but fixing our existing infrastructure would actually create more jobs.

Economics for Equity and Environment and the Labor Network for Sustainability recently released a report that considered the economic impact of repairing our existing oil/gas and water pipelines, rather than building Keystone XL. It found that investing $18 billion to repair these pipelines would create more than 300,000 jobs. This amounts to five times as many jobs and 156% as many direct jobs per unit of investment as Keystone. This endeavor would both counter the fossil fuel behemoth and pay greater economic dividends; it’s a clear win-win.

In turn, it seems likely that spending the money allocated for the Opportunity Corridor to repair Cleveland’s existing roads would be far more beneficial. While no one has directly analyzed the economic impact of such a proposal, a 2009 study from the Political Economy Research Institute found that repairing existing roads creates 16% more jobs than expanding road infrastructure (PDF). Using their numbers – 17,472 jobs per $1 billion invested – would suggest that repairing Cleveland’s roads would create 6,890 jobs, compared to the 5,940 from building the Opportunity Corridor (interestingly, even proponents estimate it would only create 5,300 jobs).

Overall, the similarities between Keystone XL and the Opportunity Corridor are striking. So it makes sense that the two movements opposed to their construction are following similar, grassroots tactics. While it’s too early to say how either fight will end up, I encourage Opportunity Corridor opponents, who seem to have a steeper hill to climb, to take heart. Even if the road is eventually built, you now have an opportunity to start building a strong coalition to fight for sustainable development and transportation equity over the long haul.