Efforts to curb emissions idle in the Clean Air Corridor

The introduction of the Clean Air Corridor, a designated pollution-free zone at Portland State between Lincoln Hall and Cramer Hall, Cramer Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union, SMSU and Neuberger Hall, and Neuberger Hall and Shattuck Hall, carved out a place for students free from smoke, emissions and other pollutants.

When the corridor was first proposed in response to documented complaints about air quality, many agreed that a place protected from air pollutants and secondhand smoke was a good idea. However, some have been vocal in raising concerns over where smokers would be allowed to go and how the policies would be enforced.

A year after the corridor was unveiled on January 1, 2013, the university rolled out a plan to expand the policies of the corridor and make the PSU campus and the Park Blocks smoke-free by fall quarter of 2015.

“Prohibiting smoking out-right certainly benefits people with sensibilities to smoke, but the university should take into account concerns from all students, both smokers and nonsmokers, when implementing its tobacco policies. Designated smoking areas are a no-brainer: they redirect smokers to more considerate locations, promote proper disposal of cigarette butts in ashtrays, and can improve public safety in several ways,” said PSU student Romain Bonilla, a member of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.

“For instance, a designated smoking area makes it possible for nighttime smokers to stay in a well-lit space,” Bonilla continued. “Without designated smoking areas, smokers who live on campus must either break the rules or walk off campus at their own risk.”

While it is a primary target, eliminating smoking isn’t the sole aim of the corridor. According to the Clean Air Corridor website, “the Corridor is really about reducing all types of air pollution.”

This leads to new concerns that have arisen over the use of large delivery trucks from companies like Aramark, which provide food services to PSU, as well as vehicles involved with the Portland Farmers Market in the Clean Air Corridor.

“The Clean Air Corridor is unsuccessful at meeting its very goal, which is to improve PSU’s air quality,” Bonilla said. “The policy declares the corridor is smoke and exhaust-free and yet does not provide viable alternatives for smokers or delivery trucks, which is unreasonable.

“The Clean Air Corridor bans polluting vehicles, but doesn’t account for the lack of an alternative for delivery trucks or patrols. I think it’s absurd that administrators implemented this policy without considering its side effects.”

The Clean Air Corridor policy states that idling vehicles, gas powered leaf blowers, pressure washers and small utility vehicles are not allowed in the corridor. Aramark and other companies are allowed to drive into and park in the designated emissions-free zones, but they must turn off their engines immediately, and no idling is permitted.

According to Ted McClain, food service director at PSU, “[PSU receives] deliveries from Aramark once a week, Sysco twice a week and Coca-Cola once a week. They each sit in the corridor for varied amounts of time depending on what they are delivering that week.”

While being a central aspect of the corridor’s mission statement, Gwyn Ashcom, a health educator at Student Health and Counseling and Student Affairs, said that the effect of emissions isn’t a major health concern.

“While exhaust from idling cars is definitely a form of air pollution, it does tend to disperse much more quickly than, say, cigarette smoke,” said Ashcom, who helped guide the establishment of policies put into place when the corridor first began. “It’s much more diluted in the air so we breathe a lot less of it in, unless you happen to be standing right next to the source.”

A January 2010 report by the Health Effects Institute states that “motor vehicles are a significant source of urban air pollution and are increasingly important contributors of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

The report links exposure to vehicle emissions with cardiovascular and respiratory issues.

Chief Phillip Zerzan of the Campus Public Safety Office reports that they have received no official complaints on the issue.

“If we do see someone smoking or with an idling vehicle in the corridor we simply ask them to stop,” Zerzan said. “Our focus with the corridor is for it to be an educational and cooperative experience. It is not designed to be enforcement heavy and we have had good compliance with the rules and regulations of the corridor so far. If someone is caught violating a rule more than once or twice they will be referred to the student conduct office.”

Alex Accetta, director of the Academic and Student Rec Center and co-chair on the Healthy Campus Initiative, said that concerns surrounding vehicle emissions are understandable.

“I think what a lot of people don’t realize though is that many of these types of large food delivery trucks contain refrigerating units that must stay on even while the truck is parked. The engine may be turned off but the noise that refrigerating unit makes can sound as though the truck is idling.”

“It’s super cool that people are concerned; I think that’s really positive,” Accetta said. “That’s what we want to do with the Clean Air Corridor. It was implemented to start conversation and change culture.”