Subways and Urban Air Pollution

January 04, 2022


"We investigate the effect of subway system openings on urban air pollution. On average, particulate concentrations are unchanged by subway openings. For cities with higher initial pollution levels, subway openings reduce particulates by 4 percent in the area surrounding a city center. The effect decays with distance to city center and persists over the longest time horizon that we can measure with our data, about four years. For highly polluted cities, we estimate that a new subway system provides an external mortality benefit of about $1 billion per year. For less polluted cities, the effect is indistinguishable from zero. Back of the envelope cost estimates suggest that reduced mortality due to lower air pollution offsets a substantial share of the construction costs of subways."