GCSC Seminar: The built environment’s role in health and justice

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately harm people of color and low-income communities, it becomes increasingly clear that disease does, in fact, discriminate.

Dr. Daniel Mendoza, a visiting assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of City & Professor Daniel MendozaMetropolitan Planning; research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences; adjunct assistant professor in the Pulmonary Division at the School of Medicine; and senior scientist at the NEXUS Institute, has spent his career studying the underlying inequities that cause health outcomes to fall along sociodemographic lines. “These differences are real—they’ve been there the whole time,” Mendoza says. “They’ve just surfaced and become much more obvious now.”

In his upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center talk, “The Confluence of Air Quality, Urban Development, Health, and Social Justice,” Mendoza will share his research on an important question: how does the built environment influence human health?

Mendoza, who received his Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences, originally planned to continue studying carbon dioxide emissions and climate change mitigation in urban settings. However, shortly before completing his doctorate, he had a realization that altered the path of his career: “Here in the U.S., unfortunately, about 50% of people believe in climate change,” he says. “But 100% believe in lung cancer.”

Resolved to approach his air quality and pollution research from a human health standpoint, Mendoza pursued a post-doctoral fellowship in public health. As he studied and mapped the health impacts of fine particulate matter, he noticed that differences in the built environment, combined with the sociodemographic factors that influence population distribution, caused certain communities to be more affected by pollution than others.

“That’s when I saw that there are significant differences, and really very close associations between income, race and pollution sources,” he says.

Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to emitting sources like highways, factories, and trains, Mendoza points out, and they also tend to have reduced access to vital resources like nutritious food, public transportation and healthcare services.

“This is how I started to get into the social justice, environmental justice sides,” Mendoza says. “Because I was able to see there are geographical differences.”

In Salt Lake County, for example, low-income communities are more likely to be located in food deserts and less likely to have access to public transportation than their affluent counterparts. Mendoza explains that all the major hospitals are on the east side, and that this—combined with reduced access to public transportation—poses a real problem for low-income residents of West Salt Lake County. Even for those with insurance, healthcare can be difficult to access.

Mendoza explains that these inequities in the built environment affect every aspect of peoples’ lives, down to our most basic human needs of sleeping, breathing and eating. Nutritious eating is impeded by food deserts; breathing is disrupted by the polluting sources that border low-income communities. Mendoza goes on to explain that many of these polluting sources are accompanied by noise and inadequate or excessive lighting, which can disrupt peoples’ sleep patterns.

Inequities in the built environment pre-date the pandemic, but these problems—such as exposure to poor air quality—can result in more severe cases of COVID-19. The pandemic has only illuminated the underlying inequities that cause differential health outcomes to fall along sociodemographic lines, Mendoza says.

While the pandemic would recede more quickly if we all stayed home, Mendoza notes that not everyone has that option. Some jobs, such as stocking a grocery store and working a cash register, can’t be done remotely. “What happens here is there’s this whole set of vulnerable populations, and these are the lower income populations that are forced to work and to go and be exposed to the virus,” he says. As a result, low-income communities have experienced COVID-19 at ten times the rate of their more affluent counterparts.

He objects to the euphemism of “essential” workers. “I think we should be really honest, because the rest of us are actually benefiting from their work. We really are treating them as expendable workers.”

Mendoza acknowledges that these problems have always been there and that they’re here to stay—until we find solutions to them. He encourages the university community to take advantage of the intellectual resources available to uncover solutions.

“What we all need to do, is we need to really strive toward developing equitable societies,” Mendoza says. “Every research branch, every field of study has elements of equity. Everything can really be shaped, or at least have a component of ‘how can this make the world a better place for everyone?” Join Mendoza online October 13 at 4pm at https://utah.zoom.us/j/95107442894?pwd=b0NNNE1rUnI5WmRiMGpMVHBMSGViQT09 to learn more about the intersection between urban environments and health disparities, and how we can all play a role creating more equitable societies.

Sustainability team boosts access to air quality education

By Meghan Burrows and Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

The Sustainability Office created a suite of initiatives this past year aimed at one of our valley’s most significant problems: air pollution.

The Sustainability Education team developed several pathways to enhance interdisciplinary air quality education at the University of Utah. Those pathways include efforts to identify and designate air quality courses; create an online air quality course; and pilot an Air Quality Scholars program. The Senior Vice President’s Office provided $9,000 toward the efforts.

“Bringing an interdisciplinary lens to complex air quality issues allows students to engage with faculty in relevant and authentic problem solving,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of Sustainability Education. “This is an invaluable educational opportunity and one that helps us better understand the systemic underpinnings of disparities in health.”

Identify and designate air quality courses across campus
The Sustainability Education team identified 42 courses from 12 departments that include air quality content. These courses will be listed as electives for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability and will be used to build an air quality track for a new undergraduate sustainability certificate, which will launch in 2021.

Create an interdisciplinary online course
Collecting video and content from “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Approach on Air Quality” symposium, held in October 2019, the Sustainability Education team developed a new online course that allows students to explore and integrate a variety of approaches to air quality. Students will learn about local initiatives through the lenses of geography, policy, and health, as well as explore air quality as an environmental justice issue.

President Watkins at the Air We Breathe Symposium in October 2019

President Ruth Watkins addresses attendees at “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Approach on Air Quality” symposium in October 2019.

Pilot an Air Quality Scholars program

The Air Quality Scholars program was an innovative approach to bring together students from diverse disciplines to develop solutions for local air quality concerns. Three graduate and five undergraduate students received scholarships and participated in a year-long cohort led by instructors Emerson Andrews, manager of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, and Meghan Dovick, associate instructor for the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

“The scholars from this year-long program were able to engage with students from various disciplines, campus researchers and staff, and community air quality leaders,” Dovick said. “This engagement inspired the scholars to create and implement projects centered around improving air quality for our campus and community. This process demonstrates how collaborative efforts result in meaningful projects.”

The Air Quality Scholars program took a comprehensive approach to learning about local air quality issues and applying that knowledge to real-world projects. In addition to regular group meetings with the instructors, all scholars were required to attend “The Air We Breathe” symposium. Over the course of the year, the students then developed group projects related to research and engagement with air pollution. The projects included:

Analyzing risk perceptions

The Air Quality Data Analysis Project with Tabitha Benney, assistant professor in Political Science, investigated Utahns understanding of health risks associated with long-term and short-term air quality issues. Three students performed data analysis on 1,160 responses to the Utah Air Quality Risk and Behavioral Action Survey to determine the impacts of socioeconomic status on the perception of the health risks of air pollution. Scholars wrote a joint research paper on their analysis and findings, which they will submit to an undergraduate journal.

Engaging learners

In collaboration with the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s planned “Air” exhibition, organized by senior curator Whitney Tassie, Air Quality Scholars developed three apps that will engage the community in healthy behaviors. The first app is a survey about personal habits and air quality, and the second app is a pledge to adapt personal habits to improve air quality. The final app examines the correlation between air quality and school absences. These apps will be on hand at the exhibit and the Marriott Library.

Alerting the campus community

A new email delivery system will inform students, faculty, and staff about air quality status and how to respond. The Sustainability Office and the Global Change & Sustainability Center plan to host a webpage where people can sign up for the emails. Full implementation of the system is scheduled for fall 2020.

TRAX air quality study expands

This article, originally published in @theu, February 26, 2020, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, Science Writer, University of Utah Communications

For more than five years, University of Utah air quality sensors have hitched rides on TRAX light rail trains, scanning air pollution along the train’s Red and Green Lines. Now the study, once a passion project of U researchers, has become a state-funded long-term observatory, with an additional sensor on the Blue Line into Sandy and Draper and additional insights into the events that impact the Salt Lake Valley’s air, including summer fireworks and winter inversions.

In a new study published in Urban Science, researchers including Daniel Mendoza and Logan Mitchell report the latest from the TRAX Observation Project, including data validation studies that bolster the data’s value for other researchers and three case studies from recent events showcasing the abilities of the mobile air quality sensors.

What’s new: Blue Line and data validation

UTA’s TRAX system consists of three light rail lines: red, green and blue. Up until November 2019, U sensors measuring ozone and particulate matter were installed only on the Red and Green Line trains, because both lines used the same train cars. These two lines travel through downtown Salt Lake City, the central I-15 corridor and the valley’s west side. With an additional sensor on the Blue Line, however, air quality measurements now extend into the Salt Lake Valley’s southeastern quadrant.

“That’s a really important area of the valley,” Mitchell says. “There’s a lot of people down there.” The Blue Line also goes up and down in elevation, just as the Red Line does as it ascends from downtown Salt Lake City to the U campus. “Since elevation is such a key part of the air quality and understanding the depth of the inversion on different days, under different conditions,” he says, “it’s going to be a really important piece of the dataset for us.”

Extending into the south valley also allows researchers to learn more about how air masses move back and forth between Salt Lake and Utah counties, through the narrow Point of the Mountain passage.

“That’s actually really critical because we sometimes have very different meteorological phenomenon going on between the two valleys,” Mendoza says. “We can now examine in our basin an exchange of air masses.”

The other major development in the TRAX Observation Project is the validation of the data coming from the mobile sensors. This is an important step in a pioneering project such as this, and serves along with quality assurance and quality control protocols as a certificate on the archived data now being made available to other researchers. It also assuages any concerns that the air turbulence caused by the moving train might skew the readings.

The experiment involved a stationary particulate matter sensor placed about 10 feet (3 m) from the rail line that would take readings whenever the TRAX trains were within 500 feet (150 m) of the sensors. Comparing the mobile and stationary readings, Mendoza says, showed 96% accuracy. “That really gives us a great deal of confidence that our TRAX sensors are actually performing really well compared to regulatory sensors and can be used for health studies, policy and so on,” Mendoza says.

Watching the fireworks

With five years of continued observations, the TRAX Observation Project has captured many air quality events. Mendoza, Mitchell and their colleagues document three particular events in their paper: an elevated ozone event from August 2019, a cold air pool inversion event in November 2019 and the fireworks on July 4, 2019.

The fireworks event was unique—it wasn’t a phenomenon caused by an atmospheric event or by the geography of the Salt Lake Valley. It was an incidence of multiple point sources of particulate matter air pollution, allowing observation of how those plumes of particulate matter moved through the valley.

Following generally good air quality, hotspots of elevated pollution started appearing in the TRAX data between 10-11 p.m. on Independence Day. By midnight, the majority of the valley was experiencing moderate to unhealthy air quality.

Mendoza says that the train data shows not only the dispersion of the smoke—something you don’t see in wintertime inversions, which have low atmospheric energy—but also the evening winds coming down Emigration Canyon on the valley’s east side, which washes out some of the air pollution.

“These are examples of the kinds of things that we’re seeing that you couldn’t see with stationary monitors,” Mitchell adds. “It’s helping us understand where the gradients are in the valley, how they evolve through pollution events such as during the Fourth of July or an inversion or an ozone event. You can see the air masses moving around. You can see where the pollution is and how it moves from different parts of the valley.”

Next steps

Next, Mitchell says, the team hopes to add sensors that measure oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide, both important components of atmospheric chemistry. They’d also like to expand the study to light rail trains in cities such as Portland or Denver.

“It would be really interesting for us to be able to compare the spatial patterns we’re seeing here with another city that has different topography around it and a different mix of emission sources,” Mitchell says, “so that we can understand how cities, in general, are being affected by these things and how that’s similar or different from what’s going on in Salt Lake City.”

Find the full study here.

Media Contacts

Logan Mitchell | research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Daniel Mendoza | research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences; pulmonary fellow, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, School of Medicine
Office: 801-585-6861 | Mobile: 801-505-8253 | 

Paul Gabrielsen | research/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Office: 801-585-6861 | Mobile: 801-505-8253 | 

Clear the Air Challenge update

This article, originally published in @theu, February 19, 2020, was written by Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

We all benefit when the air is clean. That’s the idea behind the statewide Clear the Air Challenge. Every February the University of Utah launches a team as part of a month-long effort to get people out of single-occupant vehicles, which are significant contributors to our air pollution problems.

The U team has hundreds of people logging their sustainable commutes on the TravelWise Tracker. (Psst … It’s not too late to sign up for the U team and log your trips back to Feb. 1.) As of writing this article, the University of Utah team is in first place, though Fidelity Investments, a perennially strong team and defending champs, is right on our heels.

When I look through all the trips we’ve logged this month, I see a few patterns:

Everything is better together

The Clear the Air Challenge winner is judged on CO2 savings, and right now traveling together is getting it done for the University of Utah team. As of Feb. 19, more than three-quarters of the CO2 saved by the U team came from choosing public transit or carpooling over driving alone. Members of the university community can all ride UTA FrontRunner, TRAX and buses by tapping on and off with their UCards. For those that struggle to access public transit, carpooling is a fantastic option. Research Park Connect has done a great job helping its team find carpool and vanpool options.

Health commuters are making a difference

The University of Utah might be in first place, but we wouldn’t be without the efforts of University of Utah Health. The U of U Health commuter team is in third place overall in the challenge. The team is literally breathing new life into the university’s efforts—90% of people signed up for the team are participating in their first Clear the Air Challenge, based on the dates their profiles were created.

It is OK to try new things

We get into habits, we create routines. Often, those are hard to break. Andy Lambert, a graduate student in atmospheric sciences, realized he was on autopilot when it came to his commute, and he made a choice to try out public transit for the first time. He was surprised to find the experience more enjoyable than he expected.

“Normally, my morning routine includes roughly 30 minutes of news and social media time before I can actually leave the house. But with public transit, that 30 minutes can just be moved to time on the bus. How’s that for convenience and efficiency?” Lambert said.

If you are a regular user of sustainable transportation, talk to your friends about it. If you get your pals on public transit, don’t forget to post a photo on Instagram with #CommuteCompanion and tag @SustainableUofU to be entered to win a free gift sponsored by Cotopaxi.

Together, we can make a difference.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your sustainable commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah. Log trips retroactively back to Feb. 1.

UTA on Demand by Via

This article, originally published in @theu, February 11, 2020, was written by Claudia TrochezCommuter Services

Thanks to UTA’s Ed-Pass, students, faculty and staff can ride the bus, TRAX and FrontRunner for no additional fee, making public transit the obvious choice for commuting to campus. Depending on where you live exactly, UTA service can either be an invaluable resource or a not-so-convenient option that doesn’t work well with your schedule.

For residents in southern Salt Lake County where UTA service is less abundant, accessing public transit is more challenging. To help bridge the gap, UTA launched its microtransit pilot program, UTA on Demand by Viawhich intends to enhance connectivity to TRAX and FrontRunner lines for commuters in the southern part of the valley by providing on demand rides to and from TRAX stations.

What is UTA on Demand by Via? 

UTA’s microtransit pilot program serves about 65 square miles in southern Salt Lake County, serving the cities of Bluffdale, Draper, Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan. The service area includes seven TRAX and FrontRunner stations with designated pickup and drop off locations, making connections to campus more accessible than ever.

Via’s technology matches multiple riders headed in a similar direction into a single van, with quick and efficient routing, avoiding lengthy detours. After requesting a ride, the app will display the pickup location where the vehicle will meet you. Via is a corner-to-corner service, meaning riders will be picked up and dropped off close to their destination.

How does it work? 

Riders may hail a van by using the Via app, available on the App Store and Google Play. The microtransit service operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is available to students, faculty and staff at no additional fee. University affiliates with a valid uNID should use their Ed-Pass, in lieu of paying fare, by hitting the ‘UTA Pass/Ticket/Transfer’ when signing up.

ADA riders may request an accessible van by selecting ‘wheelchair accessibility’ in their profile.

For example, if you live in Draper and work on campus, you can get a lift to the Draper Town Center or Kimball Lane TRAX stations by requesting a UTA on Demand ride through the Via app. At the end of the day, you can be picked up at the TRAX station and return to where you started near your home, the grocery store or anywhere within the service area (see map below) for no charge. The service will also be useful for patients traveling to and from the South Jordan Health Center.

Why should I ride UTA? 

A perk of the U community, all current students, faculty and staff members may ride UTA services, including the microtransit program, without paying fare. Choosing UTA over driving allows you to save money on car-related expenses including gas, maintenance and parking permits.

In addition to saving some green, you can also be green by choosing UTA over driving. Salt Lake City’s poor air quality is undeniable during inversion season. According to a recent study, “at least 85% of harmful emissions come from fossil fuel,” meaning the CO2 produced by cars is the lead contributor to the air quality problem Utahans face. Riding UTA will continually help reduce emissions and help keep our air clean.

Driving to the university campus from southern Salt Lake County may take anywhere from 30 to 80 minutes or more, depending on traffic and weather. While riding UTA will not likely decrease your commute time, it will certainly ease its difficulties and be safer, too. You’ll be able to start your workday sooner, catch up on emails, read or watch Netflix, instead of sitting behind the wheel in traffic or on icy, dangerous roads.

Share your thoughts

UTA on Demand by Via is a pilot program and UTA wants to hear from you. Take this survey to share your thoughts and help UTA study effective ‘first-and-last mile’ connections to our bus and rail services.

For more information on UTA on Demand by Via and all other services, visit call 801-RIDE-UTA.

The Wheels of Winter

By Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager, Sustainability Office

It’s snow season and freezing temperatures are the norm but that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your bike.

Salt Lake City’s high elevation helps the snow on our roadways melt quickly, leaving the surface dry and largely ice-free for your winter bike commute. Thirteen percent of our commuters ride a bike to campus every day, and you can be a part of our bike commuter tribe too. For a comfortable riding experience, just remember these things – wear the right clothing, fuel your body and be prepared in case of an emergency.  Read the following (with cheap hacks!) to keep those wheels rollin’ through the long winter days…

LAYER UP: If you are warm when you start your ride, you’ve got too much on.  Put on a wool base layer and mix and match the thin layers with thick ones, making sure your final layer is a windproof jacket to keep you warm and dry. Pay extra attention to your hands and feet as they lose heat faster than other areas of your body.

  • Cheap Hack: Wear a pair of latex gloves under a thicker pair to keep your hands dry, or take an old pair of wool socks (cut out a hole for your thumb) and put them over your gloves for more insulation. Shower caps work great over socks before you slip your shoes on, or they can go over a helmet to keep your head dry and cozy. I’ve stuffed newspaper in my shirt to block the wind when caught in cold temps – worked great for my commute (and I recycled).

FUEL UP: No matter how cold it gets, your body needs water and food so you don’t bonk. While riding, your body is working double-time; you are burning extra calories needed to keep your core warm and pedal longer.

  • Cheap Hack: Pack snacks that don’t freeze like trail mix or nuts (I find it’s rarely that cold so I keep a few energy bars in my seat bag). Keep your water bottle upside down in your pocket or cage – water freezes from the top down so the valve will freeze last and you can still take a swig in freezing temps. If you wear a hydration pack like a CamelBak, run the drink tube through your jacket and tuck the valve in your scarf or collar.

SAFETY: In winter weather we can have more crashes due to slick conditions, so be prepared. Always stay alert, especially while crossing intersections where a majority of crashes with vehicles occur.

  • Hack: Put your phone in a pocket next to your body with a handwarmer – this will keep the battery from draining in case you need it for an emergency call. Make yourself a pet tag for a cheap on-bike ID just in case you crash and are unable to provide contact info and medical data. Buy some reflective tape (if you don’t have reflective clothing) and stick it to your helmet and bike frame seat stays so cars can see you from dawn to dusk.

Ride safely and thank you for bike commuting, being healthy and CLEARING OUR AIR!

Winter Bike Day

February 13, 4 – 6 p.m.

Mark your calendar for Winter Bike to Work Day! Cyclists are invited to stop by our two pop-up locations on Guardsman Way and Legacy Bridge for hot drinks and fun giveaways on the commute home.

Are you up for the challenge?

The inversions that occur annually in many of Utah’s valleys are a natural outcome of our topography. However, the pollutants emitted into the air aren’t natural. In fact, they are dictated by our decisions and actions.

No one wants bad air, but unfortunately our lifestyles and transportation choices add particulate matter to the inversion, resulting in poor air quality and contributing to worsening health. Let’s do something about it.

Throughout February, the University of Utah will compete in the statewide Clear the Air Challenge, which pushes for a reduction in single-occupant vehicles to reduce automobile emissions. If you’re wondering whether driving less can make a difference, the answer is absolutely, especially if we all make a commitment. Roughly half of the particulate matter that dirties our winter air comes from mobile sources like our personal vehicles.

Together, we can help clear the air. Here’s how:

  1. Sign up now for the University of Utah team, which is always among the top teams in the competition.
  2. Log all your trips from riding transit, biking, walking, scooting or carpooling into the challenge tracker to see your saved emissions, dollars and even calories.
  3. Win some cool prizes. Those who participate will be eligible for prizes provided by Commuter Services.

Technology is here to help

Two apps can help you be an all-star in the Clear the Air Challenge:

  • If you are trying out public transportation for the first time, download Transit to help with trip planning. This app can help plan trips on FrontRunner, TRAX and buses in the UTA system, and even sends you alerts if something changes. It also connects with other transportation modes, including GREENbike and popular rideshare services. Plus, it can be used in more than 200 cities worldwide.
  • To automate your trip logging in the challenge, we also recommend downloading Commute Tracker. The app will use your mobile phone to determine your transportation mode choices and log it in the challenge. Learn how to connect the app to your challenge profile here.

Find a commute companion

A picture is worth a thousand words. As part of the Clear the Air Challenge, the Sustainability Office and Commuter Services are sponsoring an Instagram Challenge. Taking public transit for the first time can be intimidating. If you are a regular transit user and have a friend who hasn’t made the leap, help them plan out their new commute and ride along. Post photos with your new commute companion (you know, your bus buddy, your carpool comrade, your train mate) to be entered to win prizes. Use #CommuteCompanion and tag @SustainableUofU in Instagram to be eligible to win. Winners will be selected each week in February.

Love your bike commute

Bicycling is an emissions-free way to commute (OK, except for exhaled CO2), plus it provides great exercise. On Thursday, Feb. 13, look for tents on your ride home with special biker giveaways. Not sure about your route? If your commute starts on the west side of campus, check out the new University to Downtown Bikeway, a mix of painted bike lanes, downhill shared lanes (also called sharrows) and special markings for crossing intersections. If your commute begins east, north, or south of campus, the Salt Lake City/County Bikeways Map is an excellent guide. Got a flat? Visit the Campus Bike Shop for all your repair needs.

Don’t forget your university services

The University of Utah has many tools to help you get out of your personal vehicle. Your UCard is your pass to ride public transit—make sure to tap on and off. Tapping off helps UTA determine how frequently buses need to run. Already on campus and trying to get around? Commuter Services’ shuttles can get you there. Go to uofubus.com for the live shuttle tracker. On nice days use the U Campus Map to find walking directions.

Is your New Year’s Resolution to get more exercise?

Do you want to improve your health by getting more exercise in the new year? Is it difficult to find the time to exercise during your busy day? Activate your commute and you’ll do both!

Make walking or biking a part of your commute to the U and your physical health will improve – and help clear our air. As you experience the benefits of walking or biking, also known as active transportation, you are contributing to a healthier community – both physically, socially and economically. Continue reading for more ideas on activating your commute… NEED LINK With active transportation a part of your lifestyle you save money on fuel, spend less time in traffic congestion and integrate physical activity into your daily commute. You also help reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to Utah’s poor air quality while reducing traffic congestion and demand for vehicle parking on campus.

University survey data indicates a majority of us live eight miles or less from our campus destination. Riding a bike is a great way to commute over short distances and keep you active during the day. Bicycling to campus means you have a free parking space, right next to your campus destination. Take your bike to the Campus Bike Shop for repairs, and make sure you ride on February 14th – it’s Winter Bike to Work Day and we want to celebrate with you!
 
If you are a commuter that drives alone in your car, rethink your trip and try public transit. Notice how you benefit from taking the bus or train– this is your personal time to read, listen to music, socialize or just zone out during your daily commute. If you live in Salt Lake City, you can also rent a shared scooter to access the campus. Just like a bicycle, shared scooters must be parked adjacent to an outdoor bicycle rack. When operating a shared scooter, you are responsible for following the University operating guidelines for devices on campus sidewalks.
 
Safety is key with active transportation. Plan your walking or biking route with the campus map and observe where all sidewalks, bikeways and crosswalks are located. Be aware of your surroundings, wear clothing that is easily visible to motorists, slow your speed on campus pathways and always give pedestrians the right of way.
 
So get outside and walk to the bus or train, hop on your bike, push a scooter or skateboard, or if you drive alone in your car, park farther from your destination and take a brisk walk. These are all great ways to improve your physical health and help clear our air, every single day of the year.

The role of youth in renewable energy

This article, originally published in @theu, December 5, 2019, was written by Onsoo Kim, assistant director of PR & marketing, University of Utah Asia Campus.

On Oct. 21-25, 2019, urban ecology students at the University of Utah Asia Campus (UAC) presented to international leaders at the Global Green Growth Institute’s flagship conference. The aim of the conference “Unlocking Renewable Energy Potential” was to discuss key innovations and to accelerate and scale-up the transition toward renewables.

The students presented their analysis of the renewable energy of Songdo International City in South Korea where the U Asia Campus is located. Department of City & Metropolitan Planning professor Reazul Ahsan guided UAC students as they produced infographics showing the analysis of the geographical strengths of Songdo. The students included the city’s water and sewage management, utilization of renewable energy and smart city elements in their analysis.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, Global Green Growth Institute director-general, and the UAC student take a photo at Global Green Growth Week 2019 on Oct. 24, 2019.

 

Hyo-Jung Go, an urban ecology major at UAC, gave a presentation about the role of the youth to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in front of more than 100 environmental experts.

“We have a noble obligation to pass down the clean natural environment such as clean air, water and earth to the next generation,” said Hyo-Jung. “My goal is to highlight the interest and important role of the development of green energy.”

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, GGGI’s director-general, asked UAC students for their constant challenges and efforts to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

“This conference provided our UAC students the opportunity to learn about a new field of research about renewable energy,” said Ahsan. “They were also able to expand their network with global environmental experts.”

Does public transit reduce pollution?

This article, originally published September 6, 2019 in @theu, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications.

Public transit has long been an answer for people looking to leave their car at home and reduce their air pollution emissions. But now, with better rider tracking tools, the University of Utah and the Utah Transit Authority can better answer the question: How much does public transit reduce pollution emissions?

In a paper published in Environmental Research Communications, University of Utah researchers Daniel Mendoza, Martin Buchert and John Lin used tap-on tap-off rider data to quantify the emissions saved by buses and commuter rail lines, and also project how much additional emissions could be saved by upgrading the bus and rail fleet. The study was conducted in cooperation with the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality.

High-resolution rider data

Mendoza and his colleagues are certainly not the first to ask how much pollution public transit can save. But a couple of recent technological advances have enabled them to answer the question with a level of detail previously unparalleled.

The first is the advance of tap-on tap-off farecards that provide anonymized data on where those riders who have electronic passes enter and exit public transit. Approximately half of UTA’s passengers use an electronic fare medium. “Now we can truly quantify trips in both time and space,” Mendoza says. “We accounted for all of the 2016 passenger miles by scaling the farecard data, and we know which trips farecard holders make on buses, light rail and commuter rail.”

The second is the General Transit Feed Specification system. It’s the data source that supplies Google Maps with transit information to help users find the bus or train they need. With that data source, the researchers could track where and how often UTA’s buses and trains run.

So, with high-resolution data on the movement of both vehicles and passengers, the researchers could paint a nearly comprehensive picture of public transit along the Wasatch Front.

Balancing emissions

So, with that data, the researchers could quantify the emissions produced and miles traveled of the transit systems (TRAX light rail uses electricity produced outside the Wasatch Front, hence the emissions aren’t in Salt Lake’s air) and balance that with the miles traveled by passengers and the estimated amount of car travel avoided by riding transit.

On weekdays during rush hours, and in densely populated areas, the balance was clearly on the side of reduced emissions. “That tapers off significantly during the evening hours, on the outskirts of the city, and definitely during the weekends,” Mendoza says. In those situations, the number of passengers and how far they rode transit did not offset certain criteria pollutant emissions. (Criteria pollutants are six common air pollutants that the EPA sets standards for through the Clean Air Act.)

For transit to improve its regional reduction in emissions, particularly PM2.5 and NOx, the following strategies, alone or in combination, could be employed: more daily riders per trip, more clean-fuel buses and train cars and/or fewer low-ridership trips.

What-ifs

The current study looks at the bus and train fleet as they are now, with some UTA buses around 20 years old and FrontRunner trains whose engines are rated a Tier 0+ on a 0-4 scale of how clean a locomotive’s emissions are (Tier 4 is the cleanest; UTA is scheduled to receive funds programmed through the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to upgrade FrontRunner locomotives to Tier 2+). So, Mendoza and his colleagues envisioned the future.

“What if we upgrade all these buses, some of them from 1996 or so?” Mendoza says. “They emit a significantly larger amount than the newer buses, which are 2013 and newer.”

What if, they asked, UTA upgraded their buses to only 2010 models and newer, fueled by either natural gas or clean diesel? And what if the FrontRunner engines were upgraded to Tier 3?

Emissions of some pollutants would drop by 50%, and some by up to 75%, they found.

“Now, with this information, UTA can go to stakeholders and funding agencies and say, ‘Look, we’ve done this analysis,” Mendoza says. “This is how much less we can pollute.’”

Mendoza adds that taking transit offers additional benefits besides reducing air pollution. Taking transit gives riders time to read, work or listen while traveling. How does Mendoza know? He’s a dedicated transit rider. “I always get to where I need to go pretty much on time and completely unstressed,” he says. “I almost never drive.”

Find the full study here.