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 | 

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.

Converting my commute

This article, originally published in @theu, February 11, 2020, was written by Andy Lambert, MA Student, Atmospheric Sciences

As a graduate student in Atmospheric Sciences, many of my discussions and much of my research fall under the umbrella of air quality and climate. Conversations with colleagues and others inevitably turn to the topic of driving improvement within these realms, whether that’s collectively or individually. And yet, after almost six years as a student at the University of Utah, I had not commuted from my home in Bountiful by any other means than a personal vehicle.

Of course, through my education, I’ve come to understand quite deeply the sources of pollution and its hazardous health effects. But there were a number of things preventing me from actually commuting in a cleaner way: My trip from home to campus was already quite long and frustrating, and public transportation seemed like it might make both of those things worse. There didn’t seem to be any reliable options for public transit from where I live in Bountiful. Finally, could I really count on public transit when getting to or coming from work/school was time-sensitive?

Three weeks ago, through a combination of personal climate guilt, impactful discussion with colleagues in a climate change communication course, and invitations from a number of peers, I decided to finally test out the public transit system on my commute.

It was scary. I mapped out my trip on several web applications the night prior for fear of not being prepared or getting lost and eventually decided to just go with Google Maps. Then I grew even more indecisive when it came to picking the best route. “Do I walk 7 minutes this way and take the 470?” “No, maybe I should walk 9 minutes the other way and take the 455.” “Oh wait, but then I would have two bus changes to make for that route.” All of it was a little overwhelming for someone who had never done this before. Eventually, I just picked the one that took the shortest amount of time. Turns out, it was a good choice.

The morning arrived and it came time to head out. It felt weird leaving the house with my backpack and walking through a neighborhood to go to work instead of getting in my car. But it went quickly, and the bus was right on time. I got on, sat down, opened up the New York Times on my phone, and read the news. Then it hit me. “This is actually pretty nice!” 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? To make things even better, the whole trip only took 45 minutes. I’m cheap and normally park far away from my building because it’s free, so the trip using public transit was actually faster than my normal commute!

Now, the trip home took a bit longer because of heavy traffic, but it still wasn’t bad. Besides, I was able to enjoy some social media and gaming time on my phone on the way. Since then, using public transportation for my commute has not become a daily habit, but it does remain a surprisingly convenient and efficient way to travel that I will continue to utilize. For anyone who has the same concerns and roadblocks I did regarding commuting via public transportation, I say give it a try. Like me, you may be surprised by how silly those concerns actually were! And now, as I continue my research and conversations with others in the realm of air quality and climate, I do feel a little bit better about myself and a great deal more motivated to find other ways to contribute to solutions toward these important local and global issues.

Throughout February, consider a car free commute. Take action on air quality by tracking your 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.

Slow Your Commute

How shifting your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air)

By Kate Whitbeck, Communications, Sustainability Office

We have all heard of slow food and fast fashion, and how we want to seek out the first and avoid the second. What about slow transportation? It’s a concept that suggests getting to your destination as quickly as possible shouldn’t be your primary goal. Your commute can serve many different purposes. Slowing your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air).

Before I started working at the university, I was a slave to my vehicle, racing off each morning to drop my kids at school then driving 25 minutes to my office—which was in a public transit desert—and then racing back to pick up my kids, fitting in a few errands and driving home. I arrived home stressed from dealing with traffic, frustrated that I hadn’t fit in any exercise and anxious that I hadn’t had time to finish my work at the office.

When I started working at the university I had the great fortune to became a regular public transit user. There were a number of factors that made it work: 1) I live within a few miles of the campus; 2) There are at least three bus routes that travel to the U within about 4-5 blocks of my house; and 3) All my children could get to school using the same bus route. It didn’t hurt that my university ID also covered my fare.

Admittedly, for me it does take longer to get from place to place using public transportation. At first, I struggled thinking that this was wasted time that I could spend doing other things until I realized that my commute brought me home at the end of the day without the frustrations of dealing with traffic and had allowed me to fit in my 10,000 steps, connect with my children in a relaxed way and saved me money. This is when I shifted my attitude around my commute and embraced slow transportation.

Slow transportation is about rejecting speed as the objective and reimagining our transition from one place to another as an opportunity to check off other boxes.  Your morning commute (in something other than a single-occupant vehicle) can serve as the following:

Exercise Time: Depending on what your commute looks like it can take the place of a trip to the gym.  The bus route that runs to the U most frequently is further from my house. It also drops me further from my office. This could be viewed either as an impediment or as an opportunity to get in more steps.  Biking or walking to work serve that same purpose.

Work Time: Taking the train and the bus can allow you to put in extra work time. An uninterrupted hour at the beginning and end of the day can allow you to use your time in the office more effectively.

Relaxation Time: Taking TRAX, FrontRunner or the bus allows you to listen to your favorite podcast, catch up on the news, or scroll through social media. If you own a good set of noise-canceling headphones you can turn your transit commute into a meditation session. Doing absolutely nothing but staring out the window and letting your mind wander can also feel incredibly liberating. You arrive feeling refreshed and ready to get to work.

Connection Time: In my case, my commute allows me another 15 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted time with my children. I am not fighting traffic, thinking about where to park, or battling unsafe road conditions. I get that not everyone’s lives allow for this intersection, but it can allow for connection of a different sort.

Slowing down your commute, especially by walking or biking, allows you to connect to your city and its inhabitants in a new way. When you walk the last few blocks to your destination you notice things that you wouldn’t see when whizzing by in a car. You notice the new businesses that have opened, those that have shut down. You notice that the neighbor two blocks away painted their house blue. You begin to recognize other slow commuters. You interact with strangers giving directions or chatting at the bus stop. These interactions help us feel grounded and connected to our community.

Sometimes I think we weren’t meant to move so quickly from one place to the next. When we are dependent on our own two feet to get places, we are far from the fastest species on the planet. For the majority of the millennia our species has inhabited this planet it took time to get from one place to another, enough time to mentally transition so that when we arrived at our destination we were present in a different way. Maybe we haven’t yet evolved to travel so quickly from one place to another.  Maybe we all need to try a little slow transportation.

 

Throughout February, consider slowing your commute. Take action on air quality by tracking your 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.

Mark your calendar for Winter Bike to Work Day – February 13th, 4-6 pm. Cyclists are invited to stop by our two pop-up locations on Guardsman Way and the Legacy Bridge for hot drinks and free resources on their commute home.

Taking action to improve air quality

This article, originally published in @theu, January 7, 2020, was written by Nick Thiriot, communications director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has released a breakthrough report designed to inform Utah’s efforts to improve air quality and address a changing climate. The report, called “The Utah Roadmap,” was requested by the Utah Legislature and includes seven priority strategies to reduce air emissions in Utah. If followed, these strategies will protect Utahns’ health, encourage economic development (particularly in Utah’s growing tech sector), advance Utah’s Olympic bid and support Utah energy economies in transition.

“Utahns feel a sense of urgency to improve air quality,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “The strategies in this report build from the Utah Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution 7 in the 2018 General Legislative Session to recognize the dual benefit to Utah’s air shed and the climate as we reduce air emissions in Utah, all in a way that protects our health and strengthens our economy.”

“The Utah Roadmap” includes the findings of a six-month expert assessment involving input from representatives of Utah’s research universities; federal, state and local government; industry; health care; and the nonprofit sector.

Some major findings

  • Success stories: Utah is making significant progress in curtailing emissions. Of particular note is the conversion to Tier 3 fuels; investments in renewable natural gas, wind and solar; conversion to electric-hybrid buses; and investment statewide in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Air quality/climate link: There is a link between improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing auto dependency, improving energy efficiency, and advancing innovative energy solutions, Utah can address both challenges simultaneously.
  • Utah’s CO2 footprint: Utah’s per-person CO2 emissions, at 19.3 metric tons, are higher than the national average of 16.0 metric tons and are higher than Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California. Utah’s reliance occurs because of the state’s coal-fired power plants, which are all set to convert to natural gas, hydrogen or close within the study’s timeframe. Utah’s overall CO2 emissions are small on a national and global scale, representing 1.1% of the national footprint and 0.2% of the global footprint.

The institute selected seven priority actions for gubernatorial, legislative and individual action. At the top of the list is a recommendation that the state adopts—by resolution or statute—a goal to reduce criteria pollutant air emissions by 50% and CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

“These goals will inform our individual as well as collective actions,” said Tom Holst, senior energy analyst for the institute. “Much like a map provides direction, ‘The Utah Roadmap’ provides a guide to Utahns and state decision-makers as we travel along the path to cleaner air and responsible global citizenship.”

Taking action

“The Utah Roadmap” encourages the following actions, many of which are already underway:

  • Lead by example: State government to convert to an all-electric/compressed natural/renewable natural gas fleet where practical, adopt energy efficiency goals in state buildings and establish telework targets.
  • Create premier air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory: State government to establish and fund a premier state-level air quality/changing climate research solutions laboratory to improve the monitoring network, advance new technologies and convene entrepreneurs and experts to innovate.
  • Accelerate quality growth efforts: Utah to redouble quality growth efforts, including investment in transit, critical land preservation and the linking of economic development with transportation and housing decisions.
  • Position Utah as the market-based electric vehicle state: Utah to expand the state’s network of EV charging stations and incentivize EV/CNG/RNG use (particularly for older vehicles and large fleets).
  • Provide significant economic transition assistance to rural communities: The state to prioritize economic development assistance in energy-transition areas such as Carbon and Emery counties.
  • Participate in the national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions: The state to become a leader in national discussions about how to harness the power of market forces and new technologies to reduce carbon emissions in a way that protects health, sustains economic development and offers other benefits to Utahns.

These priority actions are accompanied in “The Utah Roadmap” by 55 other high-impact, low-cost options to reduce emissions.

In addition to convening technical experts in a collaborative process, the institute conducted roundtable discussions and focus groups with public interest groups, legislators, businesses and college students to garner feedback. Two focus groups were hosted in rural Utah (Richfield and Duchesne).

The current draft of “The Utah Roadmap” is publicly available through Jan. 27, 2020, at gardner.utah.edu/utahroadmap. A final version will be submitted to the Utah Legislature by the end of January 2020.

“The Gardner Institute was given a challenging assignment by the Utah Legislature to prepare a roadmap on this complex issue, in a short time frame, on an emotionally charged topic,” said Gochnour. “Utahns have a long and proud history of leading on challenging topics, whether it be refugee resettlement, immigration reform, anti-discrimination statutes, quality growth or religious freedom. ‘The Utah Roadmap’ presents another opportunity for Utah to lead.”

Technical Advisory Committee

Tom Adams, Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation
Scott Baird, Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Kip Billings, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Bryce Bird, Utah Division of Air Quality
Josh Brown, Rio Tinto
Andrea Brunelle, University of Utah’s Department of Geography
Thom Carter, UCAIR
Becky Close, Utah Division of Air Quality
Jon Cox, Rocky Mountain Power
Brett Crable, Dominion Energy
Josh Craft, Utah Clean Energy
Royal DeLegge, Salt Lake County
Jenny Esker, Rio Tinto
Robert Gillies, Utah State University
Andrew Gruber, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Thomas Holst, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Benjamin Horne, lntermountain Healthcare
Ben Huot, Utah Department of Transportation
Liza Kasavana, University of Utah Health’s College of Nursing
Kerry Kelly, University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering
Michelle Larsen, Utah Transit Authority
GJ LaBonty, Utah Transit Authority
Brian McInerney, National Weather Service
Shauna Mecham, Mountainland Association of Governments
Daniel Mendoza, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Pulmonary Division
Logan Mitchell, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences
James Owen, Rocky Mountain Power
Cheryl Pirozzi, University of Utah Health’s Pulmonary Division
Binod Pokharel, Utah State University
Tyler Poulson, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Michael Shea, Salt Lake County
Brian Shiozawa, University of Utah Health
Glade Sowards, Utah Division of Air Quality
Juliette Tennert, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brooke Tucker, Governor’s Office of Energy Development
Sarah Wright, Utah Clean Energy

Consultants and staff

Samantha Ball, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Kirsten Dodge, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.
Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Meredith King, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Siobhan Locke, The Langdon Group
Dianne Meppen, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Dianne Olson, The Langdon Group
Jennifer Robinson, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Paul Springer, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brian Wilkinson, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.

Media Contacts

Nicholas Thiriot | communications specialist, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

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.

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.

What inspires environmental action?

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019. The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 8, 2019.

There’s nothing like a crisis to motivate people to change their behaviors.

But when it comes to improving Utah’s air quality and slowing down climate change, action can be taken now to protect the state’s public health, economy and quality of life, according to a panel of University of Utah professors speaking on environmental change.

The panel was one of several presented at the symposium “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Air Quality.” The symposium took place Oct. 3, 2019, at the U.

Utah has serious air quality problems that “many people try to ignore on a day-to-day basis,” says Tabitha Benney, assistant professor of political science. She said behavioral studies show that a crisis can be “very useful in bringing about environmental change…. Do we want to get to that point? Hopefully, we won’t have to before we make decisions that help us in the long run.”

She is studying what would motivate Utahns to make changes to improve air quality by surveying almost 1,000 people across the state. The goal is to better understand perceptions and misperceptions about air quality, to explain behaviors Utahns take or don’t take to reduce air pollution, to motivate environmental actions and spur policy.

Benney has hypothesized that political orientation, socioeconomic background, religiosity and other factors affect Utahns’ environmental values and beliefs. Preliminary results show that roughly one-third of respondents believe air pollution in Utah isn’t caused by human behavior. And about half of the respondents were unsure if the government should implement policies to solve environmental problems.

While individual actions are important, government policy is seen as key to improving Utah’s air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the U’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is studying science-based solutions to both those problems at the request of the Utah Legislature.

Logan Mitchell, U research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and a member of the institute’s technical team, said the three drivers of air pollution emissions are electricity production, vehicles and buildings. The community should be focused on implementing policies in those three areas, including accelerating the transition to renewable energy and building homes and offices that run on electricity instead of natural gas, he said.

Mitchell said the advisory panel’s final recommendations are due Dec. 13. For individuals who want to take action, he said: “The most important thing as a citizen is to look at those things and let your legislator know you care … and that you’d like to see urgent action that will engender systemic change.”

Panelist Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonologist and assistant professor of internal medicine, said the health effects of air pollution would worsen as the temperature climbs due to an increase in wildfires and because warmer temperatures lead to more ground-level ozone. These effects should factor into the cost-benefit analysis of changing policies. She and other U researchers have found that during typical inversions, older adults are about 2.5 times more likely to have pneumonia and three times more likely to die in the hospital with pneumonia.

Still, it was the economic figure in her study that made an impact. The study estimated that reducing air pollution to healthy levels would save more than $800,000 in direct medical costs. The dollar amount “caught more attention than the health outcomes,” she said.

Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer) of economics, agreed that economics is a good motivator for spurring change. “The one incentive that really changes everybody’s behavior is large price differentials,” he said, adding that there needs to be a massive decrease in the cost of clean energy technologies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Selling the public—and the auto and petroleum sector—on the money to be made by moving to clean energy would be a good motivator, according to the panel. Benney said her survey has shown that Utahns, regardless of their age or political party, are more willing to take environmental action when they know one key element: the positive economic benefits of change.

Panelists: Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer), economics and director of the MIAGE Program, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Tabitha Benney, assistant professor, political science, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Mines and Earth Sciences; Cheryl Pirozzi, assistant professor (clinical), Division of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine.

Moderator: Brenda Bowen, associate professor, Department of Geology & Geophysics, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

 

When it comes to air quality, stick with the simple, hard truths

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019.The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 13, 2019.

Here’s what Keith Bartholomew tells his students: When it comes to Utah’s air pollution, it’s your job to be simultaneously Chicken Little and Pollyanna.

That mixture of alarm and hopefulness about the future of Utah’s dirty air was clear at the recent symposium “The Air We Breathe,” at the University of Utah. The daylong event focused both on dire data and the need for collaboration between scientists, planners, academics and health professionals.

One of the realities about air pollution is that scientists still don’t understand the complex chemistry of smog, nor the complex mechanisms that lead from pollutants to disease. The flip side is that Utah provides unique “exposure opportunities” to measure those pollutants and study the people affected by it, noted participants in a Scientific Cooperation panel moderated by Diane Pataki, associate vice president for research and professor of biology.

The bad news: “If you live in a place where air quality is worse, your mortality is higher,” said Rob Paine, pulmonary and critical care specialist in the U’s School of Medicine, citing the Harvard School of Public Health’s Six Cities study. “We’ve looked at it a gazillion different ways, and the data is solid.”

Air pollution impacts disease in multiple organ systems—not just the lungs (lung cancer, COPD, asthma) but also bone metabolism, vascular disease, diabetes and depression. “Some seminal work from this valley has shown if you increase PM 2.5 levels by about 10 micrograms per liter, it increases the rate of heart attacks by about 4%,” Paine said. But how pollutants target organ systems beyond the lungs is still a mystery.

To effect change in public behaviors and public policy about air quality, the message should come back, always, to health, he added. “Stick with the simple, hard truths. And say it over and over again.”

Christopher Reilly, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, reported that his department has received two NIEHS grants that will focus on understanding the mechanisms that lead from dirty air to damaged health.

Most of the pollution in the Salt Lake Valley is created “secondarily,” after emissions enter the atmosphere, although the chemistry is still not understood, said Jon Lin, professor in the U’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

The hopeful news: At the national level, average air quality has gotten better, in large part because of the Clean Air Act. “It shows there is action you can take to improve air quality,” Lin noted.

At the macro and micro level, improvements to city planning and building construction can make a difference too, said Bartholomew, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning.

“Transportation is now the single largest sector of the economy leading to air quality problems,” he noted. On the macro level, increased housing density leads to a decrease in car use. On the micro-level, sheltered bus stops instead of the “pole in the puddle model” have led to twice the number of riders compared to a control group.

The U’s scientists need to work together to solve Utah’s bad air, the panel agreed, rather than working in their individual silos. “Gatherings like this,” said Reilly, “need to be a lot more frequent.”