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.

Invert the Inversion

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, campus engagement, Sustainability Office

It is hard to ignore Salt Lake Valley’s poor air quality this winter unless you’ve figured out how to shut your eyes and mouth and plug your nose (or you haven’t gone outside at all). Views of our mountains, the Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges, are at times completely obscured by the smog surrounding us. That tickle in the throat could be a virus or it could be a reaction to inhaling the pollution hovering over the city. Neither are good options.

But wait, there is good news. We can reduce the particulate matter choking our healthy air by making different choices—particularly when getting from point A to point B. For the month of February, join the university’s Clear the Air Challenge team and help invert the inversion. Improve air quality (and be eligible from some cool opportunity drawing prizes from GREENbikeCotopaxi the Campus Bike Shop and more).

Now in its 10th year of friendly competition, Utah’s Clear the Air Challenge encourages people to take fewer trips, and the U is the reigning champion. Did you know that mobile sources, including our cars, are responsible for nearly half of the fine particulate matter on our wintertime poor air quality days? By using TravelWise strategies—including walking, biking, riding transit, carpooling and more—we can cut transportation-related emissions. Through collective action, by changing the way we travel we can make a big difference.

In 2018, the challenge saved an estimated 386 tons of CO2 or the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 45 million smartphones charged. By logging your alternative transportation trips on the online dashboard or through the brand new mobile app, you can track your contribution to emissions saved, plus see your dollars saved and calories burned in comparison to driving alone.

Automate your commute trips

For the first time in its history, the Clear the Air Challenge now connects with two different apps. The first app, Commute Tracker by RideAmigos is specifically designed to work with the challenge to log a user’s commute data. Find a step-by-step guide to connecting the app with your Clear the Air Challenge account on the university’s sustainability website.

The second app is Strava, a free fitness app particularly popular with cyclists and runners. Strava connects with any GPS-enabled device and tracks and analyzes personal health information. Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager for the U, said, “I use Strava because I can track every activity I do, including my active commute to work. Strava can also help connect you to a virtual community of like-minded people–for example, there is a commuter group you can join to meet others who bike or walk to the university.”

Who can participate?

The Clear the Air Challenge is for everyone. Sincerely. Even friends and family are welcome to join the University of Utah team. There are so many different ways to engage in reducing emissions from transportation. Obvious options include riding transit and shuttles, bicycling, and walking—even if it is just walking to a nearby meeting instead of driving.  Even those who need to drive have options, including skipping trips by bringing lunch from home and trip chaining by doing multiple errands in a row to avoid vehicle cold starts.

Together we can clear the air. Join the team and let’s get started.

The university’s Clear the Air Challenge participation is managed by the Sustainability Office, with support from ASUU, Commuter Services, University of Utah Health, Real Estate Administration and University Marketing & Communications. The Clear the Air Challenge is a partnership between TravelWise, UCAIR and the Salt Lake Chamber.