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.

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.

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.

Building Climate Change Resilience

by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Growing our climate literacy empowers us to take steps to help ourselves, help others, and broaden our impact toward sustaining our world, but learning about the complex multitude of mounting problems can also tumble us into deep feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and grief.  A growing part of our population is experiencing “ecological grief.”  Psychology Today defines it as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.” It can be characterized by elevated rates of depression, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, despair, and a feeling of loss. 

It is neither a surprising nor an inappropriate response given the magnitude of the problem. Massive species extinctions are occurring at unprecedented rates due to human activity. On land, amphibians and reptiles are suffering the most, we’re down 3 billion birds in North America since 1970, and the oceans are acidifying and losing oxygen-giving plankton. In Utah, we’ve lost 41% of our snowpack since 1980. 

We face problems with water supply, environmental degradation, severe weather, and the overlapping implications for our physical health, mental health, and community health due to living out of balance with the ecosystems that contain us. It is no wonder that we feel overwhelmed, frustrated and powerless. 

So how can we address these feelings? While we mourn the mistakes and losses, there are ways we can take care of ourselves, heal, and maintain our ability to keep facing issues with vibrant and creative solutions. Research tells us that one of the best ways to combat eco-anxiety, depression, and grief is to start with building social cohesion. A developing sense of isolation and not belonging spirals the feedback loop of loss faster. Nurturing our relationships and connections to each other not only enhances our personal feelings of resilience but also constructs networks across knowledge and skills that can contribute to creative solutions. 

Communities aligned by common goals can reduce the severity of the impact of climate change. Simply helping each other out in neighborly ways can boost feelings of empowerment and ease our anxiety and depression according to a report published by the American Psychological Association. The report also noted a decrease in depression when healthy lifestyle choices were adopted, like walking, biking, or taking public transit. Green spaces in cities help, too. During the Chicago heatwave, there was a reduction in deaths in parts of the city that had green spaces. Going to the park, working in the garden, or going for a hike in the mountains can lift your spirits and increase your chances of survival during climate stress events.

Here at the U, there are countless people focused on preparing us to adapt and withstand the changes wrought by a changing climate. We have faculty and students conducting cutting-edge research on climate-related issues and dedicated individuals focused on implementing solutions at the local level. Getting involved can be as easy as volunteering through the Bennion Center or joining one of the student clubs addressing environmental issues on campus. One such organization, the Future Clinicians for Clean Air, founded by graduate students in the health sciences, aims to use research and evidence to advocate for clean air policies in the Utah legislature, bridging the current gap between science and policy. They have two events coming up in January that provide a way to get involved: one focusing on air quality and health, and the other on advocacy training and air quality bills coming up in 2020 with policy experts from HEAL Utah

The counseling center at the U has many resources for mental healthcare including a Mindfulness Center, featuring free facilitated drop-in meditation and free workshops for coping with anxiety and depression. The Huntsman family also recently donated $150 million to the U to establish The Huntsman Mental Health Institute. This much-needed investment will increase access to mental health services for college-age students as well as the broader community.

Another great resource is the Good Grief Network, co-founded by U alumn LaUra Schmidt. The Good Grief Network offers a unique 10-step program that guides groups through eco-anxiety and climate-grief in a community setting with reminders of the importance of practicing gratitude, showing up, and resting when needed. Their model has inspired local community building internationally and their website also features resource links to articles, documentaries, books, and poetry that educate and inspire action.

While coming to terms with climate change can be overwhelming, it’s okay to start small, focus locally, bring your skillset to the table, and remember to be kind to each other, because together we become more powerful in our ability to take care of ourselves, each other, and the planet.