After spending eight years in cities that had great walking and public transit infrastructures, I have a hard time picturing myself in a residential suburb. I prefer being able to walk or bike or bus for work, errands, and fun.
Where we live in Salt Lake City, I can get away with doing most of my commuting and small errands on the bus. Even still, there are some nights when I find myself spitting and cursing because the bus only runs at 8 and 9 p.m. before stopping completely.
The limited accessibility to public transportation is particularly frustrating on days like—well, any day last week. With the exception of a few weekend snow storms, Salt Lake City had been trapped under a layer of thick polluted haze since the beginning of January.
The pollution stays in our bowl-shaped valley during a weather phenomenon called an inversion, as illustrated by the graphic below.
Inversion Smog Episodes by Salt Lake Tribune
For two locations just 45 minutes from each other, you end up with a weather forecast that looks something like this:
(And really, the mountains were closer to 40 degrees by midday.)
A significant portion of this pollution comes from vehicle emissions, from the things you and I do every day.
The Utah Division of Air Quality offers a great list of "things you can do" to help, and I plan on adding a few to my own routine. However, many of the transportation suggestions are either truly unrealistic or psychologically daunting for the majority of the population.
Kennecott Copper Mine recently donated 2,500 free transit passes to the public. That's an amazing start, but it just scratches the surface. Local businesses and local governments both need to focus on active infrastructure change and sustainable consumer incentives. Public transportation needs to be more convenient than driving. Industry needs to invest in longterm upgrades and cleaner technology. Most importantly, the public needs to demand change.
The Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment highlight key issues. Are you on board?
Update 29 Jan. 2013: Governor Herbert and transportation officials met today to discuss the air quality issue. Read more.