Public Transit Investment Can Help Clean Utah’s Air

A new study has confirmed the importance of public transit and active transportation in improving Utah’s air quality.

The Utah Clean Air Action Team, convened and facilitated by Envision Utah at the request of Gov. Gary Herbert, has recommended investment of additional resources in public transit and active transportation as a key way to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.

The Clean Air Action Team noted that about half of polluting emissions originate from automobiles. By expanding public transit and encouraging more walking and biking, per capita driving could be reduced by 10% by 2050. That would reduce daily automobile emissions by about 8%, contributing to improved air quality.

The study made recommendations in nine different areas to improve air quality. In the transit area, the study made two recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Invest additional resources in public transportation. Currently, public transportation replaces 120,000 car trips each day and carries 25% of commuters to downtown Salt Lake City. According to the Utah Transit Authority, this eliminates 2,000 tons of emissions each year, and an additional ¼ cent sales tax for public transportation could expand service in a way that would immediately increase ridership by over 50%, and by almost 90% within five years, resulting in an annual emissions reduction of 3,600 tons.

Recommendation 2: Invest additional resources in facilities that make “active transportation” modes like biking and walking more convenient. These facilities could include trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, “wayfinding,” pedestrian safety investment, and other infrastructure. Particularly important is improving the convenience of biking and walking in proximity to passenger rail and bus rapid transit stations.

Other excerpts from the study:

  • “Our roads are already congested with traffic. As the population continue to grow, how will our transportation infrastructure handle the increase in cars? Reducing average personal vehicle miles traveled per day will reduce emissions; one of the best ways to clear the air is to take cars off the road.”
  • “About 24% of daily vehicle emissions come from the first few minutes of driving, from the ‘cold start.’ Shifting trips from cars to public transportation, walking, bicycling, and carpooling would reduce the number of cold starts.”
  • “Shifting trips away from cars – or even shortening the trips we drive – will reduce traffic congestion. This has significant benefits for air quality, and it also improves our quality of life and reduces the amount of money we need to spend on roadway infrastructure.”
  • “One key is to make travel by modes other than the automobile more convenient. This involves investing in infrastructure and equipment for public transportation and active transportation like biking and walking.”

The Clean Air Action Team is made up of 37 members, including experts and leaders from health care, business, nonprofit organizations, state legislators, mayors, academia, transportation, environmental organizations, and others.