Thom Carter and Andrew Gruber: Infrastructure is at the core of long-term air-quality success

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County mayor Jenny Wilson walked from her home to the U of U Medical Center TRAX train station to ride the train to work on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. From October 21 through October 25, the mayor rode UTA buses, trains, and even hop on a GREENbike as her only modes of transporation for work and personal life.

Take the train. Be idle free. Burn less wood. Carpool. Turn down your thermostat.

You’ve likely heard one or all of these tips during our infamous inversion seasons. Each is a call to action to make a difference in our air quality. Hopefully you accepted such invitations and have become part of the solution. If each of us takes one small action to reduce our personal emissions, it makes a big difference when taken together across our communities.

But it’s not just about our choices as individuals. The way that we grow and build our communities and infrastructure matters to air quality too. For example, if housing is developed near a transit line, a trail or a job center, people will be more likely to leave their car home and commute by taking the train, bus, bike or scooter. If electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are installed in convenient locations across our state, more people will choose to use EVs, which have the potential to cut emissions drastically.

While individual actions will always be the foundation of improving our air, we must work together as communities — including business, government, and other groups — to bring about big, regional change that will support the individual behavior change needed to clear our air.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s new budget proposal includes $100 million to make these types of big changes that will improve air quality. Of that amount, $66 million is for “a comprehensive DC fast charger installation plan to broaden electric car infrastructure in all parts of the state.” This funding could accelerate fleet changeover and make a big dent in our mobile emissions, which represent the largest share of our pollution each winter.

The governor is also proposing $34 million for making public transit a more convenient option for more commuters. Increasing the state’s commitment to transit and working with community leaders to promote a pattern of transit-oriented regional centers will help residents easily access daily activities with a walk, bike ride, transit trip or shorter drive.

This approach to growth fits with the Wasatch Choice 2050 Vision for the future along the Wasatch Front, adopted last year. It provides a blueprint for growth that plans for transportation facilities, housing and economic development together in a way that enhances our quality of life. There are similar plans across the state, meant to make the trips we take — from home to work to school to shopping — shorter, or to provide choices in how we make them.

Recently the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released The Utah Roadmap, offering “positive solutions on climate and air quality.” One of the recommendations was to accelerate quality growth efforts like the Wasatch Choice 2050 to “provide more transportation choices, support housing options, preserve open space, improve energy efficiency in buildings, and link economic development with transportation and housing decisions.”

Our organizations — the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) and Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) — are interested in positive change. UCAIR’s mission and message promote behavior change at an individual level, while the plans and strategies created by WFRC and its partners are meant to make that individual change easier through quality community planning. We applaud the leadership of Governor Herbert and the Gardner Policy Institute for supporting the clean air effort, and we invite you to join the cause. Choose to make one change today, and support planning in your community that will make further change tomorrow possible.

Thom Carter

Thom Carter is the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.

Andrew S. Gruber | Executive Director, Wasatch Front Regional Council

Andrew Gruber is the executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council.