MoDOT – Guiding the Region to Cleaner Air

As the Clean Air Partnership works to encourage activities that reduce emissions, we continue to spotlight organizations in the St. Louis region that share our passion. With transportation being one of the largest contributors to air pollution, the efforts carried out by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) are crucial in championing clean air.

MoDOT oversees a total of 33,856 miles of roadway throughout the state and, while commuting by automobile is necessary for many, MoDOT recognizes the importance of keeping congestion-related emissions at a minimum.  Considering idling vehicles emit 20 times more pollution than a car traveling 30 miles per hour, alleviating congestion that causes stop-and-go traffic is key in promoting cleaner air.

Here is a look at several of the initiatives MoDOT has implemented to help keep traffic flowing, decrease emissions and clear the region’s air:

 

  • Gateway Guide – This initiative combines several tools to provide motorists with real-time traffic updates. Traffic sensors alongside the road provide information on upcoming traffic speeds and volumes. MoDOT utilizes over 100 Dynamic Message Signs across the state which are permanent message boards located along state highways used to broadcast information regarding travel times, interstate closures, vehicle crashes and congestion. The @StLouisTraffic Twitter feed shares real-time information on closed lanes and roads. Closed-circuit cameras positioned throughout the region also provide real-time footage of area highways. These cameras provide video to help direct emergency response forces to quickly and safely address incidents. More importantly, the camera footage is streamed on Gateway Guide. MoDOT’s intent is that motorists will use this information to take alternate routes when traffic is heavy. By shifting traffic flow in various directions, congestion can be alleviated or avoided, ultimately reducing vehicle emissions.

  • Ozone Information – During the ozone forecasting season, MoDOT operates eight portable message boards alongside roadways in the St. Louis region. These, along with the Dynamic Message Signs, present the daily ozone forecast and often provide motorists with air-friendly tips. For example, when the air quality is poor, the message board not only notifies motorists of the red state of the air, but it might also encourage motorists to avoid filling up with gasoline until after 7 p.m., to help prevent the development of ground-level ozone. These boards have the potential to reach more than half a million travelers in just one day and encourage the community to take part in activities that keep the air cleaner.

 

  • Modification of Daily and Internal Operations – When the air quality is predicted to be poor, MoDOT works especially hard to alleviate congestion. This means halting routine maintenance operations on state highways that might create congestion and vehicle idling when the air quality is red.  MoDOT also encourages their staff to use alternative forms of transportation and has a carpooling program in place for employees to team up to share the ride. These modifications further help to reduce pollution and improve the quality of the air we breathe.

For more information about MoDOT and their work, check out their website at www.modot.org.  And keep an eye on our blog for a future spotlight on the Illinois Department of Transportation to learn about their commitment to cleaner air. 

Citizens for Modern Transit a Champion for Clean Air

The Clean Air Partnership is pleased to serve a community where several organizations are playing a significant role in helping area residents take action to reduce emissions and improve air quality in the St. Louis region. One that’s really proving to be a champion for clean air is Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT).

 

CMT leads efforts for an integrated, affordable, and convenient public transportation system with light rail expansion as the critical component that will drive economic growth to improve quality of life in the St. Louis region. The advocacy organization represents more than 20,000 riders, major employers, academic institutions, and labor and community organizations in the region and works to grow and promote modern transit initiatives.

 

Recognizing that more people taking transit means fewer cars on area roads and highways, CMT focuses significant efforts on promoting public transportation as a viable alternative to driving alone. Those efforts are a critical component of the region’s clean air efforts. Here’s a look at just a few of the many initiatives spearheaded by CMT that are helping to draw commuters out of their cars and onto the transit system.

  • Try and Ride – Since CMT first launched its Try & Ride program in 2014, the initiative has helped more than 5,000 workday commuters learn how to easily navigate the transit system and experience the benefits of using MetroLink and MetroBus for their work commute. Participants get to “test drive” the system with free fare for the first month, customized route information, and helpful tips for using public transit. Seventy percent of those who have given transit a try through “try & ride” recognized the benefits and continued using transit beyond the two-month program commitment. To help further expand the reach of this successful program, CMT began targeting college campuses and technical schools in 2017, so students also now have the ability to experience how advantageous these options can be for the school commute.
  • Guaranteed Ride Home – This program provides an additional incentive to commute to work by transit or bicycling rather than driving alone. It allows employees to take transit/bicycle while providing them a “safety net” – an assurance that they can get home and not be left at work if a situation arises. This program provides immediate transportation in case of an emergency, sickness or unscheduled overtime, and CMT covers 80 percent of the cost (up to $60) per emergency ride home. The GRH Program was recently expanded to include ride hailing services such as Lyft!
  • Ten Toe Express – This innovative program continues to help area residents learn how to get around the region using a combination of their own ten toes and transit. Walk leaders – which can be an individual, a couple or even a pair of friends – guide groups of fellow walkers as they explore various St. Louis attractions, teaching them how to use the transit system along the way. In 2017, through a partnership with AARP St. Louis, the Ten Toe Express Program continued to evolve through the introduction of new walking groups, new destinations and new participants. CMT added the AARP Breakfast Bunch on Saturday mornings and gained several new partners, including Grand Center, Inc., which assisted in bringing new, exciting special walks to the line-up.

 

For more information about CMT and their specific programs aimed at driving transit ridership, check out their website at https://cmt-stl.org/.

Clearing the Air in Granite City

The Clean Air Partnership places high importance on sustainability for St. Louis area municipalities and continues to use our blog to spotlight those entities that are driving change in the region.  The City of Granite City, which became part of the Cool Cities Initiative back in 2012, most recently has focused its environmental efforts on air quality issues, creating a positive impact on the city and earning Granite City recognition in the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Green Cities Challenge in both 2016 and 2017.

The City of Granite City incorporated a series of sustainable policies aimed specifically at reducing the emissions that cause poor air quality, including purchasing 20 new fleet vehicles – five electric cars and 15 hybrids. They also purchased and installed electric vehicle charging stations at the Public Works Department and the Police Station. More recently, Granite City has established an official 10 percent energy reduction plan and completed a green purchasing policy addressing janitorial paper and cleaning supplies, as well as catering supplies, napkins, cups and plates. The city also now has a policy to purchase only Energy Star-certified computers, office equipment and kitchen equipment.

The Cool Cities team and members of the United Congregations of Metro East (UMC) wrote a grant proposal that helped them to secure a $30,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)to help fund a local air quality and health improvement project.  The project included:

  • The establishment of an ozone garden where citizens can see the effects on ozone on ozone resistant plants compared to ozone sensitive plants.
  • Installation of ozone monitoring equipment at the ozone garden and downtown six-mile library.
  • Designation of a Clean Air Coordinator to communicate with all project partners and provide air quality alerts.
  • Implementation of the EPA Flag Program, through which colored flags are displayed around the city to alert citizens to the air quality conditions each day based on the EPA Air Quality Index. Area residents can then modify their behavior per the accompanying Outdoor Activity Guide, which states which activities may need to be restricted as the air quality moves from healthy “green” ranges to unhealthy “orange” levels.
  • Outreach to local schools and businesses, including posting of information on bulletin boards; hosting educational presentations and learning events, and creating and distributing brochures with information about air quality, causes of air pollution and the associated health risks, and tips for reducing emissions to help clear the air.

For more information on the sustainable efforts made in Granite City, check out the St. Louis Green Business Challenge website at http://stlouisgreenchallenge.com/ or visit http://greenercleanergc.org/category/local-green-news/.

Make cleaner air one of your New Year‘s Resolutions

The arrival of a new year often brings opportunities to change a lifestyle, a business, or even an entire community. If you’re looking to make a change for the better in 2018, consider making conscious changes to your transportation habits, and you could positively impact the region’s air quality and health.

High concentrations of ground-level ozone can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, and eye and throat irritation. Even in healthy adults, studies have shown that exposure to various levels of ozone pollution can cause decreased lung function. But, children, older adults and those who suffer from lung diseases like emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma are especially vulnerable to ozone pollution. When it comes to minimizing those health impacts, everyone has a role to play. Individuals can make lifestyle changes, and even municipalities and businesses can help improve air quality by changing their policies on and attitudes towards transportation.

As you make your resolutions for the New Year, here are some things you, personally, can do to help improve the air quality.

  • Carpool, vanpool or ride the bus or MetroLink whenever possible.
  • Avoid letting your vehicle idle. Turn off the engine when you’re waiting in your car.
  • When the weather is nice, walk or bike for short trips and to and from lunch.
  • If public transit doesn’t work for you, try ridesharing to and from work and take advantage of We Car if you need to run errands around town.
  • Check your air filters and replace them at least every three months. Clean air filters can improve gas mileage by up to 10% compared to clogged filters.

If you run a business, the following tips can jump start your commitment to clean air in 2018:

  • Help your employees to share the ride by signing up with resources such as RideFinders, which can help them to connect with carpool or vanpool partners, or help employees navigate public transportation by teaming up with Metro and Citizens for Modern Transit.
  • Offer employee passes for public transportation, or convenient parking for those who choose to carpool.
  • Provide bike racks and lockers for employees who bike or walk to work.
  • Create a ‘No Idling’ policy in your parking lots and instead provide 15-minute pickup and drop-off parking spots near the entrance.
  • Offer telecommuting and flex-time, allowing employees to work from home or come in at times that do not coincide with rush hour traffic.
  • Conduct meetings by conference calls and video chats instead of traveling to meet in-person.

By committing to promoting practices that improve the air quality in your community, municipalities can have a huge impact too.

  • Develop and implement a no-idling policy for fleet drivers and city employees, and encourage residents in busy pick-up and drop-off zones to avoid idling.
  • Utilize biodiesel to fuel city trucks, and ensure the tires are properly inflated and air filters are clean.
  • Provide dedicated carpool spaces at city buildings to encourage city employees to rideshare more often.
  • Develop and implement a bike and walk master plan designed to encourage residents to walk or bike more to get around town instead of driving, and install bike racks around the city.
  • Provide city landscaping crews with electric, propane or solar-powered lawn and gardening tools, instead of gas-powered ones.

For more great tips on how we can work together to achieve cleaner air in 2018, visit www.cleanair-stlouis.com/air-quality-tips/, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @gatewaycleanair. And have a happy and healthy New Year!

 

Making the Case for Carpooling

A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey has revealed that Americans spend an average of 17,600 minutes driving each year. That’s almost 300 hours or the equivalent of more than 12 days! With vehicle emissions being one of the top contributors to poor air quality, all this time behind the wheel is taking a big toll on the environment and the lung health of individuals nationwide.

According to the U.S. census, much of the time behind the wheel is spent driving to work, with Americans spending an average of 25 minutes commuting to work every morning; and 75% of Americans make that trip alone each day. Commuting to work with a friend, significant other or coworker can help reduce some of the negative lung health and environmental factors associated with driving, while also yielding a host of other benefits that go beyond better air quality.

Fewer emissions and less traffic – For starters, more people in carpools doesn’t just reduce the amount of ozone forming vehicle emissions in the air by keeping some cars off the road, it can also reduce traffic congestion resulting in a less stressful commute for all.

Increased social interaction – As an added bonus, spending time in the mornings with other people on your daily commute offers opportunities for face-to-face social interaction, something we could all use a little more of in our technology driven lives where texting and social media are the primary methods of communicating. That interaction is especially beneficial to those with depression according to Psychology Today.

Lower commuting costs – Carpools are also a cheaper alternative to driving solo to work every day. Double up with even one other person to share the ride and you’ll be able to cut your weekday fuel costs and parking fees in half while also reducing wear and tear on your vehicle if you take turns driving. Add a third or fourth carpooler and you can save even more!

With all those advantages, maybe now is the time to say goodbye to your solo commute and say hello to some new carpool buddies.

For more information on alternative transportation options that can help improve our region’s air quality, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

Rising temps lead to increased risk of poor air quality

The start of summer is just around the corner in the St. Louis area, and with it we’re enjoying blooming flowers and trees, extra hours of daylight and warmer weather. While most of us love this time of year and the opportunity to get outside, the season also signals the start of an increased risk of poor air quality conditions.

As temperatures rise, sunlight and heat react with emissions from motor vehicles, industrial facilities and other sources to create ozone pollution. The health effects of the poor air quality that result from ozone pollution are numerous and can include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation and decreased lung function.

With the region settling into the time of year when air quality conditions are often at their worst, it’s critical for area residents to monitor the air quality forecast. When conditions are expected to enter the unhealthy orange and red ranges, individuals are encouraged to step-up their voluntary efforts to reduce emissions by taking actions like using transit, carpooling, vanpooling, choosing not to idle, telecommuting and combining errands into a single trip.

To sign-up to receive the air quality forecast via email, visit our homepage. Throughout the summer, the forecast can also be found on our Facebook page or on Twitter @gatewaycleanair. For additional information on the health effects of poor air quality and tips designed to help reduce emissions, individuals are encouraged to explore our website.

St. Louis area no longer among “most-polluted” cities

Data from the American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report has revealed that the St. Louis area is no longer ranked among the top 25 most-polluted cities in the U.S. This news reflects an overall trend in improved air quality nationwide, highlighted by lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels.

Despite this positive news, the report also notes that 40 percent of Americans are still living with unhealthy air. And, while the St. Louis area may no longer be on the 25 “most-polluted” cities list, air pollution continues to be a serious health concern for area residents. Regionwide, air pollution affects all of us – especially children, the elderly and the many individuals that suffer from respiratory disease.

As the St. Louis prepares to settle into the summer months when air quality conditions are often at their worst, the Clean Air Partnership is reminding area residents that their voluntary efforts to reduce emissions remain critical in the fight for cleaner air.

On May 1, the Clean Air Partnership will resume its daily air quality forecasts and will also ramp up its efforts to educate St. Louis residents on the health effects of air pollution and the steps they can take to keep air quality in the healthy range. Since commuting has one of the most profound effects on our air quality, actions like using transit, carpooling, vanpooling, telecommuting and combining errands into a single trip can help reduce emissions when poor air quality is forecasted. Choosing to avoid vehicle idling is another key step area residents can take to help improve air quality.

For additional information on the health effects of poor air quality and tips designed to help reduce emissions, individuals are encouraged to explore our website, like the Clean Air Partnership on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter. To access the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air report, visit www.lung.org.

Spotlight On: The City of Maplewood

With sustainability gaining steam as a key goal for St. Louis area municipalities, the Clean Air Partnership continues to use our blog to highlight some of the incredible eco-friendly initiatives underway in several cities across the region. These efforts are not only improving the environment, but are also helping to reduce air pollution in the region. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on the City of Maplewood.
In recent years, Maplewood has been a participant in the St. Louis Green Business Challenge and the recently created Green Cities Challenge. And, the city has made great environmental strides as part of its involvement in both initiatives.

The Green Business Challenge is a joint program of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Missouri Botanical Garden that helps businesses of all types and sizes to integrate “Triple Bottom Line” (fiscal, social and environmental) measures into the kinds of daily operations common to every business. Participants identify and adopt strategies that improve financial performance and engage employees in voluntary measures to reduce environmental impacts. In 2015, the Green Cities Challenge was established to give St. Louis area municipalities a new way to get involved in the Green Business Challenge and to provide the cities with the opportunity to learn how to incorporate sustainable policies and practice sustainable fundamentals within their local government business operations.

During 2016, the City of Maplewood has achieved EPA Green Power Community status via solar installations on city buildings and the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits. As a result, residents and businesses are matching 6 percent of the city’s energy use with green energy. Annually, Maplewood is supporting more than 7 million kilowatt-hours of green power, which is equivalent to the electricity used in nearly 700 average American homes. This cut in energy use has an environmental impact that is equal to removing over 1,200 cars from the road for one year, and is helping to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Earlier sustainable accomplishments made by Maplewood include the establishment of the first Green Dining District in the nation, with 10 community restaurants attaining certification through the St. Louis Green Dining Alliance.

To learn more about the link between sustainability and air quality, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @gatewaycleanair. For more information on the sustainable efforts underway in Maplewood, check out the St. Louis Green Business Challenge website at http://stlouisgreenchallenge.com/.

The Air Quality Benefits of Biking

With the start of spring just days away, many of us are dreaming of warmer temperatures and the opportunity to get outdoors. One great way to enjoy the beauty and warmth of spring is by biking. Not only is cycling a great form of exercise, it’s also an easy way to help improve the quality of the air we breathe.

According to U.S. Census data, nearly half of all Americans live within five miles of their workplaces. For those who live close to work, choosing to bike, instead of idling in rush hour traffic, helps take cars off area roads and reduces the emissions that lead to poor air quality. Biking can also serve as an eco-friendly way to run errands and get around town when the weather is nice. Experts note that if just 1 percent of those who drive chose to bike regularly instead, automobile emissions would fall 2 to 4 percent.

On a larger scale, the actual production of bikes also has a much smaller impact on the environment than the production of cars. Each year, several tons of waste and 1.2 billion cubic yards of polluted air are generated each year through the manufacturing of cars. And during their lives on the roads, cars individually produce an additional 1.3 billion cubic yards of polluted air and create 40 additional pounds of waste from worn tire particles, brake debris and worn road surfaces.

On a more personal level, biking is good for both mental and physical health. It boosts endorphins, making cyclists happier. In addition, avid bikers tend to be in better, overall physical shape than those who don’t bike regularly. So, the next time the weather is nice, consider dusting off your bike and taking it for a ride. Your body, and the environment, will thank you for it.

For more information on alternative transportation options that can help reduce emissions and improve our region’s air quality, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

The Benefits of Telecommuting

It’s January, and Old Man Winter has a tight grip on the St. Louis region. If the cold temperatures and threat of snow and ice have you wishing you could hunker down and work from home, you’re not alone. In fact, many individuals are enjoying the many benefits of telecommuting – both during the cold weather months and year-round. Telecommuting is a convenient way to reduce or eliminate the work commute, taking cars off the road and reducing the vehicle emissions that lead to air pollution.

Current statistics indicate that nearly 85 percent of American office employees work from home more than once a month, and almost 25 of employees telecommute weekly. In addition, more than 40 percent of U.S companies have implemented some type of telecommuting policy.

If you’re one of the many individuals that have the ability to telecommute, then you already know that working from home is a great way to stay productive when icy roads make it impossible to get to the office. It also removes cars from the roads, along with the related air pollution. But, there are host of additional benefits that make telecommuting a win-win for employees and employers alike. These include:

Increased productivity: Many believe that giving employees the ability to work from home will mean that they will work less. However, studies show that telecommuting actually has the potential to increase productivity. Specifically, a study from the University of Texas at Austin, showed that telecommuters accomplished 5-7 more hours of work than their counterparts who worked in the office.

Less employee turnover: Long commutes can result in unhappy employees and higher turnover for companies. Research has shown that the ability to telecommute results in more satisfied employees who remain in their positions much longer than those who are required to work in the office each day.

Improved morale: Telecommuting helps to promote a better work/life balance, resulting in employees that are happier, feel more valued, work harder and are more invested in the companies they work for.

Money savings: Working from home cuts employees’ commuting costs, while also saving employers money. Estimates indicate that a company saves $11,000 annually for each employee who telecommutes.

For more information on telecommuting and other alternative commuting options, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.