All About Smog – One More Reason to Save the JO
Posted by Transit Action Network on August 14, 2012
This is a Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources photo from August 13, 2012 from Blue Ridge Mall looking at downtown Kansas City. The KCPT tower, right-middle of the photo, is 3 miles away and the downtown skyline is 8 miles away. On a bad day, you can’t see the tower and on a really bad day even the skyline disappears from view. So what is smog?
The term “smog” was coined at the turn of the century to describe the hazy horizon of industrialized European cities, but around the 1950s, vehicle emissions began to take the place of factories in creating this noxious mixture of “smoke” and “fog”. Smog is a haze we see today during our hot and humid summers. This combination of ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and dust particles is monitored regularly and regulated by the US EPA due to increasing health concerns for sensitive populations like children, the elderly and people with allergies or asthma.
In Kansas City, emergency room visits and hospital admissions increase significantly when ground-level ozone concentrations are high. Ground-level ozone irritates the eyes and nose, causes inflammation, difficulty breathing and even chest pain. It is formed by emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources mixing with heat and sunlight, which is why summer is the most troublesome for air quality. Poor air quality knows no political boundaries, though, and smog will often creep northward with the warm, south winds of summer.
There is something we can all do to help. With daily work commutes averaging around 20 miles, multiple highway corridors, and abundant parking, it’s easy to see why so many folks in the Kansas City area drive to work. It’s also easy to see how our routines are contributing nearly half of the ozone forming emissions that contribute to poor air quality. Leaving your car at home even twice a week can save over 270 pounds of harmful ozone-forming emissions.
The MidAmerica Regional Council’s RideShare Connection is hosting the Green Commute Challenge now through September 28th to help raise awareness of air quality issues, reduce use of single-occupant vehicles in the peak summer season, and encourage transit use across the metro area through an employer-based contest. Thirty teams have joined from across the Kansas City area and over 900 people are taking the challenge to use alternative transportation.
Between bicycling, riding the bus or carpooling to work, and walking or simply staying in for lunch, the challenge has already reduced emissions by over 250,000 pounds. That’s like taking 14,000 cars off the road for a day. During the 12-week challenge, participants track their trips online and earn points. It’s a great way to see how our individual choices can add up to big benefits and many participants are using public transportation to earn serious points for their teams.
We can all do our part for air quality and using transit is a great way to start. And you don’t have to wait for national fuel efficiency standards or alternative energy sector growth to help! Compared to other household actions, using transit can reduce emissions by more than 10 fold. A robust public transportation system is one of the very best investments any community can make to minimize emissions and reduce greenhouse gases. Transit can’t beat bicycling or other no-emission commutes, but modern buses are often hybrids using natural gas, biodiesel and other low emission fuels. The KCATA Metro MAX has several hybrid and clean diesel vehicles and both KCATA and The JO will be adding natural gas vehicles to their fleet.
Does being a transit rider make you an air quality hero? It depends who you ask but there’s no doubt that reducing even a few solitary commuting trips in your car can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change and poor local air quality. Kansas City had 18 Ozone Alert days already in 2012, up from only 9 last year and 4 in 2010. We’ve exceeded ozone concentration standards 16 times this year and we’re setting a pace to top the last 2 years combined for quantifiable poor air quality. Poor air quality affects everyone’s health and it can make doing business more expensive as tighter regulations are enacted to meet basic national standards.
When local budgets get tight and cuts seem imminent, priorities have to be defined to guide the process, but with growing concerns about air quality and the human health impacts a very clear reality in the Kansas City metro area, you have to ask: why is public transportation not a priority in Johnson County? How can eliminating bus routes by 45% (and reducing service on another 45% of routes) serve our collective goals for air quality when it is the first, best way to reduce harmful ozone-causing emissions? We don’t believe cutting bus services voluntarily is in the best interest of Johnson County or the collective community when it comes to air quality issues or the kind of reliable public transportation system the public increasingly demands.
It’s not too late to improve air quality in Kansas City. From alternative fuel blends and hybrid vehicles to using low emissions paint in our homes and native landscaping in our yards, people across the metro are doing so much to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and ground-level ozone in our community. Using transit is one of the most effective things you can do to help ease air pollution and prevent smog from ever forming. The only question is: if you live or work in Johnson County, will you still have the transit option in 2013?
Contact Johnson County Board of County Commissioners
- Phone: 913-715-0430
- Email contact form: http://bocc.jocogov.org/webform/contact-us