Clean air for U

Don’t sit idly as Utah’s air quality and reputation decline.

Take action — join the University of Utah Clean Air for U: A Travelwise Challenge to help reduce your contribution to poor winter air quality. Join thousands of fellow University of Utah employees and students by taking part in the challenge Feb. 1-29. Enter as an individual, join a team and log your non-single-occupant vehicle trips at travelwisetracker.com/s/cleanairforU.

Air pollution is trapped in the Salt Lake Valley by the inversion in January 2016.

Air pollution is trapped in the Salt Lake Valley by the inversion in January 2016.

The Clean Air for U Challenge is about improving air quality, decreasing traffic congestion and conserving energy in Utah by eliminating unnecessary vehicle trips. By reducing vehicle trips throughout your week, you can make a big difference in our community while also competing for weekly prizes, grand prizes and campus-wide bragging rights. Prize sponsors include: GREENbike, Ski Utah, Enterprise CarShare, Liberty Heights Fresh, Department of Natural Resources and UTA. Top teams will be honored, and the five best individuals will be treated to dinner with Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins and Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth.

Driving less matters. Vehicles account for 57 percent of air quality concerns during winter inversions, and tens of thousands of people travel to the university every day. Did you know if the University of Utah population were considered a city, it would be among the 15 largest cities in Utah? With staff from the main and health sciences campuses, it would break into the top 10. That is a lot of people commuting to and from campus on a daily basis, which means we are responsible for a lot of emissions, too.

“The winter inversion season has begun, trapping pollutants in the valley, so now is a great time to make daily transportation choices that contribute to healthier air,” said Wildermuth. “When you can’t see across the haze in the valley, it inspires you to think differently.”

So what can you do? There are a number of TravelWise strategies to reduce vehicle trips:

  • Carpooling: Find friends or colleagues to ride with to campus or other destinations. Don’t know anyone? Check out Zimride, a service by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which connects drivers and riders within a private University of Utah network. Log in with your uNID at zimride.com/utah.
  • Riding public transit: Your UCard is a pass to get around the city. Tap on and off with your UCard on UTA’s bus, TRAX and FrontRunner systems. Check out rideutah.com for the best routes. Once on campus, check out the campus shuttles.
  • Using active transportation: Improve your health and lessen your emissions by bicycling, walking or skateboarding to campus. Bonus: Getting across campus is a cinch with bikes and skateboards. Not ready to ride up hill? Bring your bike on buses or TRAX and then coast home.
  • Trip chaining: Save time, money and emissions by grouping your errands. Instead of going home after work first, make stops at the grocery store, bicycle shop or other locations to avoid traveling back and forth.
  • Skipping the trip: Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary trips. Easy ways to start: Bring lunch to avoid driving off campus for food and plan out your meals for one week so you can make just one visit to the store.
  • Teleworking: With homes and coffee shops offering strong Wi-Fi signals, and plenty of free video conferencing services, some work can be done from off campus. Talk to your boss about the possibility of occasionally teleworking.

The Clean Air for U Challenge is based on the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce’s summer Clear the Air Challenge, which the University of Utah dominated last summer by saving more than 15,000 trips, 4,000 more than the second place team. The good news is that we are using the same online tracker. If you were already part of a university team in Clear the Air, your profile will be included in the Clean Air for U Challenge. Participants who log at least one trip in a given week (Sunday-Saturday) will be eligible for the weekly opportunity drawings, and participants who log at least 15 trips throughout February will be eligible for the random opportunity drawings at the end of the challenge.

Last winter, the S.J. Quinney College of Law used funding from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to pilot a winter clean air challenge, pitting students, faculty and staff against each other. The great success of that competition paved the way for the Sustainability Office to issue the university-wide challenge for this year. Thank you, College of Law!

Remember, with cleaner air, we’re all winners. Tell your friends and sign up today.