by Pia K. Hansen
Did you know that for every 20 miles you drive in your car, you contribute one pound of carbon monoxide pollution to the air? Every day people all over the Inland Northwest fire up their trusted vehicles and head to work, school, daycare or the grocery store and many do so all alone in their cars. A car with one person in it is what the people at the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority(SCAPCA) call a "single occupancy vehicle" -- or SOV -- and driving a SOV is one of the most polluting ways of transporting a single person from point A to point B.
To call attention to alternative types of transportation, SCAPCA, Spokane Transit Authority(STA) and several local employers are sponsoring the Smart Moves Campaign during the month of April.
"This is the 11th annual campaign and it's statewide. What's new this year, is that we have changed the name -- this used to be known as Oil Smart," says Jana Augenstine, with the Washington Department of Transportation and chair of the campaign. "It's a grass roots effort to try and get people to leave the car at home, or do something other besides the single occupancy car commuting, at least once in awhile."
The ideas behind the campaign are the same as always: to reduce the use of fossil fuel -- something every driver can relate to as gas prices keep going up -- cut down on traffic congestion and help to clear the air. Carbon monoxide is a particular concern for the Spokane area, which continues to suffer from bad air days, though not as frequently as it used to. The year 2000 was the fourth year in a row where Spokane met the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, for both CO and fine particulate matter (from wood smoke and road dust), a clean record that must continue before the area will be declared within attainment again.
One of the reasons behind the improved air quality is that Spokane County has had a Commute Trip Reduction(CTR) program since '93. Employers who participate in this program provide incentives for employees to carpool, take the bus, ride their bikes or work from home.
The Smart Moves Campaign is also about changing people's mindset about alternatives to commuting. The CTR program removes a total of 18,500 cars from the state's roads every day -- 3,200 of which would clog up the roads in Spokane County.
"People think they have to [not use their car] five days a week or it doesn't count at all, but that's not true. Using alternative transportation at least once a week, reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 20 percent," says Margee Chambers, public information specialist for SCAPCA and a member of the Smart Moves Campaign.
But it can be difficult to take the bus or ride your bike, if you have kids to take to school, groceries to pick up and places to go.
"The most difficult part is juggling everything with your significant other, but we want for people to just try it," says Chambers. "Some work sites have a guaranteed ride home, so if your kid gets sick you can get a ride home to get your car."
CEOs from several local businesses are participating in this year's campaign as well.
"It's good for employees to see them lead by example," says Augenstine.
Smart Moves is also going to tie into World Car Free Day on April 19, and continue to highlight alternative commuters throughout the month. And there is a poster contest for children in grades Kindergarten through sixth, where young artists are asked to draw posters showing magical non-polluting ways to travel.
The most popular alternative form of transportation under CRT is carpooling, but riding the bus is not far behind.
"Personally, I ride the bus a lot. I think the bus system is reasonable, though I hear lots of people complain," says C.J. Tyler-Watson, the Eastern Washington Field coordinator, with the Transportation Choices Coalition. "I deal with STA some, and I was really impressed that they managed their money so we didn't have to take the full cut after I-695." She says we should take into consideration -- among many other things -- the people who bike to work.
"We need to make sure that our bike paths are connected, for instance. It doesn't help a whole lot if we have a path on one street and then it just ends," says Tyler-Watson. And educating drivers in Spokane on how to share the road with bicyclists would be a great idea, too.
"Some of the situations you get into when you ride your bike in the street, if people yell after you, it's often because the drivers don't know how to get around you," says Tyler-Watson. She believes what's holding people back from trying SOV alternatives is that it does take some planning.
"With it not being as easy as in many larger cities, people tend to not try. In a big city you can get on some kind of transportation and go somewhere and it's easy, but we have not quite gotten there yet," says Tyler-Watson. "We can always do more to make commuting easier, and though this is a big push during April, there is also a sustained push throughout the year -- we are always trying to do something."
SCAPCA can be reached at 477-4727. Poster contest entries must be in by Earth Day, April 22.