Less cars on roads equals better air quality

Tina Eady, Staff Writer

There is an unwarranted fear that is embedded in the minds of Angelenos when the word Carmageddon is thrown into their lives. They freak out at the idea of a closed freeway, and the anticipation becomes so tense and overwhelming that they watch the news religiously for every minute’s update on Carmageddon.

However, the freak-fest becomes nothing but over-exaggerated chaos, and Angelenos move on with their lives.

But, Carmageddon gave University of California, Los Angeles researchers a chance to conduct studies on Los Angeles’ air quality during the shut down of the 405 freeway at Sunset Boulevard. Since there was less traffic jamming the streets of L.A., there was also less pollution congesting the air. The proof that less traffic reduces pollution should be considered and taken very seriously to achieve better air quality.

During last year’s Carmageddon, Yifang Zhu, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, conducted a study on L.A.’s air quality. The study, which was released Sept. 28, determined that air quality improved by 75 percent in Santa Monica and parts of West Los Angeles because of the lack of cars on the roads. Overall air quality across the region was 25 percent better than what it usually tends to be. Now, imagine better air quality being a part of our everyday lives; if little sacrifices were made in order to decrease L.A’s pollution dilemmas, then perhaps we could breathe cleaner air in the future.

“Seeing such a dramatic reduction [in pollutants] in West L.A. was really quite surprising,” said Paulson to the Los Angeles Times. “It gives a very dramatic view of how clean the air could be.”

“We must reduce vehicle miles traveled,” said Zhu, in a phone interview with The Corsair. She said vehicle use is “always on the rise and never on the fall.” Once there are less vehicles on the roads, then there is hope for a decrease in pollution.

We can head in the direction to better air quality by educating the public on the benefits of clean energy, electric and

hybrid cars, and other environmentally friendly advancements. It’s important that the public understands the benefits of solving L.A.’s pollution calamity, which is considered the worst in the nation.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “roughly one out of every three people in the United States is at a higher risk of experiencing PM2.5 related health effects.” Particular Matter, or PM2.5, are particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.

“There is no safe level of PM2.5 concentrations, where you would no longer observe health impacts, so any reduction is an improvement,” said Zhu in a UCLA press release.

According to the L.A. Times, Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said that “the study’s findings were not all that surprising, but illustrate the ‘significant effect’ cars, and especially trucks, have on air quality. He estimated that vehicular traffic is responsible for about half of all air pollution.”

There are alternatives we can all try to incorporate into our daily lives in order to contribute to better air quality. If residents were only to drive when it’s really necessary, then that would help decrease pollution. Taking public transportation, biking, or walking instead of driving would produce better air quality.

Professor Eric Oifer, chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee at Santa Monica College, said, “We should look at how we solve our problems as a reflection of our values.” He lamented over the fact that residents and city officials were in “crisis- mode,” calling the shut down of just one freeway for two days of Carmageddon, when there are numerous alternate roads to travel on. It’s unfortunate that rather than looking at pollution as the problem, traffic was considered the biggest problem.

One way to reduce the number of cars on the roads is to continue increasing awareness of the effects of prolonged exposure to pollution. It is important to make the public understand the importance of using public transportation, biking or walking, whenever possible. It is also important for people to know the benefits of people to buy electric or hybrid vehicles.

Professor Stuart Cooley, an SMC earth science professor and member of the Enivoronmental Affairs Committee, said he thinks we should all buy electric cars. “We need legislative policy that makes it illegal todrivetheseair-pollutingcars,andillegal for manufacturers to make them.” A strong policy is needed that would shift automobile manufacturers to re-tool their factories and workers to build more sustainable cars.

American auto manufacturers are slow on changestomakecarsmoreenergyefficient, and there is still relatively little demand from consumers. Oil companies put a lot into maintaining America’s reliance on non- renewableenergy.Whenconsumersrealize the effects of driving these non-renewable, gas burning pollutants, then we can talk about change, but hopefully that won’t happen before it’s too late.

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