Central Valley

Air pollution district's push: Limit how much you drive

FRESNO -- Start thinking more about air quality and stop driving so much.

That message soon will become a mantra from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Officials have announced a campaign called Healthy Air Living, and you'll be hearing about it.

The centerpiece, announced in valley workshops this week, will be the week of July 7-13 when the district hopes cities, businesses, organizations and individuals make a concentrated effort to cut down on driving.

"We want people to try new things," district Executive Director Seyed Sadredin said Wednesday at a workshop in Fresno. "See if carpooling or telecommuting becomes a behavioral change that stays around all year long."

The district plans to blitz local government officials, schools, businesses and organizations with messages about Healthy Air Living. The district will offer help for many types of pollution reduction, but the biggest target is vehicle emissions.

Cars and trucks contribute about 85 percent of the ozone-making gas called oxides of nitrogen, which is the biggest air quality problem in the valley. This region's air problem ranks alongside the South Coast Air Basin as the worst in the country.

State estimates show vehicles daily travel about 100 million miles in the valley. That's a 70 percent increase since 1990, yet the valley's population has grown by only 40 percent in the same period, state figures show.

Regional air officials do not directly control emissions created by vehicles and their fuels. That authority belongs to the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Voluntary cooperation sought

But because those emissions are the biggest problem in the valley, regional officials say they are determined to reduce them with voluntary cooperation from cities, counties, businesses and residents.

The most obvious target is people who commute alone in a vehicle to work each day. Business owners may opt to have people work from home a few days each week, communicating via computer and telephone.

Other solutions include carpools, bicycling and riding the bus.

Businesses might consider installing bicycle racks, showers and lockers for people who ride their bicycles.

Once people arrive at work, business owners might consider allowing their employees to have lunch delivered, instead of driving to a restaurant.

"Commuting is something we do every day," said Tom Jordan, senior policy adviser at the district. "We can plan for it. We can do something about it."