It’s summertime, and Arkansans are ready to hit the road. As COVID-19 vaccination efforts progress, our state’s residents are feeling more at ease about shopping, dining out and returning to their pre-pandemic routines.
At the same time, our comfort levels with and use of shared modes of transportation, such electric scooters and public transit, are slowly increasing. And that’s great news — not only for our region’s recovering economy but our environment too.
According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits approximately 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. When these pollutants mix with sunlight, it creates harmful ground-level ozone that if inhaled can lead to negative health impacts like chest pain. That’s why Metroplan spearheads Ozone Action Days every May through September. The goal is to encourage Central Arkansans to take voluntary actions that will help curb these emissions.
In 2020, Ozone Action Days had a significant uptick in participation. Throughout the summer, we experienced a steady rise in telecommuting due to COVID-19 health and safety restrictions. We also saw a surge of biking and walking activity as residents sought refuge from pandemic-induced stressors in local parks and on trails. We did, however, report lags in our region’s use of carpooling and public transit.
Fortunately, that’s now changing. In accordance with health and safety guidance from the CDC, we can — and should — take greater advantage of these economical and environmentally friendly ride-sharing options. We can help minimize community risk by wearing the required face coverings or sticking to carpools with those in our immediate households or COVID-19 pods. We can also roll down car or bus windows to promote air flow; crank up the air conditioning to enhance overall ventilation; and thoroughly disinfect common surfaces. And most importantly, we can use our best judgment and stay home if we think we may be sick.
COVID-19 has enhanced the popularity of certain alternate modes of transportation. But in some ways, it has made us leery of shared public spaces including in our cars and buses. As we tackle the remainder of the Ozone Action Days season, we urge Central Arkansas residents to consider resuming carpooling or taking public transit in addition to biking, walking and telecommuting. These choices are convenient, affordable and help us all breathe easier.
And as always, we hope everyone in our region will adopt other voluntary emission-reduction actions, such as those listed at Metroplan.org.
Tab Townsell is the executive director of Metroplan, an association of local governments that serves as a regional voice on issues affecting Central Arkansas and develops transportation plans required by federal law and convenes stakeholders to deal with common environmental issues for its members in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke and Grant counties.