What’s it gonna take…to tackle dirty air?

Today’s thread: Food for thought.

Up until now, I have presented information on many different air-pollution aspects: the pollution types, the sources, the implications – both health- and monetary-cost-impact-wise, how and where pollution travels, its makeup, properties and, for one type of pollution, at least – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) – how it interacts with secondary organic aerosols (or SOAs), what areas are most affected and what areas are not. In addition, I have made mention of a few toxic air-mitigating remedies which I believe are precedent-setting as well as having touched upon those that aren’t so much – the “thrill of victory” and “agony of defeat,” if you will.

California is one of, if not, the nation’s worst air offender(s). This being the case, my suspicion is if the air crisis within the Golden State can be tackled, then the same would likewise apply anywhere else the problem exists, making such remediation efforts a piece of cake, a cakewalk and walk in the park, in other words.

What I know is the “business-as-usual” paradigm isn’t proving effective in this regard, for if it was the words “pollution” and “air” would be dissociative, unrelated ideas. So what this tells me is much work lies ahead.

At this point, some may be thinking that part of the solution to solving this dilemma would mean surrendering freedoms like driving, lighting a cozy fireplace fire or living a low-density, tract-home suburban lifestyle so familiar to and enjoyed by so many.

If the phrase “everything in moderation” really rings true, then freedoms aren’t given up only changed somewhat. At the same time and by the same token, people should also have the freedom to choose what is in their best interest and in that sense should have viable options to choose from and that make sense.

To provide perspective and put what I’m talking about in more concrete terms, here’s one relevant and substantive example.

In California, just prior to the Nov. ’08 election, particularly in the state’s major metropolises, congestion and gridlock had grown too burdensome and people wanted change. A majority of voters had come to the realization that, in this regard, things had come to a head, hit the ceiling, had gone too far and gone on long enough and consequently, agreed enough was enough. This was especially true during the second as opposed to the first half of the 21st century’s first decade. In response, California ballot measure Proposition 1A – the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century – passed. It provided for a 220 mph high-speed train system linking Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego in the south with San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento in the north by way of the San Joaquin Valley.

Opponents would argue a system on this order – which connects cities – will do little to relieve the state’s congestion mess. On its own this may be true. But high-speed rail isn’t built nor does it operate in a vacuum, and by virtue of this, interconnecting intracity transit systems not only do they help relieve congestion and provide but one more option with which to move around, but are viable and successful at bringing riders (passengers) to and from the high-speed trains. This is the way it is in Europe and in Asia. In that traffic congestion becomes less intense, so, too, does air pollution. California cities like Los Angeles and others are already ahead of the game in the transit expansion department.

Californians have spoken with their voices and with their feet by going to the polls and voting for high-speed rail.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, the final hurdle has just been cleared paving the way for high-speed rail to be built with ground being broken in 2013 for the 800-mile, $68.4 billion project and spread out over 22 years.

I already know that six million people fly between the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas yearly. I also know that one million-plus people annually ride Amtrak’s San Joaquin trains. And I have read where as many as 100 million miles are being driven in the San Joaquin Valley daily.

Now think if just a third of those travelers and trips made were on comfortable, reliable, safe, efficient, relaxing and stress- and worry-free high-speed trains. That would mean as many as two million San Francisco-to-L.A. and L.A.-to-San Francisco flyers, plus 333,000 annual Amtrak San Joaquin riders would be making the switch yearly. And if it’s also true that 100 million driving miles are being logged in the San Joaquin Valley each day, if a third less Valley miles were being driven daily due to the presence of high-speed rail, it is not too difficult to see how air quality would be significantly improved. And all because another transportation choice is available.

And if proof is needed, Amtrak’s 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor between Boston, New York and the District of Columbia, between Boston and the Big Apple, Amtrak has captured 54 percent of the air vs. rail market share and an even more impressive 75 percent of the air vs. rail market share between New York and D.C., proving here again that if you build viable electrified fast rail systems, people use them.

– Alan Kandel