Blue Skies in the Roanoke Times

Shenandoah National Park: Good air quality day vs. poor air quality day | Photo by the National Park Service

Mark McCaskill, a Senior Planner here at the Regional Commission, had an air quality op-ed published in The Roanoke Times this past Sunday:

The unusually early and hot summer has resulted in higher risks of the creation of ground-level ozone, or smog (the pollutant that causes the haze that obscures our gorgeous vistas). Besides restricting views, ground-level ozone can make it difficult to breathe – particularly for groups like the elderly, small children and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma – and in high enough concentrations can even affect very healthy people.

One of the reasons RIDE Solutions does what it does in the Roanoke region is to help mitigate air quality issues.  Check out Mark’s op-ed for more information on ozone pollution and what you can do to keep Roanoke’s sky’s blue.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to Resume Ozone Air Quality Forecasts via E-mail on Monday, April 16th

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will resume ground-level ozone air quality forecasts in addition to the currently-issued particle pollution forecasts via e-mail on Monday, April 16th. Air quality forecasts will be issued for Roanoke, Hampton Roads, Winchester and Richmond. If you know someone else who would like to receive these forecasts, please have them sign up to receive the daily forecasts and/or air quality health alerts at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/ConnectWithDEQ/NewsFeeds.aspx (please note this is a new link).

DEQ will issue forecasts for the following day by 3:00 pm EDT. An Air Quality Health Advisory will be issued for any region of Virginia where unhealthy levels occur. Beginning April 16th, color-coded air quality forecasts and the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for each area will be available on the DEQ web site at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Air/AirQualityForecasting.aspx (please note this is a new link). Air quality forecasts are also available via an RSS feed at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/lists/?action=rss_list&id=16 (please note this is a new link) and via the EPA AIRNow web site at http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_state&stateid=48&tab=0. Additionally, air quality health alerts are available via an RSS feed at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/lists/?action=rss_list&id=15 (please note this is a new link). Generally, our qualitative forecast accuracy is around 80 percent correct in each location.

The AQI may peak well after 6:00 pm in most areas when ozone is the dominant pollutant. It may peak overnight or in the early morning hours in the Shenandoah National Park. The particle pollution AQI is usually higher than the ozone AQI in the morning hours due to the diurnal pattern of ozone formation. Particle pollution levels may stay elevated all day and/or night whereas ozone levels peak in the afternoon and early evening hours. Animated air quality maps for “North Carolina/Virginia” will be found at http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_state&stateid=48&tab=0. These maps are updated hourly. Maps such as these are also available from weather service data providers such as WSI, Weather Central Inc., and others for on-air use. Television stations are urged to use the air quality maps regularly in conjunction with the DEQ air quality forecasts to inform the public about daily air quality in their area.

DEQ uses a color-code forecast scheme:

  • Code Green indicates good air quality is expected the following day with either PM2.5 or ozone in the healthy range. Air quality is considered satisfactory with little or no risk.
  • Code Yellow indicates moderate air quality is expected the following day with either PM2.5 or ozone in the moderate range. Unusually sensitive people should consider limiting or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities.
  • Please note: An Air Quality Action Day will begin at the Code Orange level. A Code Orange Air Quality Action Day indicates unhealthy-for-sensitive-groups air quality is expected the following day. Active children and adults and people with cardio or respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema should limit or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities.
  • A Code Red Air Quality Action Day indicates unhealthy air quality is expected the following day. Active children and adults, and people with cardio or respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema should avoid prolonged strenuous outdoor activities. Everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged strenuous outdoor activities.
  • A Code Purple Air Quality Action Day: Active children and adults, people unusually sensitive to air pollution, especially those with heart or lung disease (including asthma), and older adults should avoid all outdoor strenuous activities. Everyone else should limit strenuous outdoor activities.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Bill Hayden, Communications Manager, DEQ Public Information and Outreach at William.Hayden@deq.virginia.gov or (804) 698-4447, Mike Kiss, DEQ Meteorologist at Michael.Kiss@deq.virginia.gov or (804) 698-4460,, Kristen Stumpf, DEQ Meteorologist at Kristen.Stumpf@deq.virginia.gov or (804) 698-4414, or me, Dan Salkovitz, DEQ Meteorologist at Daniel.Salkovitz@deq.virginia.gov or (804) 698-4404 (usually 6:30 am-3:15 pm).

Welcome to our New Leaders

My time as President of the Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition has come to an end.  Our President Elect, Carol Huffman of CHIP, has now taken over as President.  Welcome, Carol!

Dr. George Street of the Jefferson College of Health Sciences is our new President Elect, and will take over from Carol at the end of next year.

Our Board members have been updated, with emails, on the footer of the blog.  Please feel free to contact us.

Clean Commute Challenge Logs Record Pledges, Announces Cleanest Team

Roanoke, Va., June 15, 2011 – This year’s Clean Commute Challenge was the most successful yet, with over 11,000 miles pledges towards an alternative commute mode, reports RIDE Solutions program director Jeremy Holmes.  The Challenge, running through the entire month of May and coinciding with National Bike Month, encouraged commuters to pledge to use a clean commute mode – carpool, bike, bus, walk, or telecommute – each Friday during the month.  170 commuters took the pledge totaling 11,532 miles.  This reflects a 20% increase over last year’s pledge of 9,962 miles.

AECOM, a newcomer to the Clean Commute Challenge, edged out its two closest competitors, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the City of Roanoke’s Planning, Building, and Development office to claim this year’s Cleanest Team.  AECOM team members pledged 909 clean miles over the month of May, with VTTI coming in second a 795 miles and Roanoke City’s planning team at 655.

In all, participants commuted 2,597 miles on bike, 2,093 miles in a carpool, walked 227 miles, teleworked 1,188 miles, and rode 5,427 miles on the region’s various bus services, including the Smart Way and the Star Line Trolley.

The Clean Commute Challenge is an annual effort to bring attention to the link between transportation and air quality in the Roanoke region, particularly to the threat of ozone pollution that faces the valley each summer.  Vehicle emissions are a major source of the precursor pollutants that, when mixed with a hot summer day, can form ground-level ozone.  On particularly hazy days, ozone can exacerbate breathing problems for children and the elderly, particularly those with asthma, and prolonged exposure can lead to a range of cardiovascular and pulmonary health problems.

To receive daily updates on air quality forecasts for the region, sign up for email alerts from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  You can also register with RIDE Solutions to receive an Action Day alert when air quality is forecasted to be particularly unhealthy.

Taking Up Space

First, a disclaimer:  I offer the following information because I think it’s a sign of the growing bicycle culture in the valley and the different kinds of events and spectacles that culture is generating.  Regardless of whether or not I agree with an event, it’s worth taking note that there are some pretty interesting things happening now.  In general, I don’t support efforts – from bicyclists or drivers – whose purpose is to create conflict between the two groups; there is a place for that sometimes, but I am wary of too much aggression on either side.  The event discussed in the post below has some potential to cause conflict and aggravation, but I am going to defer judgment here and assume that the Car Less Brit will approach this, as he has approached everything so far, with a sense of fun and adventure, and that all the other participants will do likewise.

There.  Got my official duty over with.  Now to the fun stuff.

The Car Less Brit has got something cooking – Manif Spaciale, a demonstration of sorts (not quite a protest) involving applying large, light rectangular frames to bicycles so that they take up the same footprint as a motor vehicle.  The event was started by a group from Montreal to illustrate the impact of motor vehicles simply from a size perspective.  From Car Less Brit blog post on the subject:

The immense space that each car uses – to transport an average of 1.3 people every working day – has led to the mass destruction of buildings, countryside, and green spaces into parking lots and roads throughout North American cities.

To graphically illustrate the huge waste of space of the car and the negligible space taken up by the bicycle, we used wood frames to convert our bicycles into the approximate size of cars and cycled in unison down the main street of Montreal.

The Car Less Brit will be bringing a little bit of that flavor to Roanoke.  If you’re interested in getting involved, you can get more information on his Facebook event page.

This demonstration really gets to one of the core principles of transportation demand management – efficient use of space and resources.  Once you see the bikes riding down the street with their bulky frames in place, you’ll get a sense of how much sheer space we use to move a single person around; consider how that drives decisions about road widths, where roads go, how much space is needed to move traffic, and what else we could do with that space, and you’ll get an idea of one of the major impacts of single-occupant vehicles and why agencies like RIDE Solutions work so hard to get people into high-occupant modes:  We could be doing something much more productive (like parks and more greenspace in our cities, for example) than just paving it.

The Clean Air Campaign in Atlanta has a fantastic illustration of the principle of concentrating on moving people, not cars.