, , ,

Project of the Week: Clear the Air Utah – Drive Less, Breathe Better!

Last week, Andre Blackman reported on an initiative in Salt Lake City called “Clear the Air.” Truth be told, he beat me to the punch! I had interviewed Kate Lilja just a few weeks prior and couldn’t wait to post this Project of the Week…and Andre’s post affirmed the fact that this is an effort worth noting and promoting.

1 – What is the “Clean Air Challenge?” Is it happening all over the US or just in Utah?

The Clear the Air Challenge is a local Utah-based initiative that encourages residents to “Drive Down their Miles” to help improve our air quality.

Most of our major cities sit along a mountain range known as the Wasatch Front, including Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden. Because these major cities are located in mountain valleys, they are prone to what is known as “temperature inversions” that trap pollution in the basin.

Right now we have seven counties that are currently classified as “non-attainment” by the EPA for PM2.5 pollutants. Similar issues exist with ozone in the summer.

Over 50% of our air pollution comes from motor vehicles, which means that there is no magic bullet to solving our air quality problems – we need everyone to do what they can to reduce their personal vehicle emissions.

2 – What are your goals with the Challenge in terms of citizen action?

Our Clear the Air initiatives – including the summer Clear the Air Challenge, winter Care to Clear the Air program and fall Idle Free Utah program – focus on encouraging residents to utilize alternate transportation – what we call “TravelWise strategies.”

TravelWise strategies run the gamut from driving less – taking public transportation, active transportation (walk, bike), telework, compressed workweeks – and driving smarter – trip chaining, carpooling, vanpooling.

In the end, our main goal is to see a reduction in motor vehicle emissions along the Wasatch Front with the intent to improve our air quality.

3 – How are you getting citizens engaged in the process? What are your marketing vehicles and engagement tools?

Because our initiative rests on the shoulders of average citizens, our outreach focuses on empowering our residents and making it easier for them to utilize alternative transit. We focus on telling their inspiring stories, keeping them informed and providing tools to enhance their efforts and help them follow through on their intent.

We have a strong social media presence, with almost 5,000 fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Our Facebook page is an active place for people to share their feedback and experiences with each other and stay up-to-date on the latest news and tips from the Clear the Air campaign.


Our Twitter feed allows us to post more frequent updates and share interesting news and articles related to the our Clear the Air efforts. The conversation that occurs on Twitter is a huge bonus, and the #ClearTheAir hashtag has been picked up by many other local Twitter feeds (as well as some unaffiliated accounts hoping to #ClearTheAir about what they did on Saturday night…)


Recently we ramped up our YouTube outreach and now have several ongoing video series.

The first captures our “Learn to Ride UTA” videos and show residents how easy it is take public transportation. Our first videos focus on the bus, our commuter rail (FrontRunner) and future videos will focus on our light rail (TRAX) and even branch out into other modes of alternative transit.


The second ongoing series is “Resolutions to Clear the Air” which captures the stories of everyday residents who are resolving to change their behavior to reduce their vehicle emissions and help clear the air.

Current profiles include a mother resolving to carpool her family with neighbors and friends, a government employee looking to telework at home and the office more frequently, a local business facilitating carpooling among their staff, and a community activist planning to utilize public transit for meetings and speaking engagements.


Additionally, the Clear the Air Challenge has a comprehensive website (www.cleartheairchallenge.org) where participants create a profile and log the trips and miles that they save by utilizing TravelWise strategies. Utahns can register as an individual, team or company (http://cleartheairchallenge.org/allteams.php) and compete for great prizes.

The website automatically translates individual trips and miles saved into energy units, dollars and pounds of emissions eliminated so our participants can feel empowered by viewing both their personal and combined impact. (http://cleartheairchallenge.org/results.php)

4 – What’s been the response so far?

Last summer was the second year we held the Clear the Air Challenge. To expand our reach, we targeted the business community through partners like the Salt Lake Chamber and other jurisdictions beyond Salt Lake County’s borders.

As a result, we more than doubled participation with nearly 9,000 participants eliminating 103,710 single-occupant vehicle trips and averting 1.2 million miles, resulting in a reduction of 2.1 million pounds of emissions.

Results page: http://cleartheairchallenge.org/results.php

Winners were recognized at an event with Utah Governor Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Corroon at the Downtown Farmer’s Market (pictures: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=194228&id=75572134249).

5 – Any lessons learned – what’s worked or not – that you can share with colleagues?

Encouraging Americans to step away from their cars is no easy feat. Our society has been built around the motor vehicle – to make it convenient, inexpensive and necessary.

But the issue of air quality – especially our visible wintertime particulate pollution – is unifying. All of our residents experience the unpleasant haze and many experience acute symptoms – or know someone who does.

It is very important to know your audience. Figure out what is keeping them from trying the behavior you are promoting (through a survey, focus group or both) and then act to change the barriers you can control.

What we have focused on is decreasing some of the less systemic barriers to utilizing alternatives to driving alone – these are the barriers we can have an immediate impact on. A survey of residents determined that a few barriers we could influence included the “newness” barrier and the perception of convenience.

Through our community outreach campaigns, videos and messaging, we have sought to turn the idea of convenience on its head. Instead of seeing navigating a public transportation route or setting up a carpool as time consuming and difficult, we promote tools that make it easier. Our messaging focuses on the intrinsic benefits of utilizing alternatives to driving alone, whether it is less driving stress, more free time to read, nap, listen to music or relax, and money savings.

There are some systemic barriers that you cannot control, but the important thing is to know that the work you are doing is addressing a real issue among your audience.

6 – What’s on the horizon – with this or related projects?

With the close of the Care to Clear the Air (www.caretocleartheair.org) on January 31st, we are once again turning our focus to the 2011 Clear the Air Challenge. As this will be the third year, we will evaluate the success of last summer’s Challenge, see what we can improve on, and brainstorm new ways to keep it fresh and exciting.

7 – Anything I missed you want to be sure to share?

One of our focuses has been to tell stories. We have seen that by telling the stories of everyday residents who have decided to make a change in their driving behavior and take part in the solution, it can be empowering for those who have not yet acted.

The short videos we have created to help us tell their stories are quick and easy to watch, but also powerful in their message – we all have a role to play, and we all can do more.

Here’s one such video:

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Jill Parker

Clear the Air is a very dynamic social media project in our state! We are so lucky to have Kate and her great ideas! Thanks Kate!

Sarah Giles

In addition to the use of social media to engage with citizens in this project, we think it’s a terrific example of leaders convening citizens to solve problems and an especially good example of cross-jurisdictional leadership, with the UT Governor, Salt Lake City Mayor, and Salt Lake County Mayor convening, which is how this project got off the ground two years ago.

For some background on the collaborative process Salt Lake used to launch this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4oAZTbGYvM&feature=player_embedded