driving – 511 Contra Costa

Sustain the Improved Air Quality We’re Enjoying

If the sky seems a little bluer these days, it’s not your imagination. With significantly fewer vehicles on the road, Bay Area air quality is better now than it was two months ago. If you’re enjoying the change in the air, there are many simple things you can do to help preserve our air quality gains, even after shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted and more cars return to the road.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) estimates there’s been a 70% drop in bridge traffic, which would correlate with a 26% drop in carbon dioxide emissions and a 20% reduction in fine particulates (PM2.5). The result? Cleaner air and clearer skies.

Similar air quality improvements have been seen in cities around the world. Los Angeles, famous for its smog, enjoyed its longest run of good air quality days since 1995. The Northeastern US experienced a 30% drop in air pollution in late March while China saw pollution levels fall nearly 40% between January and February. In Delhi, India, the persistent cloud of pollution (which can normally be seen from space) cleared away to be replaced by fresh air and blue skies.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) measurements from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite
Delhi, India, before and after the national lockdown

Although much of the Bay Area’s improved air quality can be attributed to eliminated commute trips, some of it is due to changes in local travel. Multiple vehicle trips are frequently being combined into single trips, and for short trips, many people have switched to walking or biking.

The uptick in cycling is so dramatic that bike shops nationwide are reporting record bike sales, and bike manufacturers are running out of inventory. In response to the increased numbers of walkers and cyclists, some cities—including San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda—have implemented Slow Streets programs, which limit vehicle through traffic on designated residential streets so people can travel easily while maintaining six feet of social distance.

A map of San Francisco’s Slow Streets program

As shelter-in-place restrictions are removed and people return to their commutes, some increase in tailpipe emissions is inevitable, but there are actions you can take on the road, at home, and at work to help preserve our improved air quality. The California Air Resources Board’s list of Simple Solutions to Reduce Air Pollution is a good resource for getting started. It includes many actions you can take, like working from home, limiting the amount of time your vehicle idles, and turning off lights when leaving a room.

Another easy way to start making air-sparing changes is by joining the Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge. With actions divided into categories like Transportation, Renter Friendly, and Easy, you’ll find things you can do which fit your lifestyle and budget. For additional encouragement, be sure to join the 511 Contra Costa Community Group after creating your Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge profile.

For more ways to contribute to cleaner air and bluer skies, explore these resources: