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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Exhaust from a vehicle escapes into the air at 9000 South and Sandy Parkway on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — How dedicated are you to helping to clean the air you breathe?

Local leaders are calling on residents to park their cars in a major effort to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.

The Salt Lake Chamber Friday, along with UCAIR and TravelWise, launched the annual Clear the Air Challenge. The one-month effort that kicks off on Feb. 1 is issued by business, government and community leaders as a four-week competition to encourage Utahns to reduce their vehicle emissions by choosing alternatives to driving by themselves.

Transportation emissions are responsible for nearly half of the pollutants that create the poor air quality in northern Utah, explained Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance. By reducing vehicle trips, residents can help improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in the area, he said.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
A "Turn Your Key Be Idle Free" sign is displayed at a TRAX parking lot in Sandy on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

"The business community, both as individuals and organizations, need to be part of that crowd that recognizes that solutions start with us," he said. "We're asking businesses to support their employees in being able to eliminate driving trips."

Participants of the Clear the Air Challenge use TravelWise strategies like carpooling, using public transit, teleworking, trip chaining, using electric vehicles, walking or riding their bike or scooter to reduce their emissions and help clean Utah’s air, a news release stated.

“While we can’t do much about our geography, we can control the choices we make to decrease the emissions that cause air pollution,” Miller said. “The Clear the Air Challenge shows us that small individual changes can, and do, make a difference to Utah’s air quality. And when we improve our air quality, we enhance the well-being of all Utahns and ensure our continued economic success.”

Since starting in 2009, participants have helped make a big difference in improving Utah’s air quality, Miller said. In that time, more than a million trips have been eliminated, 15 million miles saved, 5,000 tons of emissions reduced and $6.5 million saved, he added.

"The best thing that we can do is reducing vehicle trips," Miller said. "It helps the environment, it helps our economy, helps our quality of life and helps our health."

He noted that next month the chamber will test a remote-working policy in which employees will work from home one day per week. In addition, Miller said he will pledge to take public transit to work for one week during the month.

"I'm going to just keep my car parked in my garage and see if I can get myself to work and everywhere I need to go just by taking mass transit," he said. When he lived in Washington, D.C., years ago, he didn't have a car and took public transportation all the time, he explained.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Car stack up a the light at State Street and 9000 South in Sandy on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

UCAIR is a statewide clean air partnership created to make it easier for individuals, businesses and communities to make small changes to improve Utah’s air, according to the organization's website. The challenge is designed to promote habits that support environmental consciousness, according to UCAIR Executive Director Thom Carter.

“As we all know, there are no perfect answers to solving Utah’s air quality problems, but there are practical solutions,” he said. “The Clear the Air Challenge is one way to engage the citizens of Utah in finding practical solutions that make a real difference in improving our air quality.”

"It allows employers and employees to work together to identify ways that people can be smart about how they use their car," he said. Eliminating idling and trip chaining — completing numerous tasks at one time instead of in multiple trips — can help lower emissions and improve air quality, he said.

Meanwhile, business and organization participation is a key component of the challenge, Carter said. By encouraging employees to participate, businesses can create a team to make an even bigger impact.

“We incentivize our employees to participate in the challenge by offering fare reimbursement for those who take public transit, flex schedules, teleworking options as well as encourage carpooling whenever possible," said Dave Smith, president of Salt Lake City-based marketing agency Penna Powers.

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Participants can track mileage using the Commute Tracker app, which allows them to log their regular trips — like going from home to work — automatically. It also lets users manually log their trips from their phone throughout the challenge, a news release stated. To sign up for the challenge and to get a personal identification pin for the Commute Tracker app, log on to ClearTheAirChallenge.org

Participants can also track their trips from a mobile device or computer with the TravelWise Tracker. Once registered for the challenge, enter in a starting and ending location and receive carpool options, transit routes, or biking and walking routes. The TravelWise tracker gives the volume of emissions saved and the time it will take to make the trip.