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More Transit, Less Ozone

Guess what? When It’s Cheaper To Drive, We Drive

Last month, Colorado health officials issued another Front Range pollution alert due to high levels of ozone. These alerts have not been uncommon during our summers in recent years, and certainly many have been issued this season. 

Ground level ozone is caused when the sun reacts with pollutants from cars and industrial plants. Here are some startling facts: Denver/Aurora’s air quality is the 12th worst in the nation when it comes to ozone, out of 227 metro areas. And when it comes to particle pollution (soot), we are 32nd worst, out of 201 metro areas. 

We are among the 40 percent of Americans breathing unhealthy air. 

Ozone warnings are critical for those already suffering from asthma, as well as children, older adults and those who are active outdoors. We live in a state that brags about its many days of sunshine and abundant outdoor recreation activities, yet we are at risk for both chronic and acute respiratory disease, including asthma, as well as stroke and lung cancer. 

In January, the Regional Transportation District raised its fare prices for bus and train tickets, making it one of the more expensive systems when compared to cities of similar size in the United States. We ranked higher than New York and San Francisco when comparing full-fare price. RTD’s Board of Directors approved the changes to its fare structure while also introducing a low-income program and for those aged 6 to 19. 

Recent reports have found that ridership on the light rail decreased nearly 14 percent in the first five months of this year. In January, the A-Line fare to the airport was increased from $9 to $10.50 for a one-way trip. The rate increase was proposed so that some will pay more to offset the discount RTD proposed for others. 

Logic would suggest that fare hikes and gentrification are contributors to such a sharp decline in ridership.  When transit service isn’t highly convenient, and comes with steep costs, commuters will remain in their cars. That further contributes to high ozone alerts and poor air quality, which contributes to health problems. And the cycle continues.

Last month, the financial technology company SmartAsset pubished an analysis written by Nick Wallace. The report, The Best Cities for Public Transportation in 2016, noted that the average commute time in Denver for individuals using cars was 23.7 minutes, versus 43 minutes using transit. By comparison, in Boston (ranked No. 3 for best cities for public transportation) the difference between transit and cars was 10 minutes. 

What is unaccounted for in the report is how long commuters also must wait for a bus to arrive. Also unaccounted was the percentage of population using transit – 7 percent in Denver. One good piece of news: Our city showed a 20 percent increase in ridership from 2011 to 2016. The report notes that the more people using transit “indicates a system with greater coverage and more capacity.”

You might be wondering how increased bus fares and ozone levels go together. By limiting automobile use by carpooling, biking, walking or riding the bus, we help reduce our emissions. By reducing emissions, we lessen the possibility of ozone warning days and levels of particulate matter in our air. 

Bottom line: In Denver, with its high cost of living and rent and housing costs shooting through the roof, it is cheaper, and certainly more convenient, to drive our cars then to take public transportation. We have no real way of knowing whether solutions proposed so far – including adding a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that runs up and down Colfax – would actually inspire people to get out of their cars. 

Solving our transportation issues will be one of many solutions in which Denver could excel in order to help meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement. By building a convenient and cost-effective transportation system we have a chance to increase ridership, reduce our emissions and help save the planet. 

With that in mind, here’s a final thought:  Please consider making one day a week a no-car day. 

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017, and is currently the Statewide Co-Chair of the Climate Reality Project for the 100% Committed Campaign. 

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

Tips To Avoid The Landfill

By Mark Kuhl

Even if you bring re-useable bags to the grocery store, you often unintentionally bring home many plastic bags and overwrap that is used to package your food.  So, what to do with all these plastic bags and wrappings? offers some good education. Most grocery stores accept back plastic bags and films including bags for bread, produce, newspapers, and bulk items, bubble wrap, overwrap used on toilet paper, cases of water bottles, and many other products.  Generally, clear plastic bags and films that are not “crinkly” and are not easily torn (they stretch instead) are recyclable. These films are made from polyethylene (recycle symbols #2 and #4). Unfortunately not all packagers stamp their bags with a recycle triangle but they are improving.  A new stamp you’ll find on Amazon Prime plastic envelopes and other films is the symbol, suggesting the bag or wrap may be dropped off at the grocery store.

Note: Check out handy tips for recycling household items every month in these pages. Mark Kuhl has been a Park Hill resident and environmental advocate since 2002.

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