Air Quality

Traffic Reduction Impacts Southern California's Air Quality

Experts say transitioning to cleaner technology for all things mobile including the larger contributors of emissions like ships and trucks will lead to more sustainable long-term changes.

If you're planning on traveling this long weekend or the upcoming weekends for the first time in weeks, you may have lots of company.

The NBC4 I-Team found as the Stay-at-Home orders have gradually lifted more people are hitting the road and that could impact more than the traffic.

The almost deserted roads at the beginning of local and state stay-at-home orders led to cleaner air in Southern California according to some experts

"Emission did drop to some extent, maybe to the order of like 20," said Dr. Philip Fine of the South Coast AQMD.

South Coast AQMD is the air pollution control agency that services Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties.

New data obtained by the NBC4 I-Team shows the traffic patterns on state highways between late April to mid-May and that the number of cars on the road was dramatically lower than the same time last year.

But that number is starting to creep up again.

On Fridays, early in the pandemic, the total number of vehicle miles traveled on state interstates was just over 268 million miles. Two weeks later, that number increased to more than 332 million miles as people started venturing out again. However, that number is still less than that same time in 2019.

Air quality trackers show "good" air quality when traffic is down.

Fine says while less traffic helped. thank Mother Nature for also taking pollutants out of the air.

"We had about three to four weeks of very stormy rainy weather straight without a break," said Fine. "Actually the cleaner air started about a week before the stay at home order- and traffic began to drop so it was a combination."

Dr. Yifang Zhu from UCLA's Department of Environmental Health Sciences says our future air quality could be decided by how we end up getting back to work.

"The pandemic gave us a time to pause and reflect and thinking about what kind of society, what kind of environment we want to live in," said Zhu. "Also how much work can I do remotely versus how much work that I really have to commute to the office and do it in person."

Experts say transitioning to cleaner technology for all things mobile including the larger contributors of emissions like ships and trucks will lead to more sustainable long-term changes. But in the meantime, every bit counts.

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