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May is Bike Month!

BikeMonthLogos2013-07Bike month
 is upon us! Riding a bike is a cost-effective way to reduce your impact on air quality. Have you wanted to ride your bike to work? Have you been looking for ways to get your family involved in biking? Are you unsure of the safety and responsibilities of commuting with a bike? Try one of these ways to get involved:

  • Tell us where you want to pedal. MARC is working with regional partners to develop a Regional Bikeway Plan that will establish a vision for high-priority bikeway and trail investments across the metropolitan area. Use the interactive WikiMap to tell us where you are currently riding, where you want to ride and what’s keeping you from riding.
  • Check the BikeWalkKC calendar of Bike Month events and programs to help you and your family better understand bike riding safety and needs. Be sure to check out the MARC Bikeway Map to find a safe route for your recreation or commuting.
  • See how over 100 women participated in the KC Women’s Bike Summit on May 10. BikeWalkKC organized this groundbreaking event for women of all ages and backgrounds. The MARC AirQ program presented information about the RideShare program, including details about how the Guaranteed Ride Home program can provide transportation in times of emergency.
  • Understand the Kansas and Missouri bike laws. Cyclists are expected to uphold traffic laws, just like drivers. You can be a responsible rider by reviewing the Kansas and Missouri bicycle statutes.
  • Rent a Kansas City B-Cycle bike from locations all around the downtown and Crossroads areas. Register online to access any of the station locations. Ride to lunch, to a downtown meeting or just to have fun!
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Two new websites help you take care of our air

To wrap up Air Quality Awareness Week, the MARC Air Quality program is excited to share its new online educational website, The site is designed for people of all ages who want to learn more about Kansas City’s air quality. Let Quinton, the Air Quality bird, be your guide as you:

  • Read our new children’s book, Wingin’ It: Quinton’s Clean Air-Venture (for children ages 3-103).
  • Play the AirQuiz game to test your knowledge of all things AirQ. Categories include alternative transportation, driving habits and ozone facts.
  • Download coloring pages and word games — some can be tricky!
  • Explore an interactive bike map of the Kansas City region.
  • Watch air quality videos.

The newly redesigned has a friendlier user interface and additional commute options. Now in addition to finding carpool matches, users can:

  • Search for commute partners who bike or walk a similar route.
  • Find or advertise a ride for a one-way regional trip.
  • Calculate financial and environmental savings.

What’s more, those who carpool, vanpool, bike or use Johnson County Transit to get to work on a regular basis are eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which eliminates the barrier of worrying how to get home in cases of illness, accident or emergency.

And, as always, you can visit to learn more about the region’s air quality and how you can help take care of our air.

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Celebrate National Air Quality Awareness Week!

You already know that the AirQ program gets excited about our region’s air quality, but we aren’t the only ones! This year, National Air Quality Awareness Week (AQAW) is April 28 to May 2, and there are several ways you can participate.

  • Join us for story time. During AQAW, branches of the Mid-Continent Public Library will read our new children’s book, “Wingin’ it: Quinton’s Clean Air-Venture” during story times (contact your branch for specific dates and times). You can also request a copy for your organization’s lobby or waiting area, or read it online at our new air quality education website,

  • Send Quinton a question. Quinton has learned to tweet, and is taking over our Twitter feed during AQAW! Send him a question or let him know how you help our air using #AirQKC. Be sure to follow all week for AirQ tips from our winged friend.
  • Take action every day. Check out our list of every-day actions to take care of our air. With more than 50 ideas, we hope everyone can find a way to help our air be cleaner tomorrow!
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Ozone season is underway!

air_quality_indexWe had a long, persistent winter, but the days are finally getting longer and temperatures are starting to rise. However, warmer temperatures bring the chance for more ozone pollution. That’s why the period from April 1 to Oct. 31 is known as “ozone season.”

Ozone pollution, also known as smog, is formed when emissions from man-made sources react in heat and sunlight. Ozone is harmful for everyone; it can cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. But for children or people with breathing or heart problems, it can be dangerous.

So how do you know when ozone pollution may be a problem?

Check the SkyCast! The SkyCast is the daily, regional air quality forecast issued by the MARC Air Quality Program. You’ll see “Ozone Alerts” when our air is forecast to be poor. There are many ways you can get updates:

The most important thing to remember about ozone pollution is that you can help reduce it. Throughout ozone season we’ll post tips for helping our air, so be sure to check back for information on the small steps you can take to reduce pollution.

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Four reasons to reduce idling

idlefreezoneiconSpring has been slow to arrive, and in colder weather you might be tempted to warm up your vehicle for several minutes in the morning or leave the engine running when you pick up the kids after work.

But wait a second! Our individual actions add up and can improve or worsen the region’s air quality. Here are some things to consider before you start your engine.

  • One minute of idling produces more pollution than one minute of driving. The best way to warm up your car is to drive it. An idling engine isn’t operating at its peak temperature, which means idling isn’t an efficient way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. Your car needs no more than 30 seconds to fully circulate oil on days when the temperatures fall below freezing.
  • Vehicle emissions affect your health. Studies have linked various types of vehicle emissions to asthma symptoms, cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer and other causes of death. Children are even more vulnerable to air pollution than adults because they breathe more air per pound of body weight and their respiratory defenses are not fully developed.
  • You risk getting a ticket — or worse, having your vehicle stolen. Approximately one out of every five cars stolen in Kansas City, Mo., was idling, and this year Overland Park also saw an increase in thefts specifically linked to idling. Check out this video from the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department explaining why law enforcement can ticket you if you idle your vehicle.
  • “Voluntarily” idling is a waste of gas. Remember: when idling, you get 0 mpg! Idling for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel than stopping and restarting your engine. Each day, Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline by idling their vehicles while parked. By cutting just five minutes from your daily idling time, you could prevent between 220 and 440 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions in a year. (Note: For your safety, do not turn off your engine while waiting at a stoplight or when in traffic.)

We have programs to help!

  • Promote an anti-idling policy at your child’s school or at schools in your area. The AirQ Program provides “Idle-Free Zone” signs and information FREE to any school in the Kansas City metro area.
  • Reduce idling on company property — join KC Idle Free! This program provides free “Idle-Free Zone” signs to participating businesses and other organizations along with literature for their customers and clients explaining the benefits of not idling.
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Private fleets and construction reduce emissions by lowering fuel consumption: diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the final post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Previous posts included information about how schools, railroads and local government and utilities are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

DERA-Blog-private-sector-2In earlier blog posts, we talked about diesel retrofit investments made by public entities and rail. Enterprising private fleets and businesses are also a big part of these programs. Like the rail companies, private fleets have taken particular interest in idle reduction and fuel efficiency retrofits, which ultimately reduce vehicle emissions — and improve air quality — by lowering fuel consumption.

Three types of retrofits are most widely used by private entities. The first is retrofitting auxiliary power units (APUs) on Long Haul Class 8 diesel-powered tractor-trailer combinations. These units are small, diesel-operated generators that can power the environmental cab controls, allowing a driver to sleep comfortably and use electrical appliances without idling the vehicle when stopped for the night. The functions provided by an APU vary significantly based on the size of the unit.

The other two retrofits — low rolling resistance tires and trailer side skirts— reduce fuel consumption by cutting friction and drag and improving the aerodynamics of the tractor-trailer combination.

Construction companies have also improved emissions controls on older equipment as part of a broader overhaul. As with the other diesel vehicles we’ve discussed, construction equipment often takes a beating during its lifetime. Upgrading an engine to a higher emission control level or installing a new, cleaner engine helps reduce emissions while also addressing ongoing maintenance needs.

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Railway companies — big commitment, huge impact: Diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the fourth post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Previous posts included information about how schools and local governments and utilities are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner. Tomorrow’s post will cover improvements in private fleets.

DERA-Blog-railroadsRail provides an extremely fuel-efficient and reliable method of transporting materials great distances over land. Diesel locomotives in operation today are incredibly durable, and it is not uncommon to find a locomotive that is 35–40 years old still in operation. The engines for these behemoths were state of the art for their time, but emissions reduction technology has come a very long way since then.

Particularly in rail yards, locomotives are typically left running and ready to work at all times, resulting in upwards of 3,000 hours of idling per locomotive each year! There are reasons for this, though. First, engineers often control locomotives remotely, and if the engine shuts off the equipment can’t communicate. The engine must be started again, which prompts a lengthy and complex restart sequence. Second, water — without antifreeze — is used to cool engines. This contributes to the locomotive’s longevity, but requires coolant temperatures to stay above freezing at all times to prevent significant damage.

The most frequent retrofit for locomotive engines is the Automatic Engine Shutdown/Startup Device (AESSD). This device monitors critical systems such as battery power and coolant temperature and, when engaged, will turn off the engine if there is sufficient battery power and heat to maintain the systems. When the battery or temperature runs low, the AESSD will turn the engine back on. Considering the size and age of the engines, as well as the amount of idling per year, AESSD retrofits can have a big impact on air quality.  Financial incentives and assistance help railway companies retrofit more locomotives more quickly.

A second form of idle reduction technology is the Shore Connection System (SCS) which adds at least one electrical hookup bay within a rail yard and equips multiple locomotives with electrical hookups. Like the AESSD, the SCS allows a locomotive engine to be shut off temporarily. The SCS will maintain the coolant temperature and charge all systems without the need for constant idling.

Railroads seek to replace and upgrade outdated engines as funding allows, butit can be prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, railway companies in the Kansas City region have made huge time and financial investments in reduced idling. AESSDs reduce locomotive idling by 50 percent and cut back fuel consumption by more than 10 percent. That saves more than 1,500 hours of idling and 7,500 gallons of diesel per engine each year! Since 2010, $550,910 has been invested in grant-funded rail projects in the region, including $340,798 (62 percent) in federal assistance, and $210,112 (38 percent) in matching funds invested by rail companies.

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Local governments and utilities are doing their part: diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

This the third post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how schools, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

DERA-Blog-local-govtLocal governments and utility companies typically maintain a large fleet of heavy-duty trucks and equipment to maintain critical infrastructure. Many government fleets have begun including some vehicles that run on biodiesel fuel, and a few governments in the region — including Kansas City, Mo., and Johnson County, Kan. — are building alternative fuel fleets using compressed natural gas and plug-in electrical power. However, almost all utilities and local governments still use a lot of diesel equipment.

In recent years, city operations and maintenance programs have worked diligently to balance purchasing new equipment — equipped with the latest emissions controls and technology — with the need to pay for other services and investments. Equipment maintenance is extremely important, since cities need to get more working hours out of older equipment while still responding rapidly and effectively to citizen needs. As part of this ongoing maintenance, many city leaders have committed to retrofit older equipment to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality.

Nearly all funding for the diesel retrofits installed on government and utility vehicles has come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Campaign under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA). Most of the retrofits involve the same two types of emissions control devices discussed for buses: Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs) which capture 20–30 percent of tailpipe emissions otherwise released from the muffler; and Closed Crankcase Ventilations systems (CCVs) which reduce emissions another 5–19 percent.

Some cities have opted to retrofit a few vehicles with more expensive — but more effective — diesel particulate filters (DPFs) instead of DOCs. DPFs have a highly reactive filter which collects 90 percent or more of the particulate emitted from the engine.  A number of fuel operated heaters (FOHs) have also been installed on heavy-duty diesel trucks which are needed during critical winter operations. FOHs reduce warm-up time and get vehicles on the road more quickly during winter storms.

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School districts leading the way: Diesel emission reduction in Kansas City

DERA-Blog-school-busThis the second post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how local government, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

The Clean School Buses USA program sought to focus attention on diesel emissions around one of our most vulnerable populations — children.  School bus improvements have continued to be a priority for funding through the National Clean Diesel Campaign over the last four years.

Our region’s school districts have invested heavily in two forms of emissions control devices on buses:

  • Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs) are installed inside the muffler of a bus to capture tailpipe emissions and particulates that would otherwise be released into the air. The captured materials are burned off within the muffler, leaving the exhaust released from the bus cleaner.
  • Closed Crankcase Ventilations systems (CCVs) divert blow-by gases containing harmful emissions, vapor and oil mist back into the engine instead of venting freely into the air. A hose attached to the crankcase collects these gases and sends them to a device which filters out the oil mist, and routes the gases back to the engine’s air intake.

In addition, seven school districts have installed fuel-operated heaters (FOHs) on buses. An FOH has a programmable timer connected to a small, auxiliary diesel heater which pre-heats engine fluids and speeds the warm-up of the bus cabin. This eliminates the need for a bus to idle before its morning route, which reduces fuel usage, emissions and start-up labor. State regulations passed in 2010 and 2011 now limit idling time for empty buses to 15 minutes or less in a 60 minute period. In the past, a solitary mechanic might start hundreds of buses one by one to warm the engines in preparation for drivers and students. The first buses would idle for an hour or more, which wasted fuel and contributed emissions to the air.

These retrofits have contributed to significant reductions of both cost and emissions for school districts. Each DOC captures 20–30 percent of tailpipe emissions, and adding a CCV captures another 5–19 percent. Based on the number of cold-weather idling hours reported by the region’s school districts, FOHs reduce annual fuel consumption by about 62 gallons per bus, for an estimated savings of about $217 (at $3.50 per gallon), and also reduce emissions that would have been caused by using that extra fuel.

To accommodate transportation demands, school districts occasionally have to use and maintain buses for a longer life cycle than they would like, despite poor emissions controls on the older models. In a number of cases, districts have secured supplemental funding in order to purchase a new bus ahead of schedule with the condition that an older, “dirtier” bus be retired and destroyed. This does not allow the district to increase the size of its fleet, but does put a newer, cleaner bus into operation earlier than would have otherwise been possible.

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Diesel emissions reductions in Kansas City

DERA-Blog-overviewThis the first post in a five-part series about diesel emissions reduction in the Kansas City area. Follow along for more information about how schools, railroads and private-sector companies are working to make Kansas City’s air cleaner.

Over the last five to 10 years, school districts, local governments, utilities, railroads and private businesses have aggressively implemented programs to reduce air pollution in the Kansas City Area. Many have adopted policies to reduce idling and have experimented with alternative fuels that burn cleaner.

While the future may lie in alternative fuels, most heavy transportation fleets are deeply invested in diesel-powered vehicles due to their history of durability, dependability and power. Unlike a gasoline-powered vehicle, a diesel bus, heavy truck or piece of construction equipment can be expected to operate for 16 to 20 years. Locomotives built 45 years ago still regularly run the rails. As new technologies or alternative fuels are phased in, existing diesel vehicles are generally not required to upgrade their emissions controls.

Funding assistance for these retrofit projects comes largely from programs managed by a variety of federal agencies. These funds are often administered directly by the state, local government or a nonprofit associated with transportation and clean energy. Many retrofit projects have taken place throughout the Kansas City region, and the Mid-America Regional Council has been privileged to coordinate a number of these efforts through  the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Buses USA and National Clean Diesel Campaign and U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality programs.

While eligibility varies by program, these funds provide great opportunities for air-quality-conscious stakeholders to retire older, “dirtier” vehicles earlier in the replacement cycle or pay for after-market retrofits that can reduce emissions and, in some cases, improve fuel economy. In the Kansas City area, the most common diesel retrofits have been Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs), which decrease diesel emissions by 20–30 percent, often for less than $2,000 per vehicle.

To learn more about these programs contact the MARC Air Quality program,

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