Cal State Fullerton’s commuter culture negatively impacts air quality on campus

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CSUF's campus housing is only 300 feet away from the 57 freeway. (Natalie Medeiros / Daily Titan)

Commuter behavior poses a threat to Cal State Fullerton’s ability to meet air quality pollution standards set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“The university is in need of a 15 percent decrease in vehicle miles traveled beyond what current regional plans project to achieve,” said Elissa Thomas, transportation and Air Quality Management District specialist.

The university is positioned just west of the 57 Freeway, where over 270,000 vehicles travel the adjacent freeway section, emitting pollutants over the threshold limit value, or the amount of pollutants one can be exposed to without adverse effects.

The California Environmental Protection Agency advises against putting “sensitive sites” within 500 feet of a freeway, which include housing, classrooms, libraries and other areas where individuals live and gather.

Despite these state guidelines, the outer perimeter of the CSUF residence halls are less than 300 feet away from the 57 Freeway.

Exposure to air pollutants associated with vehicle emissions, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, affect cardiovascular and respiratory health, and can cause a reduced tolerance for exercise as well as impairment of mental function.

The city of Fullerton measures average traffic volumes based on the number of vehicles traveling on each road during a 24-hour cycle.

In the most recent report from the 2015 tracking traffic volumes, an average of 46,300 vehicles were recorded entering the 57 Freeway from Chapman Avenue alone every day. Additionally, following trends from the past decade, the vehicle traffic volume is projected to increase.

(Anita Huor / Daily Titan)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average passenger vehicle emits approximately 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Campus-related traffic contributes to carbon monoxide concentrations exceeding applicable standards at the intersections of State College Boulevard and Nutwood Avenue, and Chapman Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, which are considered significant and unavoidable, according to a 2003 CSUF Environmental Impact Report.

The total amount of student spaces available at CSUF is 10,718. During the fall 2018 semester, 20,112 student parking permits were sold and there were also over 3,700 faculty and staff parking permits issued, Thomas said.

The Parking and Transportation Services Department has the initiative to improve its outreach to the university via social media, and spread carpool programs and electric vehicle charging availability on campus to improve congested parking conditions and meet air quality emission requirements, Thomas said.

There are currently 12 vanpool vehicles on campus, Thomas said, and a total of 38 electrical charging stations on campus, according to the CSUF Parking and Transportation website.

“The California Air Resource Board estimates that to get the state back on track toward its 2030 target goals, each Californian has to reduce their daily vehicle miles traveled by 1.6 miles,” Thomas said.

Possibly increasing the number of carpool spots on campus could help the number of vehicle miles traveled, which is a new measurement of environmental impact by vehicles created by Senate Bill 743, Thomas said.

“The shift that legislation is requiring — going from a level of service to looking at vehicle miles traveled — is huge in the transportation world. It is counter to what we have been doing,” Thomas said.

Addressing South Coast Air Quality Management District’s goal to reduce the number of employee commuters embodies the statewide goal of cutting down private passenger vehicle travel, which contributes to 28 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

However, the majority of the single-rider population and the commuting population is made up of students rather than employees.

In the housing community some students are not bothered by the proximity of the road, understanding that it is an unavoidable part of a city environment.

“I know there is quite a bit of controversy about living next to the freeway. A lot of people say your house should be a certain distance away from the freeway. I’m a city person, I plan to live closer to the city anyway, so (air pollution) is just something I never really thought about,” said Priscilla Gomez, a first-year dormitory resident.

Although there is no solution to further the distance between the campus and the freeway, the CSUF Parking and Transportation department encourages students to consider alternate options to reduce the amount of cars coming to campus, such as walking or bicycling if close to campus, taking the Metrolink or bus at a discounted student rate or signing up for carpools or vanpools.

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