New businesses and bad air

Sunday’s Bee had a couple of interesting articles which on paper had no relationship to each other, but in reality do have a strong connection.

The first was a column: McEwen: Diesel truckers should pay for bad air

The second was an article about new businesses on West Shaw: National businesses flock to Fresno’s West Shaw Avenue

In the opinion column, McEwen brings up the continuing problem of the valley’s bad air, and how it will be especially pronounced this week with “air alerts” being called.

The column hits on a few ideas I called upon a year ago such as tolling trucks and closing drive-thrus.

McEwen writes:

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has been with us 26 years. Businesses have spent $40 billion meeting regulations and buying emissions credits since its formation.

We pay an extra $12 a year to register a car to help pay for pollution-cutting technology.

Despite these efforts, we’ll be under an Air Alert tomorrow and Tuesday — maybe longer, depending on the weather. Parents are being asked to car-pool kids to school. All of us are being asked to stay out of the drive-through lanes at fast-food joints and banks.

As I pointed out last year, and the column mentions, the problem with these “air alerts” and other such schemes is that there is zero enforcement. Residents are “asked” to drive less, not idle and so forth, but “asking” yields no results.

More and more, this whole air pollution effort is looking like a battle rigged for failure.

The feds set the standards. The feds impose the penalties. They hold much of the power.

But rarely do they lift a hand.

The solution this weeks column calls for is tolling the diesel trucks

One solution would be to charge a toll for diesel vehicles using those two major highways, with the money going to help reduce pollution from other sources. But the air district doesn’t have the power to impose a toll. Nor does the state Air Resources Board or the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’ve talked about a toll many times,” Sadredin says. “Basically, it would take an act of Congress.”

Valley families are paying most of the $29 million a year federal penalty for violating the one-hour ozone standard. Meanwhile, diesels trucks are leaving their exhaust behind, and we’re filtering it with our lungs.

Honorable congressmen and senators, how about a real tool to clean up the Valley? How about legislation that lets us remove that brown shag carpet hanging over us and sending folks to early graves? How about turning the two big highways into diesel toll roads?

The problem with this solution is that it simply can’t pass. Too much outrage about poor, hardworking truck drivers being forced to pay for the air pollution they bring. Too many calls of “it’ll simply raise prices of things like food!” which while true, ignores the costs of the air pollution.

Benefits of tolling trucks include shifting cargo to trains, which also use diesel but are more efficient. Tolls would also help persuade businesses to keep produce local. For example, currently a grape or almond picked in Fresno is likely to be put on a truck and driven to Modesto or El Segundo where it is then placed on another truck and driven to Fresno to be sold at Savemart or Fresh and Easy. Make these unnecessary trips pricier and suddenly these businesses will be forced to do what they should have been doing for decades, and keeping local products local.

What I wrote last year was an idea that would directly link the trucks with air pollution, and actually change behavior

—-Institute electronic tolling for trucks on 99 that varies with air quality. For example, on a day with 110f temperatures, between 3pm and 7pm, trucks are charged $20. But after 7pm, they only get charges $10. This encourages them to plan their trip during the “safer” hours for air quality. The tolls would vary every 15 minutes as needed to encourage trucks to pull over, turn off their engine and have dinner. Tolls on clean days can be $1, simply to help pay for highway maintenance.

I think something like that has a higher chance of passing because those poor truck drivers (and the companies they work for) can adjust their patterns to avoid the fees. Trucks are absolutely needed to move products around, but they don’t HAVE to be doing it on 4pm on an air alert day.

However that’s not the point of this post. As I mentioned before, I want to link the article about new businesses with the air quality column, which the Bee doesn’t connect.

Businesses selling everything from Texas T-bones to Tempur-Pedics are flocking to West Shaw Avenue, renewing a shopping and dining area that lost several major retailers during the recession.

The newcomers — mostly big, national businesses — are filling empty locations or knocking down old ones to build anew. The restaurants and retailers have the money to open new sites and the large pool of potential customers near West Shaw makes the area an attractive target.


And they have new neighbors, including two Sleep Train stores, Panera Bread and Texas Roadhouse. A Starbucks, The Broilers and a Les Schwab Tire will soon join them.

A SONIC drive-in on Shaw between Marty and Valentine avenues is scheduled to open at the end of the month. It will be franchise owner Scott McMillan’s 23rd restaurant in the Central Valley.

What’s the connection?

Almost all these new businesses are focused on driving, and that of course increases our pollution. As I mentioned earlier, air alerts call for people to avoid drive-thrus, but actually takes no action on closing drive-thrus or limiting them in any way.

So on one hand we have the government saying “don’t use drive-thrus please” and on the other hand we have the city saying “you can build as many as you want!”.

Look at the businesses the article mentions:

Starbucks – Shaw has many this new one will be the first west of 41 with a drive-thru. That’s the big selling point on it.

Panera – The two existing locations don’t have them, but guess what, this new one has a drive-thru. I don’t even understand HOW a Panera can have a drive-thru, but in Fresno….

Sonic – Naturally, their business revolves around driving.

Les Schwab Tire – Requires driving

The other businesses aren’t as strictly auto-focused, but their design clearly is aimed at making folks drive to them. For example, I recently explroed the new Clovis Dick’s which is auto-dominated, at their West Shaw location is the same deal.

Of course, I’m absolutely for new businesses opening up on West Shaw, but it’s time the city makes the connection between their lax planning and our bad air. Starbucks can absolutely open their 500th location in Fresno, but why not ban the drive-thru and instead encourage a store design that makes walking comfortable (ie, a walkway so patrons can avoid the sun/rain).

Panera should absolutely enter the West Shaw market, but their business clearly doesn’t need a drive-thru to be successful. Instead, make them plop their box down closer to the sidewalk.

Not only is their new store design ugly, but it encourages patrons to pollute our air.

Picture from Bee

It’s time the city actually does something about bad air, and that process should start with the planning department.

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