The VINE TRAIL Benefits The Environment

by Maureen Gaffney

News on the environment can feel dire. Heavy. Like wearing a mask while riding your bike up a steep hill. What can I do? Install a scrubber on a massive industrial smokestack? Re-tool market forces in the American economy to address externalities?  With all else happening in the world, it’s tempting to just put on some Miles Davis, hunker into a fetal position and obsessively pet the cat/dog.

Here’s a small salve. According to the US EPA, 28% of greenhouse gas emissions, the #1 contributor to climate change, are from the transportation sector. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shelter-in-place orders that turned jammed Bay Area roadways into spooky, barren expanses provided proof-of-concept in real time. Vehicle miles traveled—VMT—a common metric associated with emissions, dipped to 40% of normal in March and April. Clear roadways also meant clear skies, with before-and-after images showing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels dropping by roughly half in parts of the Bay Area from one week before the shelter-in-place order to the week after.

Forced to work-from-home, recreate and exercise locally, thousands turned to their section of the Napa Valley Vine Trail. March to June saw an 54% increase in use of the Vine Trail tracked by the Vine Trail’s automatic bicycle and pedestrian counters. Car traffic is slowly returning, with current numbers as of mid-July back to 73% of normal. But those new 67,500 Vine Trail walkers and bikers may have found that their own feet or wheels are the best vehicle for the miles they travel, inadvertently discovering that the thing they CAN do for the environment is actually simple, healthy, free and delightful all at the same time (and much easier than altering market forces).

Another small-yet-delightful way the Vine Trail benefits the environment is through carbon sequestration via the planting of trees. Trees are like mini smokestack scrubbers, only prettier and much easier to install. In fact, over 300 new trees have been planted along the Vine Trail, providing shade, habitat, and aesthetic value in addition to their air-cleansing properties.

The loss of life, livelihoods, and other devastations from this pandemic have shaken us all, and many of the far-reaching effects have yet to reveal themselves. It is our hope that the Napa Valley Vine Trail can be a small, good thing providing a little inspiration, a little hope, and a little cleaner air.