2030 Vision Status Report - Air Quality

In honor of Sustain Charlotte’s 10th anniversary this year, we’re looking back at Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision for Our Region to see what’s changed since we published this vision in 2010! In light of the dramatic impacts of COVID on air quality here and around the world, we’re kicking off our series by looking at progress on air quality.


Air quality in Mecklenburg Quality has dramatically improved since 2000, but progress has been slower in the past few years. Air quality between from 2010 to 2020 has been better than 2000 to 2010. However, improvements since 2013 have greatly slowed, and more can be done for vulnerable populations. Check out detailed reports from Mecklenburg Air Quality.

MeckAQdays.pngImage: Mecklenburg Air Quality. Air Quality has improved in Mecklenburg County over the past decade. The number of “Good” Air Quality days has increased from 107 in 2004 to 234 in 2019. Currently, Mecklenburg County meets all federal health-based air quality standards. 

Now we’ll take a deeper dive into three of the eleven vision statements from Charlotte 2030: A Sustainable Vision for Our Region for Air Quality.

Air quality meets or surpasses all federal standards. 

Status: Achieved! 


Image (EPA): Ground-level ozone is the main air pollutant of concern in the Charlotte region.

According to the County, the improvement in Mecklenburg’s air quality is due in part to strict state and federal requirements for industrial facilities and motor vehicles. These requirements have included: 

  • Stricter federal controls on emissions from power plants and other industrial sources. 
  • More stringent federal standards for car and truck engines as well as gasoline and diesel fuel.

But Mecklenburg Air Quality recognizes that our county and the entire Charlotte region only narrowly meet the health-based standard for ground-level ozone. So they established the Breathing Room program as a plan to continue the positive trend of improving air quality in our region by connecting and supporting partners who are working on goals like transit and greenway expansion advocacy, airport shuttle and school bus electrification, Complete Streets, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and other goals with varying time horizons.

Many amazing area nonprofits are working to improve air quality! Clean Air Carolina has led the charge statewide on ensuring clean air for all North Carolinians through education and advocacy. We partner with them by collaborating through the Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders group, which addresses the challenge of global climate change through local action. Our major role in Mecklenburg County’s Breathing Room initiative is to advocate for transportation choices that support clean air, as well as land use policies and investments that allow people to reduce their reliance on driving. We usually partner every summer with Mecklenburg Air Quality, Charlotte Area Air Awareness, and CATS on a public Clean Commute Challenge (currently on hold for 2020 due to social distancing).

Bus routes are expanded to include a transportation grid in addition to lines that radiate from center city. 

Status: In progress. 


Public transportation can improve air quality by reducing overall vehicle emissions and the pollutants that create smog. In October 2018, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) completed an important phase of the Envision My Ride bus network redesign, which led to a systemwide overhaul of the bus network to provide additional crosstown service and more connections throughout the Charlotte region. The redesigned bus system provides more opportunities to travel across town and transfer outside of Uptown, which helps people reach their destinations more efficiently.  

Sustain Charlotte has been a strong voice for public transit advocacy since we got started back in 2010. We began by building the support of elected officials for key phases of the CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar, and have continued to advocate for completion of the entire 2030 Transit Plan. We continue to advocate for funding to build out that plan and implement future phases of Envision My Ride that will allow buses on key routes to run every 15 minutes or less, and add additional bus routes to expand service into new areas. In 2020 we hired a full-time Transit Coalition Coordinator, who is facilitating the launch of a community-based coalition to advocate for the expansion of equitable, sustainable, multi-modal transportation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area! This year we’ve been appointed by Mayor Vi Lyles to serve on the Charlotte Moves Task Force, which is charged with bringing the vision of a robust network of mobility solutions into reality, determining what that vision is and recommending how to pay for it.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is adopted and supported.

Status: A new, stronger TOD ordinance was adopted by Charlotte City Council in 2019!


Think about the types of communities that are most enjoyable and easy to walk around. You’re probably imagining walking and bicycling paths, favorite restaurants with patios, apartment homes and condos with inviting front porches, and safe connections from surrounding neighborhoods. But this type of people-centered development doesn’t happen by accident. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is just what it sounds like: a type of development that supports optimal use of land for homes, businesses, and recreation within walking distance of public transit. TOD supports overall sustainable growth and can be a powerful tool for improving air quality because it allows people to easily live and work without needing to drive a car.

Charlotte City Council adopted the new TOD Districts (and updated the zoning map to reflect these changes)  in April 2019, replacing the existing outdated ordinance. In addition to supporting walkable development, the TOD Districts also restrict certain car-centric land uses such as drive-thru windows, gas stations, etc. within close walking distance of light rail. TOD Districts are part of Charlotte’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), a regulatory tool meant to guide future development so that it results in the types of community and places defined by the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan policies. 

Sustain Charlotte serves on the Unified Development Ordinance Advisory Council, where we ensure that the work on the UDO is aligned with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan and is moving towards a sustainable future for Charlotte’s development. We know that land use planning gets complicated pretty quickly. So we attend public meetings and share updates and action alerts with the public so you have a chance to add your voice! We also work to ensure that land use planning is aligned with transportation planning.

What’s next?

While Mecklenburg County’s air quality narrowly meets health standards countywide, inequities remain. Communities that are negatively affected by these inequities are predominantly non-white and low-income. Closer proximity to major transportation routes and other pollution sources combined with a higher incidence of chronic diseases results in greater vulnerability for people living in these areas.

To continue moving forward for cleaner air, we need:

  • Strong federal, state, and local policies to reduce sources and impacts of pollution
  • Continued replacement and retrofitting of diesel engines in City and County-owned vehicles and equipment through the GRADE program
  • Continuation of Mecklenburg County’s strong focus on mobile sources of air pollution.
  • Increased opportunities for residents to ride a bike, walk, ride transit, or carpool instead of driving alone.
  • Land use planning and development that minimizes contributions to air pollution

Thank you for joining us for this look back at just 3 of the vision statements for air quality that dozens of community members came together to dream in 2010. Thanks to the support of amazing partners in government, non-profits, business, as well as individual actions, we’re proud to celebrate the past decade of significant progress towards cleaner air. Continued support and partnerships will be critical to continue forward progress for all!

Sustain Charlotte would like to thank Calvin Cupini of Clean Air Carolina and Megan Green of Mecklenburg County's Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) for their technical assistance. All opinions expressed are those of Sustain Charlotte.

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