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The first time I rode my bike to work, I was terrified. Traffic was fast and frequent on Cascade Road and I hugged the curb as if my life depended on it, which I thought at the time it did. That was after a few weeks of biking to the MARTA station on the sidewalk, and being amazed at how slowly I had to travel. Switching to the street made my commute that much faster, and as I later learned, that much safer.

After 3 weeks (or 21 days, the length of time experts recommend to really latch on to a new habit), I took a deep breath, relaxed, and started the long journey towards truly enjoying my commute.

I discovered I felt more confident, less out of breath, and more like a biker. A biker! Out of shape, non gym-member me! It was a great feeling. I felt empowered by having arrived at my destination powered by nothing more than my own legs, which were growing stronger by the day. Thus I embarked on my low-car diet. In a fortunate coincidence, I was able to lose 15 pounds before my wedding.

I started biking to work four years ago when I was working for a foundation in southwest Atlanta. I rode 2.5 miles one way to the office, arriving sweaty, breathless, and at peace. My coworkers marveled at my dedication, but for me, it just made sense. Those 2.5 miles would have taken me 50 minutes to traverse by bus and train and bus again, and we were a one-car couple, so I didn’t think it fair to drive the car myself every day when my fiance might have needed it.

Eventually, once my now-husband and I both started biking to work, we wised up and took a class with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. A few short months later, I took over as the new executive director and had the privilege of sharing what I had learned with others.

Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 21. While thousands of Atlantans bike to work everyday, including the staff here at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Friday is a great opportunity for people who usually get to work by some other method to dust off their bike and give it a go!

ABC and our partners are providing Energizer Stations around town where bike users can fuel up for free with refreshments and giveaways. Experienced cyclists will lead Bike Trains that anyone can hop on in order to ride with others and make their commute safer and more social. And everyone who registers for Bike to Work Day (or to ride other days during that week) will be entered to win prizes including $20 gift cards from Sidebar and a surprise item from REI.

Then there’s the thrill of arriving at work, energized and engaged, ready to start the day knowing you took a step to make the air we breathe a little cleaner.

Rebecca Serna is the Executive Director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, metro Atlanta’s voice for better biking. ABC’s mission is to make it safer and easier for people to ride bicycles to create a healthier, more sustainable region. ABC promotes bicycling to improve public health, clean the air, reduce congestion, and build community. Rebecca is a daily bike commuter – she and her husband blog about going car-free at carfreeatlantafamily.wordpress.com.



MARTA's Five Points station was the site of a rally Tuesday evening that brought together union officials, MARTA leadership, patrons and even the Rev. Jesse Jackson to raise awareness of the funding constraints that exist between maintaining existing operations and expanding service.

Against a backdrop of transit union workers donning t-shirts that read "Save Our Ride" -- and some wearing dust masks to decry the region's air quality issues, which would become worse without transit -- speakers made the case for greater control over transit dollars.

Facing reductions in service that could begin as soon as July 1 because of funding shortfalls, MARTA is asking for more flexibility in how it spends its money.

"It makes no sense," said Warren George, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, about the funding requirements. "It makes no sense to take a bus off the road and put 40 cars on the road."

"Public transit protects our environment," echoed Harry Lombardo, executive vice president of the Transit Workers Union of America. "A train or bus is the cleanest, greenest way to get from Point A to Point B."

Jesse Jackson offered up a good analogy: Atlanta has five major arteries (Cobb, Clayton, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett). MARTA is the heart of metro ATL transit, but only two of the arteries have been working (Dekalb, Fulton), referring to the penny sales tax in those counties that subsidizes MARTA.

A grassroots virtual petition supporting transit nationwide, "Save Our Ride,"offers MARTA patrons a way to express their support for transit.

Transit union workers wore t-shirts at the MARTA rally to make the case for increased transit support.

Transit union workers and their families donned dust masks to call attention to the negative air quality impacts of reduced transit service.

Dr. Beverly Scott speaks at the Five Points MARTA station during last Tuesday's rally.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson took the podium to deliver an impassioned message about the vital role transit plays in Atlanta.

Attendees at the rally wore buttons encouraging support for transit by sending a text message.



Think earning cash and winning prizes for choosing to carpool, vanpool, ride transit, telework, bicycle and walk to work is great? Well, now we have even more in store for you! Start clean commuting this summer, and you could:

  • MINImize your impact on the air we breathe for the chance to win a 2010 Mini Cooper
  • win a clean air cruise for two to Alaska
  • get up to $1,000 in free gas when you use alternatives to driving alone
  • score great seats for an Atlanta Braves game
  • join Clark Howard in giving your car the day off to save money on commute costs
  • win a year of free car washes
  • rock out to a hit artist at the Clean Air Concert

If you’re already using alternatives to driving alone, consider this a big “thanks” for all that you do to help keep the air we breathe clean! If you haven’t started yet, there are even more reasons now to make the switch to a cleaner commute.

Visit the “Other Contests and Promotions” page to get the scoop on our latest contests and prizes. Tell your friends about it, and check back throughout the summer for updated contest information.



There's no doubt that where we choose to live, work and play all contribute to our individual perceptions of quality of life. Land use influences our mobility and dictates how we spend our time and money, among other things. And in a growing region like ours, there has never been a more important time to get smart about managing growth.

Urban planning is one discipline that seeks to improve the way the built environment and the natural environment work together. But much of the resulting work from urban planning - zoning ordinances, building codes, buffer areas and the like - has not yet reached the conscious (or the conscience) of the general public.

How do we get more people to care and take ownership of the issues our region faces with respect to sprawl, traffic congestion, pollution and consumption of natural resources? Sing about it.

Melanie Hammet, metro ATL resident since 1985, combined her talents as a local artist and elected official serving the City of Pine Lake to merge ordinance and art. Her new album, "Edifice Complex and Other Urban Plans," debuts April 10, exploring land use concepts and delivering thought-provoking observations to which we can all relate. One particular song of interest to The Clean Air Campaign about traffic features cameo appearances by a trio of vehicles.

We caught up with Melanie to find out more about "Edifice Complex:"

Q: What changes have you observed over time with respect to land use, mobility, expansion?
A: The biggest change has been in my self-education. Thanks to the Atlanta Regional Commission, Southface, the Livable Communities Coalition - to shortlist a few - there are great resources for learning about land use, and land misuse.

Q: What made you choose to make Pine Lake your home?
A: I was attracted to Pine Lake because the tree-land-house-car-people ratios seemed reasonable and sane. I was attracted to taking a leadership role in the City to help maintain those ratios.

Q: What motivated you to create "Edifice Complex?"
A: I was part of a volunteer effort to guide the re-writing of our zoning code. We’d hired an urban planner through Dekalb County and we had lots and lots of public input.
During this two-year period, I saw the challenge of translating zoning language and city planning into real, high-impact conversations. The results of bad land design are profoundly personal and the code that creates it is exactly that: code.

Q: How was the album put together?
A: In 2008 I applied for an artist residency at Seaside, a planned community in Florida. Although Seaside is a model development for land-use practices, my application was to the arts branch of their Institute. It just so happened that my project was to compose songs that reflected land-use/urban planning concepts. I was accepted into the program and had a month to focus on reading - James Howard Kunstler; Allan Jacobs; Jane Jacobs - walking all over the streets and pathways of Seaside and the surrounding areas; and writing the music that became “Edifice Complex.”

Q: What challenges do you see in getting individuals to take action on these issues?
A: As a community leader, I feel the challenge is to find direct, actionable tasks with direct, achievable results and then to enlist individuals in participating and feeling successful. Otherwise the issues are too large and too defeating.

Q: What motivated you to explore and write "Car Tune?"
A: I never realized how pampered the automobile was in our planning culture until we started dissecting zoning code. It’s almost comical. We make sure the sightlines of our streets and signs are good for "The Vehicle," that we have lots and lots of pavement for "The Vehicle," on and on it goes! It’s so obvious we don’t even notice the extent of it.

Q: How did you create the sounds for "Car Tune?"
A: I decided that my car wasn’t going to sit idly by while I was in the studio laboring over recording the song. Ben Holst (the engineer), and I dragged microphones into the driveway and put my Ford, his Chevy, and a nearby Toyota to work. "Car Tune’s" instrumentation is provided entirely by the trio.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for improved mobility in the region?
A: Geez, that’s the million-dollar question! Here’s my thought: when I lived in Manhattan, I spent a long Saturday walking from the northernmost tip of the island to the southernmost. I did it because I COULD do it. Can you imagine the Atlanta equivalent? The biggest opportunity is to make walking sexy. In our culture, driving is sexy. If we could flip that relationship, people would clamor for sidewalks and human-size cool stuff to look at and trees that shaded the paths.

Release Party

"Edifice Complex" will have its concert at The Clubhouse in Pine Lake, an eclectic community near Stone Mountain, on April 10th at 8pm. Tickets, directions, and info are at http://edificecomplex.net/



Greetings and happy spring! We've put on our gardening gloves and dug deep for this edition of Merging Lanes with one goal: to plant thoughts of sustainable transportation in your mind. So, what's going in Georgia? Lots:

HB 1218 - Transportation Funding in Georgia
It came in like a lion. Will it go out like a lamb? The state transportation funding bill (HB 1218) that was introduced early in the legislative session has reached a critical point in the calendar, where it must move from the House to the Senate or be put on the shelf. The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 still has many details that need to be worked out, such as whether counties can opt out of the "regional" arrangement and how projects will be approved. In 2008, a different version of a transportation funding bill missed by three votes at the end of the session. In 2009, competing versions of transportation planning and funding bills could not be reconciled before the session ended. What are the odds that another legislative session will come and go without action on transportation funding? And for Georgia commuters and employers, what is the cost of another year of status quo?

Lane ends 2000 feet.

Friday is Ride MARTA Day
A grassroots movement is gaining momentum to build citizen support for MARTA as the transit agency comes to grips with a funding shortfall that is likely to result in service cuts by the start of summer that could affect thousands of patrons. "Ride MARTA Day" is coming up this Friday. If you can hop on a bus or ride the train to work this Friday, consider showing your support for MARTA.

Lane ends 1000 feet.

Actions Speak Loud
It's an understatement to say he leads by example in his role at The Clean Air Campaign. Hats off to Mark Telling, The Clean Air Campaign's Director of Finance since 2002, who just earned recognition as a Clean Air Commuter Champion.

He makes it look easy. Because it is. Preferred commuting modes? GRTA Xpress and telework. When asked why he does it, the predicted answer we thought we'd get from the seasoned finance professional would be savings on commute costs. But Mark says his motivation is simply to avoid the stress of driving alone in traffic. Mark's efforts at clean commuting have kept 25,000 pounds of pollution out of the air we breathe. Congrats!

Lane ends 500 feet.

Bumper Sticker Moment of Zen
When you're languishing in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the least the driver in front of you can do is give you something to ponder.

Thanks, biodiesel guy, for doing your part. Got any good pics of bumper stickers with traffic or sustainability messages that gave you a chuckle, or maybe sparked an epiphany? Send them our way and we'll share them in this space.

Merge



Clayton County’s bus service, C-TRAN, is scheduled to end March 31. This is a major hit to riders who rely on this service for their commute to work. Luckily, there are other options. The Clean Air Campaign wants to help make the transition to a new commute as seamless as possible for displaced C-TRAN commuters.

If you currently ride C-TRAN to work, there are some other commute options in your area that are worth investigating, such as riding an Xpress bus or joining or starting a vanpool or carpool. RideSmart can help match you with other commuters who live and work near you. If you want to carpool with someone who lives near you but works in a different area, you could try carpooling to the nearest MARTA station.

To learn more about your options and find out ways you may be able to offset the cost of your new commute, contact us by calling 1-877-CLEANAIR or e-mailing Daniel Jessee at DJessee@CleanAirCampaign.org. We’re here to help.



A new marketing survey finds commuters in "The City Too Busy to Hate" have ample time to project anger towards each other as they jockey for position on the region's congested roadways.

 

Don't drive angry.

 

Atlanta, the genteel metropolis where people say "hey" and open the door for one other, checks in at #4 on the list of cities with the least courteous drivers, behind New York, Dallas and Detroit. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Portland, Oregon, topped the rankings as the most courteous city for motorists.

The worst part is that Atlanta moved up on the list, from 6th in 2008. Guess lots of the 84% of commuters in the region who drive alone each day need to smooth out some anger issues.

How did we go from bad to worse? A few thoughts:

1. Population growth has brought a million new residents to metro Atlanta in the past decade, and the region expects to add another two million people by 2030. We're fighting for our "personal space" on a crowded transportation network that projects to grow even more crowded. And we're not happy about it.

2. We're not paying attention to what we're doing because we're preoccupied with multi-tasking, talking on the phone or texting. Of the 24 cities participating in the survey, Atlanta was the city most likely to see other commuters slam on their brakes at the last minute.

3. We're short on patience because we're always running late due to delay from traffic (which burns up 60 hours a year for the average metro ATL commuter). This shows up in the finding that Atlanta is second-most likely to see other commuters run through red lights on a daily basis or change lanes without warning.

What can we do to suppress some of the asphalt angst we fling at our fellow commuters?

Here's an idea: next time you're behind the wheel and that vein pops out of your neck because the dummy in front of you just swerved into your lane and cut you off, share a laugh about it with your carpool partner. Or, tuck away that middle finger and thank your lucky stars you don't have to do battle in traffic the next day because you're working a compressed workweek. Or, ease up on the horn and make a mental note to ask your employer about getting a discounted transit pass.

Maybe these are the things the happy commuters do in Portland.



Next week is a great week to shake up the routine a little in your daily commute. The Clean Air Campaign, together with Clark Howard and the crew at 750 AM WSB and the region's local Transportation Management Associations, want you to pick a day next week to give your car the day off. Last year, some 1,300 metro Atlanta commuters pledged to do it (when gas prices rose above $4 last year, it's easy to see why). This year, let's raise the bar! You can sign up here to take part.

Need a little motivation to participate this go around? Here are five great reasons to give your car the day off:

  1. Every mile you drive alone is costing you 54 cents. That adds up over time, especially in Atlanta, which is recognized as one of the most expensive areas for commuters nationwide. Did you know the average metro ATL household spends more than $8,000 a year on transportation costs? That's more than we spend on food.
  2. You can get more done when you're not behind the wheel. With an average commute time in the region of 36 minutes each way, we're all looking for ways to be more productive. Why not hop on an Xpress bus or carpool and read a book or catch up on e-mail?
  3. Half of all smog-forming emissions come from the tailpipes of cars and trucks. That's a major factor in the number of days we experience when air quality is deemed unhealthy for outdoor activity. Fewer tailpipes is good for the air we breathe. Try carpooling. If you need help finding a person to share the ride, The Clean Air Campaign can direct you to RideSmart, a division of the Atlanta Regional Commission that runs a service to match commuters who live and work near each other.
  4. Not having to drive means less stress from the grind of traffic and the "unpredictable actions" of other commuters who are competing for space on the roads. You don't have to get worked up about the dummy who zooms past you and changes lanes without signaling when you're teleworking.
  5. When you leave your car in the driveway and choose a different way to get to work, you're not using up as much energy. Try MARTA. They're also supporting an event next week -- on Thursday, June 18 -- called "Dump the Pump." We all remember how exasperating it was last year to shell out big bucks for gas. It's still painful to pay $2.50 a gallon. Try an alternative so you don't need to fill up the tank as often.

Giving your car the day off one day next week is just a starting point, of course. We want you to do it once in hopes that you'll consider doing it more often. There are more than 350,000 commuters across town who have come to enjoy alternatives to driving alone. We need more to accomplish our mission of less traffic and cleaner air.



I never meant to develop the relationship I have today with public transportation; daily rider, avid fan, committed advocate. I owned (and still do) a gas guzzling SUV that I dutifuly drove every day up and down the downtown connector and Georgia 400 from my house in North Ormewood in the heart of Atlanta to my office in Alpharetta. It all started because I had to go to the bathroom.

Let me explain - it was just a Friday like any other. I was planning to go to the Hawks game and had left my office at somewhere around 3:40. I knew Friday traffic would be bad; really bad, and I wanted to get home, change, eat something and get to the game. That afternoon traffic was worse than I could have imagined. I waited in the usual places, but then I got to the tollbooth at GA 400 and it stopped. And the line crawled. The worst part was I had to go to the bathroom. I had to go and I saw no relief. We were crawling toward the Sidney Marcus exit and it looked like we would never, ever get there. As I sat there, about to freak out, I watched the MARTA trains roll over head and thought, "there has to be a better way."

It took me more than 2 hours to get home that night, and by the time the weekend ended, I had mapped out my route. Drive to Inman Park, take the train to North Springs, get on the #140 bus and get to the office.

That morning was crazy. I got up super early and nervously began my trek. I was going to ride a BUS. I had never considered this before, the fact that I had to ride a bus was always the deal-breaker for me. But I did it that morning. I made it and I made it so much more relaxed. And then going home. Wow. What a difference.

I never looked back. By the end of the week I bought a monthly pass. I have only driven to my office rarely since that day, more that 18 months ago. I added the bus in front of my house to my repetoire a few weeks later and now my commute almost never involves a car (I'll admit, some days I drive to the train station when I need my car right after work.) I have taken MARTA all over Fulton and Dekalb, ridden buses to Stone Mountain, Buckhead, Downtown, everywhere. I chuckle to think there was a time when I wouldn't consider a bus. I am chuckling even more when I realize I am writing this on a 3G card from the front seat of the #140 as I ride home.

I love my MARTA. The only regret I have is that I didn't realize it for years. I wish I could have all those wasted hours sitting on the connector back.

I can't, but maybe I can convince you to give it a try and save those hours for yourself ;-)

James Hervey is the author of a blog on his MARTA ridership experiences and a regular contributor to http://atlanta.metblogs.com/. Each year, his sustained efforts at clean commuting have helped keep nearly four tons of pollution out of the air we breathe.



An important barometer for personal transportation is vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a measurement used to communicate how much we're driving ... or not driving. This metric is important because federal transportation funding for new roads and repairs of existing roads is tied to VMT.

It's incredible to think that commuters are now entering the second year of declining travel on our nation's roadways. According to recent national statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, we drove more than 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007. The data indicate that vehicle miles traveled in Georgia continue to trend downward, with the latest numbers available -- December 2008 -- showing a 1% decline (50 million fewer vehicle miles of travel on Georgia roads) over the prior December.

Many believe escalating fuel prices triggered the decline in late 2007. But what's causing the decline to continue now that the cost of a gallon of gas has remained more predictable? Most signs point to the ailing economic conditions that touch every corner of America. It stands to reason that fewer Americans would be driving as often if they've been laid off or if businesses are closing their doors. But is there room to accommodate the thought that, because of both the recent experience with volatile fuel prices and the ongoing experience of hard economic times, perhaps more commuters are making conscious decisions to think differently about the way they get to and from work?

While VMT continues to go down, alternatives to driving like telework and transit are decidedly on the rise. More employers are turning to telework as a cost-cutting strategy that also improves employee morale. And transit ridership in 2008 reached its highest levels since the Eisenhower administration -- but new money for transit is desperately needed to keep the momentum going. Still, another positive side-effect of the decline in VMT is that less wear and tear on roads and bridges could make them last longer, at a time when funding for large-scale repairs is not readily available.

How long do you see the slide continuing in the number of vehicle miles we're traveling each month? Is this a signal that commuters are making permanent changes to their travel routines ... or just a small blip on the radar screen?