Riding a bicycle has not always been part and parcel of my life. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta I definitely was raised on our American "car culture." I believed that having a car was as necessary to living in the modern world as electricity or the telephone. It wasn’t until I had car troubles and was faced with the prospect of a bill I couldn’t afford that I thought of using a bicycle to commute.
The change to bicycle commuter wasn’t overnight. It took a couple of years before I finally gave up my clunky, unreliable car. But now that I do ride my bicycle, and occasionally MARTA, to the exclusion of my own vehicle, I cannot fathom I’ll ever go back. The costs and plain hassle of automobile ownership are never fully realized until you don’t deal with them. You are at the whim of market forces when you fill up your tank. You are taxed every year directly by the state and indirectly by a myriad of parking and moving violations that few drivers are able to escape year in and year out. You need to worry about where to park it and if the car and its contents are safe. You need to maintain it, which takes time and money whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. You need to have insurance to protect your investment. You need to worry about the other drivers on the road. You have to replace it at great cost to yourself every 15 years or so, sooner if you believe the car is a symbol of status rather than a simple mode of transportation. Adding it all up, few people realize how much time and effort are expended and how much freedom is given up for the “freedom” of driving.
Cycling to and from work is easier than most think. Depending on the day I might have to cycle anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to get where I need to go, but I don’t think that’s much different from most people in Atlanta who commute. I am never stuck in traffic, never have a day where I skip exercise, never have a mechanical problem that can’t be fixed with a small tool in my book bag and get to enjoy every sunny day.
While I cannot imagine everyone going as far as I have in giving up their car completely, I’m sure if people tried it just once or twice a week they would discover how much freedom they really have when they don’t need to drive.
Happy National Transportation Week! According to US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, 2012 marks the golden anniversary of an event that is rooted in education about the importance of our national transportation network. And on a local level, the signs of new thinking on transportation are everywhere. This week brought the launch of the “flex-lane” driving experience on the shoulder of Georgia 400. A new airport terminal opened its doors to the world. And The Clean Air Campaign typed up this blog entry for your enlightenment. Some might call this an epic week.
Wireside Chats: Dial In for Details on Transportation Referendum Projects
Media attention continues to build in anticipation of the July 31 regional transportation referendum that will allow voters to choose whether to use a penny sales tax collected over ten years to fund $8.5 billion in transportation improvements across the 10-county metro Atlanta region and parallel improvement projects at differing levels of investment drawn up in 11 other regions of the state. In a recent conversation with officials representing the Transform Metro Atlanta campaign, their hope is that news outlets and citizens will begin to dive deeper into the specific projects that the referendum would fund. During six evenings in June, the Atlanta Regional Commission will host a series of 12 Wireside Chat events, which are hour-long interactive phone conversations centered around a detailed map of proposed projects. Local officials will provide a brief overview of the July 31 referendum and answer questions about the project list that goes with the referendum. Worth a few minutes to be part of this conversation to see what might get built near your home or workplace. Register at www.wiresidechats.com.
Lane ends 2,000 feet.
Halfway There: The Potential of “Park to Pedal”
May is National Bike Month. In its role as an invitation to drivers to try bicycle commuting, the message is well-received by a growing number of people in the metro Atlanta region. But the barrier for most remains high, given that the average metro Atlanta commute is 17.5 miles each way. Still, this recent article in the Huffington Post outlines an idea that might work for more of us. What if we drove partway to our work destination, parked the car, pulled the bike out of the trunk and then pedaled the rest of the way in? In a climate of crazy gas prices and less free time to work out, this might become a worthwhile strategy to test out. Could you do it?
Lane ends 1,000 feet.
Costly Commuting: Driving Costs Per Mile Edge Upward
The American Automobile Association recently released its annual “Your Driving Costs” study, which examines the cost per mile to own, operate and maintain a vehicle. According to AAA, this study has been performed annually since 1950, when the cost per mile was a whopping nine cents. Fast forward 62 years and the cost per mile has risen to 59.6 cents per mile. That’s up about three cents from a year ago due to higher costs for resources like gasoline and rubber to make tires, as well as higher insurance premiums and taxes. The Clean Air Campaign uses a lower number that excludes ownership costs to illustrate the savings commuters can realize when they drive less. Take our updated commute calculator for a spin and see what you could put back into your piggy bank.
Lane ends 500 feet.
Air Aware: 15 Metro Atlanta Counties Not Meeting Latest Ground-Level Ozone Standard
The US Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final designations for areas that have been found to be out of compliance with standards for ground-level ozone. When the 2008 standard was implemented, the measuring stick got shorter. So, too, did the list of counties not meeting the standard. That’s an encouraging sign of progress, as regulatory and voluntary actions in Georgia continue to work harmoniously to improve air quality. But with long-term growth projections and increasing energy demands, there is more work to be done.
The countdown is on for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games! With the London Opening Ceremonies drawing near, a final push of preparations is underway. One of the major undertakings has been a $15 billion investment of revamping the transportation system through London – a civil engineer’s dream!
London is renowned for its extensive transportation infrastructure so one could only expect it to be advertised as the preferred method of Olympic travel. Some of the major implementations to ensure the greenest Olympic Games to date are:
- Parking will only be available for officials and the disabled.
- Commuters are being given free access to public transit throughout the day of an event with their ticket.
- Two high speed trains - the Olympic Javelin and the EuroStar. The Javelin is capable of reaching 140 mph and will run every 7 minutes carrying 25,000 passengers per hour. The EuroStar helps long distance commuters from France into London.
- Car-sharing, carpooling, bike sharing and additional buses will help relieve the street traffic.
- A 39-mile ribbon of fast lanes and shortcuts throughout London, called the Olympic Route Network, has been engineered to transport the 80,000 athletes, officials and members of the Games’ inner circle.
All of this will help ensure transportation efficiency so spectators, athletes and officials arrive to the events on time.
The circumstances are quite different compared to the 1996 Olympics. The Atlanta Games were spread across the state reaching Athens, Savannah, Stone Mountain, Conyers and Lake Lanier, and without the expansive transportation systems London boasts, issues were bound to happen - buses full of reporters were not meeting deadlines, athletes moved out of the Olympic Village in fear of not getting to their venues on time, and events were delayed due to athletes arriving late.
Today’s technology is also far more superior. In 1996, Google had just been born, MMS was science fiction, and the DVD was a year away. Today, we have progressive programs allowing better traffic simulations, modeling and training.
It wasn’t all terrible in 1996 – the Buckhead, Medical Center and Dunwoody MARTA stations opened in preparation for the Games, adjustments were made to trains allowing more standing room, Express parking lots outside the Perimeter allowed bus services to Stone Mountain and Conyers, and major downtown employers introduced clean commute methods that The Clean Air Campaign promotes like carpooling, flex-time and teleworking, which helped keep street traffic manageable.
In just a few weeks, we will see what kind of show seven years of planning and construction, $15 billion and long-lasting improvements will look like. What we can hope for this upcoming summer is not only many medals won by our athletes, but swift, safe and green transportation to and from events, for both spectators and athletes.
The Governor has declared the week of April 30 as Air Quality Awareness Week.
Over the past few years there have been tremendous improvements in air quality in the state, particularly in metro Atlanta. In the past 10 years, the official ozone level in metro Atlanta has decreased by 19% and the official annual particulate matter level has decreased by 26%.
Air quality continues to improve as older cars are replaced with newer ones, as older power plants are modernized with state-of-the-art air pollution controls, and as power plants are converted from coal to natural gas usage.
For example, April 30 marked the final day of transition from coal combustion to natural gas at the Plant McDonough power plant on the northwest side of Atlanta. This project was very beneficial from both an air pollution perspective and energy supply perspective. The replacement of old coal generating units with state-of- the-art natural gas units resulted in an increase in electric supply of more than 2,000 megawatts (equivalent to replacing the entire existing power plant and then adding an entire new large power plant all at the same site) coupled with a decrease in air emissions of 27,000 tons per year of sulfur dioxide, 3,700 tons of nitrogen oxides, 1,700 tons of particulate matter and 116 pounds of mercury.
However, there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone, particularly children and individuals with respiratory challenges, has clean air to breathe every day.
Last fall, U.S. EPA decided to move forward with the implementation of a more stringent air standard for ozone set in 2008. Currently, all areas of the state are in compliance with this standard except metro Atlanta. It is anticipated that metro Atlanta will have until the end of 2015 to attain this standard. If we don’t make it, we will automatically “bump up” to a higher classification that would result in the imposition of additional mandatory federal requirements.
Georgia is already implementing more stringent air standards for both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and so far the entire state is meeting these new standards. In addition, U.S. EPA has announced intentions to propose a more stringent standard for particulate matter that could be finalized as early as next year. It is in our best interest both economically and environmentally to meet these challenges, and we will be working with our stakeholders to do so.
Jac Capp is air protection branch chief at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
Clean Air Campaign partners gathered in Midtown Atlanta during the midpoint of Air Quality Awareness Week to earn their "MBA: Master's in Better Air."
The "Air We Breathe" seminar offered learning opportunities from air quality experts, covering health issues, regulatory progress and actionable ideas that can make a difference. Here are some highlights from the event:
- According to Dr. Jeremy Sarnat, associate professor at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, air quality issues have been present for centuries, as evidenced by hieroglyphics from Egypt that illustrate difficulty breathing and a Renaissance painting style that attempted to depict atmospheric pollution that can be seen in works like DaVinci's Mona Lisa.
- While respiratory issues have been the primary focus of scientific studies, new evidence suggests other systems are affected by exposure to polluted air, including the reproductive system, nervous system and circulatory system. The more we learn about the harmful effects of air pollution, the more important it becomes to take action.
- Studies show that air quality can affect life expectancy. A famous study examined ambient air pollution in six cities in the US over a period of 15 years and found differences in life expectancy based on concentrations of particle pollution. A follow-up study also showed how coordinated changes actually brought improvements to life expectancy.
- Expressed in terms of costs relative to benefits, by the year 2020 the Clean Air Act could deliver a projected $2 trillion in health benefits at an implementation cost of $65 billion.
- Scott Davis, Air Planning Branch Chief for the US Environmental Protection Agency Region IV, discussed National Ambient Air Quality Standards designed to protect public health and welfare.
- Changes were announced by EPA this week related to ground-level ozone regulations. With the implementation of the 2008 standard, fifteen Metro Atlanta counties were recommended for designation as a marginal non-attainment area based on data indicating ground-level ozone concentrations exceeded federal standards.
- Other regulatory decisions on the horizon could see a new standard announced for particle pollution in June, based on new evidence from the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee on public health and welfare impacts.
- Clean Air Campaign Executive Director Tedra Cheatham walked through actionable ways Georgians can limit their exposure to unhealthy air and reduce their contribution to air pollution problems.
For more background on the air we breathe, including the science behind air quality and ideas on what you can do to protect yourself, visit the "Your Transportation and Air Quality" section of The Clean Air Campaign's website.
Working as a school nurse has really opened my eyes and mind to the importance of The Clear Air Campaign. Outdoor air pollution created by idling cars, among other factors has an impact on everyone’s health, however children are more susceptible.
Children’s immune systems are still developing, they have smaller airways and they inhale more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. Since children tend to breathe through their mouths rather than their noses, this type of breathing does not allow for cilia and mucous found in the nose to trap the foreign particles in the air and stop them from entering the lungs.
In Georgia an estimated 10 percent of children have asthma, a chronic disease of inflamed airways and lungs which restrict a child’s ability to breathe. It can sometimes be life threatening. During an asthma episode or attack the airways narrow and it becomes difficult to breathe. There are three factors that contribute to this occurrence:
- The muscles around the airways tighten, narrowing the airways.
- The airways narrow and are blocked due to swelling and inflammation.
- More mucus than usual is produced inside the airways, further blocking them.
The Clean Air Campaign teaches us how we can improve the situation by making simple changes in our everyday routines such as riding the bus, carpooling to school and not idling our cars.
Checking the cleaning products we are using and not using aerosol sprays is also important. Remember, today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders. They need us to be role models for them and help keep them healthy. Together we can do that.
Adrienne MacDonald is the School Nurse at High Meadows School.
April 30 - May 4 marks Air Quality Awareness Week in Georgia. The state has made great strides in the past decade on improving ambient air quality. But with half of all smog-forming emissions coming from the tailpipes of cars and trucks, there is more work to be done.
Learn more about the science behind the air we breathe and get a big-picture perspective about smog challenges in Georgia. For tips on how you can reduce air pollution, at home, at work or on the go, click here. You can also take part in a fun competition on The Clean Air Campaign's Facebook page that kicks off later today called "Caption for Cleaner Air."
Does this job make me look fat?
In the past 50 years, much of the American workforce has shifted from agricultural and manufacturing jobs to the more sedentary office job. Because fewer than 20% of jobs require moderate physical activity, the average American worker is burning 100 calories less per workday than they did 50 years ago, equaling 25-35,000 fewer calories a year. Additionally, we are walking less in our everyday lives and walk the least amount of any other industrialized country. Americans spend more time in our cars than anywhere else in the world; more time spent driving means less time spent on activities that provide health benefits.
How does Georgia compare?
One of the biggest reasons people are walking less is that we live farther from the places we need to go. WalkScore.com measures the walkability of cities based on proximity to nearby amenities. Georgia cities have an average Walk Score of 35 out of 100, which is unfortunately not too great. However, there are some walkable cities within the state, the best including Decatur, North Druid Hills and North Atlanta. Among Georgia’s least walkable cities, and labeled as “car-dependent” are Evans, Union City and Sugar Hill.
If you live in an area where it is difficult to walk to work or run your errands, there are still ways to get some walking into your day.
- Divide your lunch so you eat half the time and take a walk for the other half
- Get up and move during commercial breaks
- Use stairs instead of the elevator
- Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of calling or emailing them
- Make it a habit – whenever you need a break at work or start to feel tired, take a quick stroll around the office
Walking is shown to drastically improve lives by lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and decreasing your chance of diabetes. So, try taking some small steps to walking more.
Hope you had a terrific Earth Week! The celebration of environmental conservation, protection and sustainability couldn’t possibly fit into just one solitary day anymore. And the parade of innovative ways to green the globe has truly gone …well, global. In fact, when it comes to improving the quality of the air we all breathe, clever ideas are springing up all over the world. So, to celebrate Earth Week, The Clean Air Campaign scoured the Earth to bring you these success stories from afar:
London: Pollution Glue Traps Fine Particles
With particle pollution emissions creating health challenges, London has found itself in a sticky situation as the city prepares to host the Olympic Games in a few short months. But engineers have developed a winning solution you won’t believe: applying a special “pollution glue” to road surfaces has helped trap fine particles, preventing them from going airborne. Studies indicate repeated applications on select thoroughfares have reduced particle pollution by 10% over a 24-hour period.
Manila: Smog-Eating Paint Artfully Covers City Walls
Smog in the city of Manila doesn’t stand a chance, thanks to a new idea that could forever alter the meaning of the phrase, “paint the town.” Artists are painting giant murals on the sides of buildings using a special smog-eating blend of catalytic paint that filters out nitrogen oxides. The manufacturer claims that coating 11 square feet of a surface with this special paint filters the same amount of air pollution as one full-grown tree.
Spain: Building Transit Ridership through e-Book Offers
QR codes are springing up everywhere. And in one district in Spain, a transit operator has found a creative way to tackle pollution and literacy at the same time. Train riders in Catalonia can scan QR codes on wall posters hung inside the cars to download the first chapter of select novels onto their mobile devices for some fun diversion on the commute. Truly a progressive idea. Imagine having this opportunity on a GRTA Xpress bus or a MARTA line.
When it comes to doing the right things for the planet, we’re all in it together. That makes Earth Week a terrific occasion to think and act green no matter where you are. Tell The Clean Air Campaign about other unique ideas you’ve found out there to help improve the air we all breathe. And be sure to mark your calendars next week for Air Quality Awareness Week in Georgia, taking place April 30-May 4.
With the changing of seasons each year, Georgia commuters see a roller coaster rise and fall of gas prices. We have waved goodbye to winter gas prices that seemed like a bargain when they were $3 a gallon, and are approaching the peak gas price season of the year: the summer, which brings a higher demand for gasoline where families take advantage of the warm weather and school breaks to get on the road.
Gas prices outside of Georgia
Even though we are currently seeing prices as high as $4.09 per gallon in some areas of the state, Georgia gas prices are significantly lower than other parts of the country and well below most developed countries around the world. While gasoline costs roughly the same to make no matter where in the world it is produced, the difference in retail costs is due to the fact that some governments subsidize gas while others tax it heavily.
Less demand, higher prices
Overall, the United States has seen some behavior changes over the past couple of years regarding Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Since 2007, the average VMT in the southeast has generally been declining. While it seems the demand for gasoline has slowly and steadily been dropping, the retail prices continue to rise. Georgians are currently paying $0.10 more per gallon than where we were at this same time last year. Do you think this is ominous of what is to come?
What can you do about rising gas prices?
The most immediate thing anyone can do to get relief from volatile gas prices is simply driving less. More than 400,000 commuters in the Atlanta region alone are using alternative commute methods such as carpooling or vanpooling in order to share the costs of gas, or riding transit, walking, or bicycling to work, or even teleworking to avoid the commute altogether. When will rising gas prices motivate you to get off the roller coaster and try something different on your daily commute?
Learn more about commute alternatives and ways for you to save money this summer at www.CleanAirCampaign.org.