Truly there is never a dull moment on the roads. And now commuters in the Woodstock area can add another crazy challenge to the traffic congestion that befalls area roads: a wild turkey disrupting commute trips.
Doesn't this bird know what happens next week?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, The Clean Air Campaign offers this money savings tip: carpooling just a few times can free up enough money on gas and car expenses to help the typical Georgia commuter buy a delicious turkey.
We're looking at you, Tom.
As we head deeper into autumn, the landscape is treating us to a spectacular parade of orange, yellow and red hues. Yes, turn signals and brake lights at rush hour are indeed a sight to behold. But it’s more fun to wax poetic about the fall leaves. So, frolic in the foliage and rake in this latest edition of Merging Lanes.
In the future green economy of America, the streets won’t be paved with gold. They’ll be paved with titanium dioxide. Demonstrating that innovation knows no boundaries in the shared space between transportation and air quality, engineers in Missouri recently laid down a 1,500-foot strip of asphalt that can break down ground-level ozone pollution. Mixed into this special blend of concrete is a titanium dioxide additive that creates a photo-catalytic reaction, absorbing smog, using sunlight to break it down, and releasing it as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Neat.
Lane ends 2,000 feet.
The Morning Ritual That’s Ruining Your Car’s Engine
With the chill of autumn comes those frosty mornings that all commuters must endure. But there’s one driveway ritual that Georgia commuters should stop practicing because it can ruin a car’s performance. Warming up the engine in the mornings by allowing it to idle can actually wear down engine parts and create more air pollution. The practice of unnecessary idling on cold mornings can produce up to six grams of carbon monoxide per minute. That’s equal to the carbon monoxide content from three packs of cigarettes. Turns out, it’s also an easy way to get your car stolen. Simply put, the best way to warm up your engine and create less air pollution on your morning commute is to drive your vehicle instead of idling.
Lane ends 1,000 feet.
Where the Germs Are
If you need extra motivation to drive less, look no further. From the Yuck Department, a new study found that gas pump handles may be among the dirtiest surfaces that we touch. A team of hygienists conducted tests in six cities – including Atlanta – and determined that gas pump and mailbox handles, escalator rails and ATM buttons were more likely to harbor high concentrations of germs that can lead to illness. In all, 71% of gas pump handles tested had high contamination levels. Gross!
Lane ends 500 feet.
Families Trapped in Vehicles
The headline of a recent article in Time magazine points out the depth of America’s car culture: “We Pay More to Drive Than We Spend on Taxes.” Citing a new study conducted by a Washington, D.C. think tank, the article describes how difficult it is for the average American family to scale back on driving costs, even in the face of higher energy prices that influence everything from the cost of a gallon of gasoline to a gallon of milk. Over the past decade, The Clean Air Campaign and its partners have helped more than 85,000 Georgia commuters get relief from the high cost of commuting through a combination of financial incentives and support programs. We’re ready to help more people make their dollars go further by using commute options.
Remember to set your clocks back an hour this Sunday, November 6. As we “fall back” and adjust to the time change, it’s also important to take into account how the evening rush hour commute changes with the earlier onset of dusk. Studies show increased risk of evening traffic accidents in the days following the end of daylight saving time, primarily due to poorer visibility during the evening drive home.
According to U.S. Census data, some 39% of Georgia commuters have one-way commute times of 30 minutes or longer, making it a sure bet that some of the ride home may be in darkness. Get a carpool partner so you have an extra set of eyes to help you negotiate through traffic. Or consider riding transit so you don’t have to do the driving. Not only can these commute options be safer than going it alone, they can also help you save big bucks on commute costs. And if you’re a bicycle commuter or a walker, be sure that you have the right gear to make yourself visible to other commuters.
Today marks the kickoff of The Clean Air Campaign’s first ever Clean Commute Week. The idea for Clean Commute Week came from a group a parents from Evansdale Elementary’s PTA Green Team, who introduced the idea last year during International Walk to School Day. The successful initiative earned the school the Marlin Gottschalk Environmental Leadership Award at The Clean Air Campaign’s recent PACE Awards ceremony in August.
As Evansdale Elementary celebrated International Walk to School day last fall, we noticed some sad faces from children who had taken the bus. Walking and biking is great and means cleaner air and healthy exercise, but for children who cannot walk or bike, riding the bus is a safe and green way to come to school.
As a magnet school, Evansdale has many children who live far away from school and can’t walk, and who cannot feasibly ride a bus. For them, the cleanest possible commute is to share a ride with other families. So last spring we decided to turn Georgia Walk to School Day into Evansdale Elementary’s Clean Commute Week, honoring all the different ways that children can come to school that are good for the environment. Our goal was to encourage and celebrate sustainable habits that are feasible and easy for families to adopt. We created a “Clean Commute Log” and asked students to document their commute to and from school each day for a week. To our delight, the students and their parents responded enthusiastically to this idea. We held mini celebrations with prizes from The Clean Air Campaign for “Take the Bus Tuesday”, “Walking Wednesday” and “Ride together Friday”. In addition, we had students add their name to a paper cut-out of a foot, bus or car to represent their type of commute. We then added the cut-outs to a large display in the foyer of the school. Luckily we had cut out enough footprints, school buses, and carpool cars to represent each clean commuting student – the challenge was fitting them all on the display space!
If good habits can be formed when young, they may become lifelong habits. And children – once their awareness has been raised – can become great advocates for environmental behaviors. So it seemed a good idea to encourage Evansdale Elementary students to clean commute – it would mean healthy exercise for those who walked or rode bikes and cleaner air for everyone if students carpooled or rode school buses instead of coming in many individual cars. And if they did it during Clean Commute Week, maybe they’d form the habit and do it often. That was our hope.
This year at Evansdale we are celebrating clean commutes every Wednesday. Each student who walks, rides a bike or bus or carpools with another family receives a stamp and is entered into a monthly drawing to receive a prize and “Clean Commuter of the Month” certificate. The students are enthusiastically participating and are proud to be a part of making our community a better place.
Over the past decade, more than 32,000 Georgians have been part of a program that rewards them for doing their part to clear the roads and clean the air. It was 10 years ago this fall that The Clean Air Campaign started offering commuters a financial nudge to make a change in the name of cleaner air and less traffic. The incentive was initially only offered in metro Atlanta, and only during smog season. Today there are more incentives that make up the Commuter Rewards program, and they are available year-round, to all Georgia commuters.
The idea for Cash for Commuters was borne out of a question we ask ourselves all the time at The Clean Air Campaign: what can we do to influence commuters to change their behavior?
Some 82% of commuters in metro Atlanta – and 79% of commuters statewide – drive alone. Why not pay them a nominal amount to try alternatives like carpooling, vanpooling, riding transit, bicycling or walking on their trips to and from work? In effect, this outcome is designed to pay commuters to break an existing habit just as much as it is to acquire a new one.
These became the cornerstone principles of the Cash for Commuters program:
- If the drive-alone skeptics could experience the benefits of not being behind the wheel over the course of a trial period – and come to appreciate those benefits – the money would be a great investment. Data shows 74 percent of participants are still using alternatives to the solo drive 18-24 months after their participation in the Cash for Commuters program ends.
- Applying the old adage that it takes about 30 days to form or break a habit, the trial period needed to be long enough for commuters to see the difference in their household budgets and their stress levels.
- Documenting commute activity during program participation could show commuters and employers alike the difference they make, expressed in terms of vehicle miles not traveled, air pollution not emitted and financial savings on commute costs. Each workday, the commuters who take part in this and other Clean Air Campaign programs help eliminate 1.4 million vehicle miles of travel and keep 700 tons of pollution out of the air we all breathe, while saving $658,000 on commute costs.
While the Cash for Commuters program rewards those who switch with $3 a day, up to a $100 maximum payout, the experience shows it’s not just about the money. That’s why other regions around the U.S. became interested in creating similar programs. The experience here in Georgia also has shown that commuters know where to turn for relief when gas prices jump. There has often been a strong correlation between participation in the Cash for Commuters program and the price at the pump. After Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf in 2005 and fuel supply lines were crippled, gas price increases drove more Georgia commuters to change their behavior. And in 2008, the run-up to $4-a-gallon gas had commuters beating down the door to get relief.
In all seasons and in all circumstances, Georgia commuters share a common trait: seeking ways to make better use of their time and money. Cash for Commuters, in its ten-year history, has helped thousands of people cross over to the greener pastures of alternative commuting. Discovering the myriad benefits – for their wallets and their well-being – is what keeps them there.
The ink is still drying on a new report that describes traffic congestion in the Atlanta region. On paper, it appears that Atlanta’s reputation as a bumper-to-bumper bastion of gridlock is improving. But a closer look reveals a tale of two regions:
It was the best of times …
The Texas Transportation Institute’s latest edition of the Urban Mobility Study for Atlanta indicates traffic sucks less in the region. Atlanta improved its position in the overall rankings, moving from 11th worst traffic in the U.S. to 13th worst. There is more open space on the roads and strategies to manage traffic are working. But don’t throw the confetti just yet.
It was the worst of times …
Double-digit unemployment factors into the current conditions. But the new data also show what the region is losing because of systemic traffic interference:
− At the nexus of time and money, each peak commuter in the region loses $924 annually in opportunity costs because they can’t get out of traffic. Hello, monthly mortgage payment.
− Further adding to the white-knuckled, vein-popping frustration, each peak commuter squanders 43 hours over the course of a year sitting in congestion delays above and beyond normal commute times. That’s more time than many employees receive for vacation in a given year.
− Employers in the region swallow a cumulative $2.5 billion in lost productivity because employees are stuck in traffic. This becomes an integral part of conversations in corner offices around the region when business community leaders discuss the Transportation Investment Act.
− Excess fuel consumption also hits commuters in the pocketbook. The region burns up 53 million gallons of gas annually while peak commuters simmer in traffic, resulting in discretionary dollars diverted away from local retailers.
At the end of the day, much of what brings this tale of two regions together is the sense of urgency around stabilizing the economy. It can be expected that as times of economic prosperity eventually find their way back to Atlanta, so, too, will more commuters. How the region changes - in terms of embracing commute options and expanding the transportation network to bust out of traffic congestion - determines whether we can hold our position and not backslide into traffic oblivion.
The second-annual Georgia Telework Week brought more attention and support to the idea that sometimes, the best commute is the one employees don’t have to make.
Some highlights from 2011 Georgia Telework Week:
- The Clean Air Campaign received support from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who issued a proclamation declaring the week of September 12-16 an ideal to recognize that “The potential for growth of telework in Georgia is tremendous. Georgia businesses can save money, realize more productivity from their workforces and improve recruitment and retention.”
- Nearly 140 Georgia employers in both the private and public sectors gave their support during Georgia Telework Week.
- Dozens of employers attended the first-ever Georgia Telework Summit to learn from their peers about how to effectively grow and manage telework in the context of a workplace strategy.
- The results of the 336,000 commuters who telework at least once a week eliminated some 12 million miles of vehicle travel from Georgia roads and kept 6,000 tons of pollution out of the air we all breathe.
- These commuters also saved a combined $5.6 million on gas and car expenses by teleworking.
- More than 2,000 teleworkers logged their commute into the Commuter Rewards system, and 25 of them were selected at random to receive $25 gift cards as a thank you for teleworking
- Teleworkers submitted 25 nominations for Telemanager of the Quarter, an award given to an outstanding manager of remote workers who has made a big difference by championing telework at their company
- One organization noted that their telework program has helped leverage nearly $400,000 of savings on building maintenance and janitorial services.
Some comments from employer organizations that support telework:
“Because of telework programs at our mid-sized, 70 person company, we will eliminate up to 850 commute trips this year.”
“We’re using telework as a strategy to increase productivity and cost savings in these tough economic times. We now have an entire division that has transitioned into telework.”
-- Georgia Department of Community Health
“In addition to providing greater flexibility and efficiency for our employees, the systems and infrastructure that we have established in order to facilitate teleworking have also served as an effective "emergency plan" when staff was unable to get to the office (during last January's ice storm, for example).”
-- Park Pride
Some comments from commuters who telework:
“I am actually more productive when I telework and work longer hours. It allows me to balance home and work better.”
-- Julie D.
“Anything we can all do to keep our air cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil is the right thing to do.”
-- Mark F.
Three key takeaways from 2011 Georgia Telework Week:
1. While there are already more than 600,000 teleworkers in metro Atlanta and more across Georgia, there is tremendous potential to further grow telework statewide. At least 245,000 more commuters would telework if their employers established a program.
2. Georgia is among the most wired areas in the nation, giving us a competitive advantage for telework over other major metropolitan areas. Due to our changing workforce and technology, more jobs today can be accomplished remotely.
3. What bears out time and again from organizations trying to get telework programs off the ground is that the winning formula begins with management support. Embracing telework as a business strategy becomes a primary objective in the early going: helping make the business case is one of the many ways The Clean Air Campaign’s telework consulting experts can help.
It’s hard to believe that less than 30 years ago telecommuting did not even exist, and it was only 20 years ago that the Internet made telecommuting a practical option. Supervisors did not study job descriptions to find out if they were compatible with telecommuting or how to manage employees without seeing them in the office every day.
We have come a long way to finally reach the point where a “place of work” is not just an office – it’s where you are able to do your work, and employers have the flexibility to define what that looks like for their organization.
At Gwinnett County Government, we have quite a few employees who are able to telework and take the option to do so. It is by no means a requirement, but it is great to see employees take the initiative to help us out with parking challenges we have at some of our facilities, reducing congestion on roads and side streets, and ultimately taking responsibility for supporting clean air initiatives in metro Atlanta.
Our employees are smart. They see the benefits of teleworking for us as an employer as well as what’s in it for them. Employees who telework recognize that they are more productive since their work day starts promptly at 8 a.m. when they are able to power up their computers at home instead of having to rush out the door and sit in traffic on the way to the office. They see that teleworking reduces their travel time and stress and they know that when they are happier, they work harder.
I look forward to seeing how technology will continue to transform the workplace and help us with our goals of reducing our impact on the environment. I can’t help but wonder where we will be 30 years from now.
Kenneth Poe, is human resources director for Gwinnett County. Gwinnett County Government was recently named a finalist for the PACE Government Champion Award given to county employers with outstanding commute options programs.
The second-annual Georgia Telework Week wraps up September 16. Show your support for telework here.
Employer representatives from the public and private sector convened in Atlanta for the inaugural 2011 Georgia Telework Summit, a special event held during Georgia Telework Week to bring telework into focus as an emerging workplace strategy.
Attendees heard a keynote address on telework benefits from Geri Thomas, market president for Bank of America's Georgia operations, as well as guest panelists who discussed issues ranging from technology to work environment trends. Here's a pictorial glimpse inside the 2011 Georgia Telework Summit:
Check out this new case study video about telework, and how The Clean Air Campaign helped one employer make the transition from an informal arrangement to a formal program that yielded improved productivity and got more employees to participate.
Vocalocity received the inaugural PACE Telework Catalyst Award at the 2011 PACE Awards. Learn more about their program here.