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Welcome to the bliss of a Georgia summer that has brought unexpected good news about the air we breathe and a bevy of fun events to celebrate commute alternatives. Frolic with us and enjoy the latest edition of Merging Lanes.

Smog-Free (So Far) in 2013: Keep Up the Good Work!
Turns out what’s NOT making headlines this summer is actually big news. Georgia’s hottest months, combined with high humidity and stagnant winds, usually create ideal conditions for smog. But so far this summer, metro Atlantans have been able to breathe easier, as there have been – surprisingly – no days so far in 2012 when ground-level ozone concentrations have reached unhealthy levels. This is the deepest we have gone into the calendar year without a Smog Alert since the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Ambient Monitoring Program began collecting air quality data in 1996.

What do we have to thank for our cleaner summer air? Certainly the frequent rain and cooler temperatures have been helping, considering Atlanta’s rainfall stands about 15 inches above normal for the year. It’s been a relief to those who suffer from asthma and bronchial problems, which can be aggravated by higher concentrations of ozone and particle pollution. But an equally important factor is the 400,000 commuters in the Atlanta region who choose commute options. Every workday, green commuters eliminate a combined 1.1 million miles of vehicle travel – enough to circle the globe 50 times. Is this streak of healthier air likely to last? Who knows what will happen next with the weather. But with commuting patterns set to change in August for the return to school, it’s important to keep up the great work by choosing greener commute options.

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Preview of Coming Attractions: Georgia Telework Week
What’s the commute option that 64% of metro Atlanta execs rely on most as part of a business strategy to give their organizations a competitive advantage? It’s telework, and the region is wired to support it, with tens of thousands of miles of fiber optic cable … and a systemic traffic problem that has more managers looking for ways to get their employees out of traffic. The many partners that deliver Georgia Commute Options programs are joining forces with Governor Nathan Deal to kick off the fourth annual Georgia Telework Week, taking place August 19-23, 2013. Employers can find out more about what’s in store – including can’t miss seminar events and recognition – by clicking here. And commuters who telework - or are interested in making the case to their boss about why they should - can get more info here.

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Eat This, Walk That
Several stories have surfaced recently about academic research pointing to a disconnection between eateries posting calorie counts for their menu offerings and comprehension or changes in behavior. The hamburger says it has 500 calories, but what does one do with that information? This handy infographic from a University of North Carolina study on the topic helps put calorie counts into context with active commuting.

Commuters who ride a bike or walk part of the way to work or to a transit station have a head start.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Vanpoolooza 2013: The Fun Continues
Did you know there are more than 400 commuter vanpools rolling in Georgia? There’s an incredible sense of camaraderie that comes with riding together on a van. To put the fun and friendship into pictures, there’s a fun photo contest coming soon to the Georgia Commute Options Facebook page. Vanpoolers are invited to decorate their vans and submit a photo for the chance to win prizes. Get the scoop here, but don’t dally: photo submission deadline is Friday, August 2.

Merge.

Brian Carr is Director of Communications at The Clean Air Campaign, one of several organizations in the Atlanta region that deliver Georgia Commute Options programs and services in partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation. A daily MARTA rail rider, Brian uses his morning commute time on the Blue Line to read about current events and play "Words with Friends."



Seeing is believing. When commuters see how much they stand to gain from not driving alone, they’re reluctant to go back to old habits. When they’re shown that clean commuting can actually be made fun, they are likely to share the news with others. And when they can visually comprehend how transportation and air quality fit together like yin and yang, they hold the power to change the world. At least that’s the vision for this latest installment of Merging Lanes. So keep your eyes peeled, and take a quick glance at what’s happening.

All Aboard: New Vanpool Riders Can Now Earn $3 a Day, Too

Did you know there are more than 300 commuter vans rolling across Georgia? For some dedicated vanpoolers, there’s simply no other way they’d even contemplate getting to work. And now, an exciting new change to the financial incentives program is going to help bring even more new vanpoolers on board. The $3 a day program that pays solo drivers to make the switch from driving alone to alternatives has been expanded to include vanpooling as an eligible mode. For years, vanpool commuting was not included in the $3 a day program, in part because of the other financial support available to vanpoolers. But happily, the van is now part of the plan. There are resources to help you locate vanpool routes, find riders and sign up to earn $3 a day. Check it out.

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Ozone Update: Still Waiting to Exhale
The US Environmental Protection Agency has further extended the timeline for its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone. The new deadline is December 31, 2010. So, hang in there a little longer. And as soon as a ruling is communicated, The Clean Air Campaign will help make sense of it. The new standard – wherever it lands – holds the prospect of saving thousands of lives. There’s no doubt a ruling that makes this much difference to public health and welfare takes time.

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Carpool Cool: Rap Video Nets National Award Recognition
How do you make carpooling cool in the eyes of John and Jane Q. Public? Write a rap about the joys of carpooling and the resources to help people do it That’s exactly what one commuter did. And in 2009, The Clean Air Campaign worked with this talented individual, plus the three other members of his carpool, to produce a music video that calls out key components of the commute options incentive programs designed to get commuters to try alternatives.

The Transportation Research Board recently recognized this carpool rap video with an honorable mention in the organization’s 4th annual competition, “Communicating Concepts with John and Jane Q. Public: Sustainability and Livability.” It’s exciting to see fun projects like this recognized by TRB. Now, what should we do for an encore? Send us your ideas.

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More Carpool Fun: Mobile Web Game Rewards Carpoolers

What do you get when you cross FourSquare, the popular location-based social media game, with a ridematching concept that helps place people into carpools? Ridekicks, a game/rideshare tool from the UK (still in beta) that brings the potential to put more commuters into carpools. Carpoolers will ultimately earn points toward rewards, and frequent carpoolers can vie for elite status, akin to becoming “mayor” of an establishment in FourSquare. Sounds like fun. Hope a US version is on the way soon.

Merge.