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New year. New challenges. Same mission. And more moxie than ever to see this thing through. Yes, 2013 is going to be big. So, stick with Merging Lanes for all the latest analysis about how transportation and air quality issues play out in Georgia during the year.

Fiscal Cliff Deal Brings Welcome Changes to Commuter Choice Program
As the nation teetered on the edge of the “fiscal cliff” earlier this month, Congress came through for transit and vanpool commuters with an increase in allowable tax benefits that restores parity with commuter parking benefits. The new maximum benefit for 2013 climbs to $245 per month for qualified transit, vanpool and carpool expenses. The bicycle commuter benefit remains at $20 per month for qualified expenses. For workplaces, the “Commuter Choice” program that carries these non-taxable benefits (IRS section 132(f) for those interested in looking it up) represents an important and still-overlooked resource. According to a US Census Bureau National Compensation Survey on employee access to quality of life benefits, 34% of all workers have access to wellness programs through their employer, but only 6% of workers have access to subsidized commuting. It’s time for more employers to connect the dots between these concepts and how they can work together to make employees happier and healthier.

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

Airpocalypse: Smog Goes Off the Charts in Beijing
January’s events in China’s largest metropolis remind us that there’s poor air quality, and then there’s air quality so hazardous it could not be measured. A massive air inversion enveloped Beijing in a cloud of particle pollution for a week, with concentrations of soot that surpassed the measurement scheme created to gauge them. What caused this phenomenon, dubbed by some English-speakers in China as “the airpocalypse?” A combination of high energy demand satisfied by coal and a rapidly expanding fleet of cars, plus stagnant weather. And concentrations there were reported to have reached as high as 800 micrograms per cubic meter, which would obliterate the scales using the EPA’s measurement system. For reference, the Air Quality Index values we use in the United States end at 500, which indicates hazardous conditions that would be grave enough to seriously affect everyone’s health. Fortunately the likelihood of this occurring in our neck of the woods is extremely remote. But a hemisphere away, another Olympic city is puzzling through similar challenges to manage population growth and energy consumption that results in particle pollution.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

Not-So Wide Awake: New Study Examines Drowsy Drivers Among Us
Maybe it’s time to switch to espresso. A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control found that one in 24 of adults admit to having dozed off while driving. Yikes. The findings suggest men were more likely to have driven while drowsy and those ages 25-34 also indexed higher. At the root of these slumbering sojourns, of course, is sleep deprivation. Perhaps a great excuse to get more shuteye, and find a wakeful wingman to carpool with. Be careful out there.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Look Around: The Signs Point to Georgia Commute Options
If you’ve been crawling in traffic around metro Atlanta recently, your eyes may have cast a glance toward digital billboards for Georgia Commute Options, the new name for the suite of services that help commuters and workplaces take action to reduce congestion. Georgia Commute Options is a program of the Georgia Department of Transportation, delivered in partnership with The Clean Air Campaign and local transportation management associations. These colorful billboards are part of a campaign to introduce commuters to the notion that they can get more out of life by driving less. Because when it comes to commuting, more of us have more options than we realize. Have you taken stock lately of what else is out there to try besides driving alone? Find out more about what Georgia Commute Options can do to help you.

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."

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.

Wild Turkey Makes Home in Woodstock:

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.

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. 

Angie Claussen, Monica Castro, and Susanna Binzen are the 2010-11 PTA Green Team Chairs at Evansdale Elementary in DeKalb County.

We were saddened this week to learn that The New York Times has declared carpooling dead.  The article describes a national trend that the vital signs for carpooling, once thriving in the 70's during the oil crisis, have been declining over the past 30 years -- and now a once-popular solution to combating fuel prices and traffic has passed away. 

According to the Times, carpooling is survived by its distant cousin, slugging.

The Clean Air Campaign, along with metro Atlanta carpoolers, read the obituary.  But we didn’t get the memo.

Reports about the death of carpooling are greatly exaggerated.  In fact, the American Community Survey shows metro Atlanta carpool numbers have held rather steady over the past decade:


% Atlanta Commuters Who Carpool

















Looking at the national picture, remember that carpooling first appeared as a data point on the census in 1980, when the aftereffects of the oil crisis were still raging.  And it’s not surprising that carpool numbers went down from 1980 to 1990 as oil prices stabilized.  In spite of this, Atlanta ranks among the top 10 U.S. cities for carpooling based on 2000 census figures.    

Georgia – particularly Atlanta – is better positioned than many other areas of the U.S. to make carpooling attractive to commuters and employers because of programs like:

  • Guaranteed Ride Home – when carpoolers and other users of commute alternatives need to get home because of an unexpected event – or have to work late – RideSmart and The Clean Air Campaign can arrange a free ride home.
  • Ridematching Assistance – there’s a database of 50,000 Georgia commuters seeking carpool partners, vanpool partners and bike buddies.  Chances are, many of them may live and work near you.
  • Carpool Rewards – carpools of three or more can earn $40-$60 in monthly gas cards from The Clean Air Campaign.

It could also be argued that Atlanta's limited transit footprint makes it more likely for commuters to opt for carpooling if they're motivated to do something other than drive alone and have the means. 

So we say to those grieving over the death of carpooling, before you pull the hearse around front, be sure to hold Atlanta out of the funeral procession.

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.

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

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.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

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.

Lane ends 500 feet.

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.


Against the backdrop of a terrible environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, everybody's frustrated.

Gulf coast residents are seething at BP. BP shareholders are upset at the prospect of losing billions on their investment. The federal government has lost patience with the progress being made after almost 60 days of dashed hopes (will there be a government takeover of the disaster response when the President speaks tonight at 8:00pm?). And many commuters - including some here in Georgia - are contemplating where they want to fill up their gas tanks, an expression of the public ire directed at (and potential dollars diverted from) British Petroleum.

But something interesting is happening. For some, the anger they feel about the seemingly hopeless situation we're in is starting to morph into something else. Bubbling up from the depths are diverging emotions about the oil spill as it relates to driving:

Some feel guilty about their reliance on cars. From today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reader Sybil Thomas of Whitesburg writes:

"I can bemoan a response that cannot encompass the enormity of the environmwental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But as long as I am still filling up my gas tank with oil-based fuel, I, too, am responsible."

Others feel defensive about their freedom to drive, regardless of the environmental risks. Whichever direction your emotions are channeled, there is a desire for action. And MARTA's annual "Dump the Pump" event is one way to do something with your feelings about the situation. This Thursday, June 17, MARTA is encouraging all Atlantans to take transit to work. Another way to turn your feelings about oil into something actionable is to find a carpool partner and ride to work together once or twice a week. There are resources available from The Clean Air Campaign and RideSmart to make it easy.

Borne out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is at least one positive circumstance. The oil spill is getting more conversations started about transportation options and about accountability. Where do you stand on these issues?

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 We’re here to help.

This is your chance to cash it in and get a new, more fuel efficient car. You can get that hybrid you’ve been eyeing but didn’t have enough money to buy before. The Clean Air Campaign hopes that more Georgia commuters who take advantage of this program will go a step beyond just driving a cleaner car ... and actually fill it with carpool partners headed in the same direction. In the metro Atlanta area, just 6% of all commute trips in an average week are carpools. Plenty of room to grow that number, and there are resources galore to help you find others to share the ride. Think about it: you and your carpool partner could pay less for gas and your commute wouldn’t make as much of an impact on the environment.

But if you’re going to ditch the clunker, you need to act fast! The Cash for Clunkers program that is currently giving car buyers rebates of up to $4,500 for trading in their old gas guzzlers will end Monday at 8pm.

People throughout the country have been jumping at the opportunity to take part in the Cash for Clunkers program. It instantly became popular, with people burning through the initial $1 billion of funding within the first week. As of Thursday, auto dealers had recorded more than 457,000 dealer transactions, which put $1.9 billion in the pockets of car buyers across the country.

If you don’t have a clunker but still could use a more fuel efficient car, register for The Clean Air Campaign, Q100, and Rock 100.5s Green Machine Giveaway contest. All you have to do is pledge to make your commute cleaner by carpooling at least once a week, and you have a chance of winning a 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid. I bet driving alone doesn’t offer you rewards like this.

Between job demands, commitments and traffic congestion, there simply aren't enough hours in the day anymore. So it's obvious more people feel compelled to multi-task in this go-go world, which begs this question: if we attempt several tasks at once, will any of them get done effectively?

I'll narrow it down to the things we try to do when we're behind the wheel, slogging through traffic congestion to and from work. In metro Atlanta, 84% of us make this trip alone each workday and it takes us an average of 36 minutes each way ... plenty of time to become tempted to:

Change radio stations, talk on our cell phones, text message or scroll through e-mails on our mobile devices, rummage through articles
piled on the passenger seat, soothe cranky children in the back seat who ask, "are we there yet?," reach for our coffee, scan the newspaper headlines, shave, eat, or get dressed.

All while driving. Did I miss anything? What's the strangest thing you've seen another commuter doing while behind the wheel?

The more "productive" we try to be while driving, the higher the risk that we're going to hurt ourselves or others. The AAA Foundation released a national study on the culture of traffic safety in 2008 that describes how many of us do some of these activities from behind the wheel. 53% of respondents indicated they talk on a cell phone while driving. 14% of respondents indicated they text while driving. And a study by Exxon is purported to have found that as many as 70% of us eat while driving.

Yikes. Here are the compelling reasons why more commuters need to look into alternatives to driving alone:

  1. According to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the majority of two-vehicle collisions in Georgia (46%) are rear-enders.
  2. Stack this finding next to the latest trend data from the Urban Mobility Report, a study we reference often with respect to traffic congestion, and you'll see that 53% of traffic congestion (delay) in Atlanta is linked to road incidents.
  3. It should come as little surprise, then, that a recent survey by an auto insurance carrier found Atlanta commuters are 26% more likely to get into an accident than the national average.

With more demands being placed on workers to do more work and more challenges to juggle work and personal tasks, sharing the ride just makes sense. More carpool, vanpool, rail and bus riders are stepping forward with their stories about finding ways to be productive as passengers. Certainly it's safer for everyone when "productivity" is attempted only from the passenger seat.

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.

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