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It's a fresh start and a new year, filled with high hopes for "Code Green" air quality days, sizable savings on commute costs and laughter from the passenger seat.  Feel the optimism of 2012 with this latest "glass is half full" installment of Merging Lanes.  It's gonna be a great year.

2012 Calendar Dates to Anticipate
While this year's calendar is shaping up to include a number of important dates to circle - Leap Year bonus day and Mayan prognostications notwithstanding - here are a few that should catch your attention:

  • April 30 kicks off the start of Air Quality Awareness Week in Georgia.  With half of all smog-forming emissions coming from tailpipes, never has it been more important to be air aware.
  • July 31 is the day we'll know whether Georgia voters approved a penny sales tax to fund transportation improvements all over the state.  There's a lot riding on the outcome of this vote in terms of attracting new enterprise and breaking out of commuter gridlock. 
  • August 20 marks the beginning of the third-annual Georgia Telework Week, an event to celebrate the successes of employers and commuters who know the best commute is the one from the bedroom to the home office.

And slated for early-November is the 12th installment of The Clean Air Campaign's PACE Awards event, recognizing the best commute options programs in Georgia.  Stay tuned for more details.     

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In Good Company for Less Traffic, Cleaner Air
More than 1,600 Georgia employers and property managers are working with The Clean Air Campaign and its partners on outstanding programs that support greater use of commute options.  Recently, 130 organizations received recognition as Platinum Partners for achieving a specific threshold of "clean commute trips" during 2011.  To qualify as a Platinum Partner, at least 20 percent of all employee or tenant trips to an employer’s worksite must involve alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips and companies must actively educate employees about commute options.  Congrats to these workplaces for raising the bar and proving that meaningful, lasting change in the way employees choose to travel is attainable.  

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

"Let's Get Physical, Physical ..."
Hitting the wall with your New Year's resolution to exercise more?  When your conference call at work is placed on hold, there's only one thing better than listening to the Muzak version of Olivia Newton-John's "totally 80s" hit song: doing an actual workout routine at your desk.  When you can't make it to the gym, The Washington Post offered these ideas to integrate into your daily routine, resulting from a study on employee health.  No spandex required. 

Click here for a printable PDF poster to tack up in your cubicle.  And remember, if you don't feel comfortable with some of these moves in the presence of your co-workers, you can always fall back on a human-powered commute for better health.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Giant Bus!

China unveiled what is believed to be the world's largest bus, clocking in at more than 82 feet in length and capable of transporting up to 300 commuters.  Check it out! 

Could you imagine this thing rolling down Atlanta's Downtown Connector?  Could you imagine riding on it ... and logging your commute mode as "Giant Bus?" 

Merge.



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.



Whoever declared "getting there is half the fun" must have been a carpool, vanpool, transit, telework or bike/ped commuter.  Plucked from recent headlines, here are three reasons more of us should try alternatives to driving alone ... because our well-being could literally depend on it:  

Changing your commute could save your marriage. 
Can the hassle of a lengthy commute douse the flames of matrimony?  According to a dissertation from a Swedish institution of higher learning, those with longer commutes have more earning potential and career opportunities ... but they are 40% more likely to get divorced.  Daily roundtrip commute times for one in ten lovelorn Swedes stands at around 45 minutes.  Georgia commuters can top that: in metro Atlanta, the average roundtrip commute clocks in at precisely one hour.  Think of all those honey-drenched text messages you could be sending discreetly to your significant other ("u complete me <3") from the comfort of an Xpress bus or the backseat of a vanpool.

Changing your commute could save you big bucks.
Why can't you afford to dine out on a juicy ribeye or strap on a new pair of shoes?  Because more of your discretionary dollars are going toward gasoline.  Of course you know this, but has it really sunk in?  From Huffington Post, this mathematical moment of clarity:

"For every $10 the typical household earns before taxes, almost a full dollar now goes toward gas, a 40 percent bigger bite than normal.  Families now spend more filling up than they spend on cars, clothes or recreation. Last year, they spent less on gasoline than each of those things." 

The quickest way to shore up your household budget - and free up money to do the things you enjoy - is to keep your car's mileage down.

Changing your commute could save a life.
A new study from the Harvard School of Public health finds that motor vehicle emissions have a public health cost.  Researchers looked at premature deaths in 83 urban areas that were the result of exposure to particle pollution, using models to correlate how much of that pollution was the result of vehicle emissions.  The modeling found that in Atlanta, 70 premature deaths occurred in 2010 that were the result of particle pollution from tailpipes.  The silver lining in this black cloud?  The study notes that premature deaths and related social costs from traffic congestion are declining over the long run, as technology advances, control strategies and voluntary actions have all helped curb particle pollution emissions that come from cars and trucks.  But there's more work to do.  And it starts with the daily commute.



Atlanta commuters, employers and schools are seeking to gain traction Thursday as icy conditions drag into Day Four. 

Some workers have literally camped out at work during the week, while others are making the best of it by teleworking and adapting their routines.  The situation over these past few days also has one state legislator convinced that more access to rail transit in Georgia could keep business moving forward in the face of seasonal weather and year-round traffic congestion issues.  

Speaking of transit, here's a rundown of current service from major metro region providers for Thursday:

  • MARTA reports rail service is online and about a dozen bus routes are running Thursday.
  • GRTA Xpress is running limited service into downtown, but notes the only departure point for afternoon service will go out of Civic Center Station.
  • Cobb County Transit reports local service is operational but express routes are limited for Thursday.


Metro Atlanta commuters know what it’s like to be on the way to work when traffic suddenly comes to a crawl, or even worse, stops. It can be frustrating and cause workers to be late. Luckily, there are some innovative tools to help avoid traffic or find a new route once in it. You learned about Georgia NaviGAtor in my last blog entry, but did you know there’s a service you can call on your phone from anywhere in the state to get real-time traffic and other travel information? It takes intelligent transportation to a new level and is as simple as 1-2-3, or in this case, having your carpool partner dial 511.

This free phone service, run by the Georgia Department of Transportation, provides Georgians with real-time traffic and travel information and allows you to request roadside assistance 24 hours a day from HERO (in metro Atlanta) or other emergency services. Since its launch in 2007, Georgia’s 511 has been called 4.75 million times, at an average of about 4,500 calls each day. The all-time record occurred during the September 2009 floods in metro Atlanta when more than 39,000 calls came in from people trying to navigate around flooded roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation came up with and petitioned for this three-digit dialing code back in 1999 because at the time, there were more than 300 travel information numbers across the country. With the creation of 511, states and local agencies are still responsible for their own systems, but now travelers only need to know one number for use anywhere in the U.S., like 911.

Georgia decided to make an extensive 511 system that provides residents across the state with not only traffic information, but also with the ability to easily connect with travel and tourism resources from MARTA and major airports to the Georgia Department of Economic Development and even The Clean Air Campaign. Unlike systems in many other states, Georgia’s 511 travel information system also provides access to live operators 24 hours a day and has the ability to offer estimated travel times in metro Atlanta. This system, which is one of the most utilized 511 services in the country, has proven so successful that it has received various awards, including recognition by the Intelligent Transportation Society of Georgia as the most significant transportation technology advancement of 2007. It also received an honorable mention by the Federal Highway Administration during the 2008 Excellence in Highway Design Awards.

With all of these resources and capabilities, Georgia’s 511 service can be helpful for any driver in the state and those passing through, but it serves as an especially handy resource for commuters, who on a daily basis look for faster and safer trips. For example, drivers can use 511 to find out about construction and traffic conditions en route and decide if they need extra time or want to take an alternative path. Also, when a major accident occurs, it’s better for drivers to avoid that area for safety reasons and regional mobility since a backup behind an incident increases the likelihood of a secondary crash.

Has calling 511 helped you? Tell us your story!

For more information about 511, visit www.511ga.org or try it yourself by calling 5-1-1 from any phone in Georgia. Save it in the contacts folder of your cell phone. Or, for those of you with an iPhone, get the 511 app when it’s released on November 29. Apps should be available soon after for Android and Blackberry. Look for the release announcement at georgia-navigator.com.



The year 1996 was a big one for transforming metro Atlanta. Not only did the region host the Olympics, but it was also the year that traffic information in Georgia was revolutionized by the creation of NaviGAtor. Realizing the extent of traffic issues the region would encounter as employers, commuters and international visitors converged on Atlanta during the Olympic Games, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) worked with federal and local authorities to create an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to manage the situation.

After 14 years of development, NaviGAtor continues to expand its area of coverage and has led to easier travel, increased safety and saved time and money, all while keeping pollution out of the air. About 350,000 Georgians get traffic information from www.georgia-navigator.com each week, – in addition to the thousands who use the 511 service for such options as real-time traffic updates, reporting incidents and connecting to rideshare and transit information – and the HERO service has assisted motorists involved in a million traffic incidents since launch. Yet despite all that the NaviGAtor system does to help mobility in the state, and your commute, many citizens don’t realize the impact it’s had on them.

At www.georgia-navigator.com, you can check out color-coded maps that show real time incidents, congestion and active construction.

You may forget how bad gridlock was before GDOT’s NaviGAtor came along, so here’s a little reminder. Once in the summer of 1991, there were two accidents on I-285. Pretty typical, right? Well, because the accidents were blocking the highway and assistance was unable to get there in time, people were stuck in the 90-degree temperature for hours, getting overheated, running out of gas and experiencing heat exhaustion. By the time emergency vehicles heard about and were able to respond to this situation, they couldn’t get through to the accidents because of the overwhelming volume of backed up traffic. In those days, it didn’t take much to seriously back up traffic, because if your car or truck broke down in the middle of the interstate or you got in an accident, you sat there until you could get a tow truck to come move you out of the way. Today, NaviGAtor’s HERO trucks patrol 280 miles of metro Atlanta interstates, providing assistance to motorists and commuters in need. The trucks can also be dispatched instantly when motorists report an incident using 511. Unlike 10 years ago, the average clearing time for a car accident incident is now only 10 minutes thanks to HERO, thereby keeping traffic flowing and improving your commute to work.

To better understand NaviGAtor’s impact on the region, consider this. In one year, the NaviGAtor service saved 7 million vehicle-hours of incident delays and 5.2 million gallons of gasoline. It provided 49,000 motorist assists and prevented more than 340 crashes. By helping us avoid more gridlock, NaviGAtor has also protected Georgians from exposure to the extra air pollution that sitting in traffic creates. During a sample year, NaviGAtor helped keep 186 tons of hydrocarbons, more than 2,457 tons of carbon monoxide and more than 261 tons of nitrogen oxide out of the air we breathe. A big thank you to the dedicated team working behind the scenes at NaviGAtor, because even though metro Atlanta has traffic and air quality issues, it clearly would be a lot worse without the helping hands of the NaviGAtor intelligent transportation system.

For more information about NaviGAtor and to get real-time traffic information, visit www.georgia-navigator.com, or call 511.



The chill of autumn is in the air. And The Clean Air Campaign is glad to exchange all the Code Orange smog days over the past five months for orange pumpkins and fall leaves. Rake in all the Georgia transportation and air quality happenings in this latest edition of Merging Lanes.

BP After "Math": Not All's Well That Ends Well

We're approaching the six-month anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster that became one of the worst pollution events in our nation's history. Our water-cooler conversations all spring and summer included terms like "top kill" and "blowout preventer." We watched the live underwater camera feeds and debated whether the nation's dependence on oil had finally gone too far. And although the The Deepwater Horizon well was finally capped several weeks ago, the aftermath will be felt for a long time.

The Feds have arrived at an official estimate for BP's Gulf oil spill - pegged at about five million barrels of oil. Since U.S. refineries produce around 20 gallons of gasoline from one barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil, the spill equates to around 100 million gallons of gasoline. But how connected can Georgians feel to this issue at this point? Figure in the Atlanta region there are about 2.37 million commuters. Of those, about 84% drive alone on their daily commute, averaging a 40 mile roundtrip to and from work. Assuming average fuel economy of about 20 miles to the gallon, that’s nearly 4 million gallons of gas burned every day on commute activity alone.

So commuters in metro Atlanta would burn through this oil spill in approximately 25 days of just normal commuting to and from work. When will more of us turn our discontent over this situation into something actionable?

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Survey Says: What's Different About Your Commute
The 2009 edition of the American Community Survey came out last week, with a section dedicated to commuting characteristics. A few highlights:

  • 11% of Georgians carpool to work compared to 10% nationally
  • Roughly two out of five of us statewide live in one county and work in another
  • That number jumps to more than four out of five in the Atlanta region
  • Mean travel time actually "improved" in Atlanta from 30.4 minutes each way to 30.1 minutes. For drive-alone commuters, that represents about a 30-second gain in free time each day. Please, contain your enthusiasm.

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Type II Diabetes Linked to Particle Pollution
A new study has been published demonstrating a correlation between type II diabetes in adults and exposure to particle pollution. According to the researchers, "For every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 exposure, there was a 1 percent increase in diabetes prevalence." Although the high season for ground-level ozone has just ended in Georgia, fine particulate matter is a year-round threat to public health. Learn how to limit your exposure and limit your contribution to the problem.

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"Mad" About Transit ...
How has AMC's "Mad Men" series - a sleek 1960s cable TV show about the golden age of advertising - garnered three consecutive Emmy awards for Best Drama? According to this New York Times article, clean commuting plays a lead role.

Merge.



With the opening of the A-Team movie, summer blockbuster film season is well underway. Adapted from the 80s TV series, it's the story of four crime-fighting vigilantes ... who ride to "work" in their van.

Admit it. Riding to work in this macho van would be a thrill. Courtesy: jspek.com

Anyhow, it got The Clean Air Campaign thinking about other famous vanpools. Of course, Scooby Doo and the vaunted Mystery Machine comes to mind.

Wouldn't your commute to work be groovier if this was your ride? Courtesy: hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com

And in Little Miss Sunshine, a van shuttles the protagonist to the beauty pageant. Got any other famous vanpools to share? Post your faves on this blog, or hit us on Facebook.

What was it about vanpooling that worked for these stars? Maybe the A-Team did it for the sake of productivity. It's certainly easier for a plan to come together about stopping the bad guys when your team can collaborate on the road. And the Scooby Doo cast probably saves a lot of money, too, by riding to crime scenes together instead of driving separately (and if Shaggy signed up for Commuter Rewards with The Clean Air Campaign, he could be eligible to win $25 monthly prizes). Of course, the camaraderie of vanpooling cannot be undersold either.

Bottom line: these celebrities are making it work with vanpooling, so if it works for them it might work for you, too.

For employers - The Clean Air Campaign has developed a special program to help Georgia employers make vanpooling available to select groups of employees who live near each other and commute in to the same destination. Ask us about how we can help bring this concept to your worksite -- at no cost.

For commuters - Watch this brief video to learn three reasons why vanpooling makes sense for a growing number of Georgia commuters.



As the hub for NE Georgia, Athens is a major employment, education, health and entertainment center growing in popularity and population. A steady stream of new residents and a burgeoning daytime population brings increased challenges related to demand for energy, transportation infrastructure, and increasing air quality degradation.

According to the EPD, 62% of smog-forming emissions in Athens-Clarke County come from tailpipes of cars and trucks. This represents a significant problem for our air quality, particularly with respect to ground-level ozone. Indeed, Athens-Clarke County stands on the verge of failing to meet federal air quality standards designed to protect the public's health. With tighter standards likely to come later this year, non-attainment status could lead to stricter permitting requirements in the county, more regulatory controls, depressed economic growth, and a generally negative stigma about the quality of life in Athens.

But, with stricter regulatory and volunteer actions, Athens can face this challenge head on! By working together, every local employer, commuter, and resident can make a huge difference in improving and protecting Athens' air quality. This is one of the reasons why Athens-Clarke County partnered with the Clean Air Campaign and created Travel Smart Week as a way to showcase how choosing alternatives to driving alone can help improve the air we breathe.

Thanks to an expanding network of transportation alternatives, including Athens Transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes, individuals can travel with increasingly less dependency on their cars. Everyone is encouraged to get out of their cars, enjoy the fresh air, get some exercise and Travel Smart!

Heidi Davison is the mayor of Athens-Clarke County and serves on the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center Board. Through their use of commute options programs in the past year, Athens-Clarke County Unified Government employees have kept more than 8,000 pounds of pollution out of the air we breathe.



As an avid cyclist, I've done a lot of cycling - but not in the city. My wife and I would drive out to the Silver Comet Trail or drive 45 minutes to an hour away from Atlanta in order to find roads with less traffic where we would ride our bicycles. We usually ride fairly long distances, 30 to 50 miles, sometimes longer.

So when I went to work for the Clean Air Campaign, which is only 12.5 miles from my home, the distance wasn't an issue - but I was definitely worried about the traffic.

I talked to every Atlanta bicycle commuter I could find, and got a lot of advice, and then went for it. I scouted out routes, trying to stay away from main thoroughfares with heavy traffic. I was able to find neighborhood roads for about 7.5 of those 12.5 miles, but there was no way around it - I was going to have about 5 miles on Peachtree Road and Peachtree Street.

One of the pieces of advice I heard was to "take the lane". This means rather than staying as far to the right as possible, if the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass you (safely means at least 3 feet between you and the car) you should ride in the center of the lane.

It might sound counterintuitive, but even the "Georgia Bike Sense" guide says to move to the left or take the center of the lane in the following situations:

  • Left turns
  • Avoiding hazards or debris
  • The lane is too narrow to share safely with other vehicles
  • Passing standing vehicles
  • Moving to the left in these circumstances is legal, so keep in mind that staying to the right is not always required and not always the safest place to be."

I ride Peachtree Road/Street from Peachtree Battle to Woodruff Park. In that stretch there are always 2 or 3 lanes. So when I turn on to Peachtree Road, I get in the center of the right lane. In most cases, cars and trucks have plenty of room to move over. Sometimes they get stuck behind me, but I have never had an unpleasant encounter because of that. In fact the only close encounter I've had at all was when I was lax about staying in the center of the lane, and someone thought they could squeeze by me; they went by with a one foot clearance, and that was too close for comfort.

The other important piece of advice I have for bike commuting is to get a rear view mirror. There are several different types; some mount on the handlebar, some mount on your helmet, some even mount on your glasses. I always ride with eye protection, so I went for the mirror on the glasses type. Being aware of traffic to the rear has made the biggest difference for me in terms of safety and peace of mind.

And on the days when I just don't feel like riding that 5 miles on Peachtree, there's always MARTA. The station is only 3 miles from my home, which takes me about 15 minutes on the bike.

Still not sure? Take the "Confident City Cycling" course offered by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

If you've been thinking about bike commuting, Bike To Work Week is the perfect time to just do it. Once I tried it, I found it's a lot easier than I thought it would be.

See you on the road!



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