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This summer, we will be stopping by cities around the world to check out their air quality and traffic situations. Our first destination is Peru where I recently spent almost 3 weeks backpacking through the southern half of the country. From Atlanta, we flew directly into the bustling city of Lima, the capital of Peru. Peru is an absolutely breathtaking country with so much to offer and I was very sad to leave, but unfortunately has a couple of issues that plague the region.

One of the first things I noticed about Lima was the coastal smell – a mixture of salt, seafood...and trash. Trash accumulation is a big problem throughout Peru and much of it is dumped into the Pacific Ocean, polluting the water and making it increasingly unfit for the Lima surfers. While we were quickly able to get used to the smell, the smog that surrounded us was hard to get over.

Cloudy with a Chance of Smog
The grey clouds made it look like it was about to rain, however we realized it was a heavy layer of smog coating the capital city. During our first day spent in downtown Lima, the haze began to hurt our eyes and noses as we weren't used to such thick pollution in the air. Air quality control is under the management of the Ministry of Environment and it’s reported that they issue warnings when there are high levels of pollution: watch, danger and emergency, but I have been unable to find what unhealthy levels of air quality must be reached to constitute those warnings. Due to high altitude, humidity, industrial activity and vehicle emissions, the World Meteorological Organization reports that Lima has the worst air quality situation in all of South America. In August of 2006, air pollution in Lima surpassed the international standard by 122.1%.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
80% of emissions come from the city’s vehicles and the world’s most contaminated diesel fuel is used by 60% of them. Much of Peru relies heavily on public transit and according to Lima’s Transport Investigation Center, there are an estimated 333,000 taxis and 60,000 buses circulating Lima. Street traffic is profoundly unregulated; driving in Peru should be considered an extreme sport as drivers will weave through traffic on either side of the road, stop signs and traffic lights are ignored, and cutting cars off is a way of life. I have never heard so many car horns except they aren’t used to make other drivers aware that they’ve done something wrong, they are used to let other drivers know that you are coming through. While at least 50 people are killed or injured by speeding cars and reckless drivers every day in Lima and I spent every ride white knuckling my seat or dodging multiple cars while crossing the street, we didn’t see a single accident while in Peru.

We are used to how Georgia is – smog season hits around May and lasts through September, and traffic can be a doozy. However, we are fortunate to have smog alerts at our disposal so when there is an unhealthy air quality day forecasted, we can be notified in order to limit our outdoor activities. While our air quality standards are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, much of the world lacks any form of air quality monitoring. The knowledge we have to continue to improve regional air quality is something to be thankful for, as well as opportunities to explore the world, experience other cultures, and brave their congested streets.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the summer travel series.

Jenny Schultz is the Communications Specialist with 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. Jenny commutes by MARTA rail and currently spends her time on the train reading "Under the Dome." 



Curious about congestion? Seeking enlightenment on environmental issues? When inquiring minds want to know about the latest happenings influencing Georgia’s transportation and air quality, they turn to Merging Lanes.

Where can you find the 7th-worst traffic in the US?
 
Right here in metro Atlanta, according to the latest edition of an annual study led by the Texas Transportation Institute. That’s one spot worse than last year’s #8 ranking. So, what are the key takeaways from the latest report? Overall, not a whole lot has changed dramatically from last year to this year in the data. Delay from traffic – above and beyond normal commute travel times – takes away from each commuter in the region an average of 51 hours over the course of a year (up an hour over last year’s data). That’s more than an entire weekend out of your year that goes up in smoke. The average cost of delay to each peak-period commuter nets out to $1,120 annually, up slightly from the prior year ($1,106). The pessimists out there may be inclined to lash out in frustration over the loss of time and money. But if you’re an optimist, look at it as time and money that could be restored to your life by making greater use of commute options.

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

How did they do that?

From Gizmodo.com, this story about a complicated and awe-inspiring dig using giant-sized drilling machinery to create a 5.6-mile network of additional rail capacity under NYC. Frankly, it makes Andy Dufresne’s tunnel from “The Shawshank Redemption” look rather pedestrian.

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Where’s the riskiest place to live when you’re recovering from a heart attack?

A recent medical study reinforces the link between fine particle pollution and heart health, finding that heart attacks are deadlier in areas where soot is more prevalent, making it all the more difficult to live a healthy life after experiencing a heart attack. Conducted in Britain, the study followed more than 150,000 people who had received medical treatment/intervention for heart failure. Examining air quality data where these people lived and tying that information to demographic characteristics for zip codes showed those living in lower-income and less educated zip codes had higher mortality rates. This falls in line with other studies that note poorer physical health in poverty-stricken areas. For a crash course on meaningful ways you can help protect the air we breathe, click here.

Lane ends 500 feet.

What tricks could Georgia learn from Utah in dealing with persistent smog challenges?

Admittedly, the topography and climate are very different between here and there. But a few time zones away, regions in Utah have already experienced three weeks of Code Orange and Code Red smog conditions so far this year, brought on by stagnant weather patterns and fossil fuel burning. This New York Times article outlines the challenges facing Utah residents and policymakers, but check out the very end of the article describing the possibility of the legislature creating free public access to transit and instructing state agencies to take steps to mitigate air pollution when smog is at its predictable worst. Could these policy-driven approaches work here in the Peach State?
 
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."



Season’s Greetings!  Georgia employers and commuters stand at the threshold of a new year.  But before we pass through, it’s worth reflecting on 2012, and what a remarkable year it has been for transportation and air quality issues in Georgia.  Merging Lanes breaks down a handful of the events that shaped a year of big decisions in the metro Atlanta region and around the state.

EPA Introduces Tighter Air Quality Standards
The US Environmental Protection Agency finalized in the spring a standard for ground-level ozone (originally discussed in 2008) and issued designations to illustrate which areas comply with the standard and which do not.  In all, 15 counties in metro Atlanta do not meet this new standard, which represents an improvement over the 20+ counties that were previously found not to meet the prior standard.  Air quality is improving in Georgia.  But the balance between long-term population growth and increased demand for energy and transportation is a fragile one, in terms of environmental impact.  

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

Atlanta Takes a Detour from Transportation Penny Sales Tax
The nation was watching when metro Atlanta voters voiced their opposition to a penny sales tax to fund a list of 157 transportation projects in the region over the course of a decade.  With no windfall options for funding large-scale expansion to the region’s existing transportation network, the conversation turned to developing a “Plan B” alternative.  According to a recent poll conducted for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 76% of Atlantans feel traffic is a major problem.  But not everyone agrees on how improving transportation should be paid for.  While 10% suggested increasing the motor fuel tax we all pay for gasoline, 39% suggested carving out transportation funds by adding more tax to alcohol and tobacco purchases.  Another 16% indicated they would favor a special sales tax to pay for transportation.  One thing is for certain: if the region can again harness even a fraction of the interest in this issue demonstrated by the business community in the future, anything is possible to beat back traffic.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

Third-Annual Georgia Telework Piques Conversations on Scalability
Underscoring the increasing adoption of telework as a business strategy to improve operations, more than 100 Georgia employers in the public and private sectors showed their support for Georgia Telework Week.  This commute option has continued to grow as an integral part of the way business is done in the Atlanta region, where each week more than 336,000 commuters are teleworking.  The week also drew more attention to the nearly-quarter-million commuters who believe their jobs are conducive to telework but have not yet received approval from management to do it.  In terms of raw potential, the impact of putting this group to work at their home computer instead of their office computer could erase the equivalent of the total daily traffic volume on the top end of I-285.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Inaugural Bike to Work Challenge Celebrates Pedal Power
Each week in the Atlanta region, more than 20,000 commute trips are made by bicycle.  With new findings from the medical community that warn about the risks of sedentary living – including the time we log behind the wheel in traffic – plus an energetic community of bicycling enthusiasts, The Clean Air Campaign, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and regional partners hosted the first-ever Bike to Work Challenge.  This month-long event held in October featured a points-based competition for individuals and teams of all skill levels, inviting rookie bike commuters to learn the ropes from grizzled cycling veterans.  The response was off the charts: over 17,000 bicycle commute trips were logged, resulting in 130,000 miles of vehicle travel eliminated from Georgia roads.  

In this year of big decisions, hats off to the more than 1,000 bicycle commuters who decided to drive their bikes to work as part of this event.  Here’s to more commuters making more of these kinds of decisions in 2013.

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."



Georgia voters yesterday put in their two cents about the prospect of a penny sales tax to fund regional transportation projects.  The results at the polls amplify the situation brighter than a sea of brake lights at rush hour: many areas in the Peach State remain at a crossroads regarding transportation infrastructure needs and how to pay for them.  Welcome to the day after the T-SPLOST vote, where echoes of doubt – and a few hearty cheers – still reverberate in many places on an intricate plan that was meant to move Georgia’s transportation network forward.  This edition of Merging Lanes takes a closer look at the outcome in a couple of regions and how commuters may be affected. 

Atlanta Region Rejects T-SPLOST: Where do we go from here?

A huge pro-tax campaign with a message centered on relief from traffic in the form of an untied knot.  Opposition from an environmental group over the lack of transit options.  A late move to end the tolls on GA 400.  Like the Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”  No matter how you voted, one thing metro Atlantans still agree on is that traffic is a headache.  So what remedies are available now?  One sensible choice is to continue to work on scraping as much efficiency as we can out of the network we have.  That means finding more occasions to carpool, vanpool, telework or hop on a commuter coach.  The support resources to make this happen have been here all along.  We saw the Atlanta business community rally around the project list as a way to boost productivity by getting their workers out of traffic.  Now is a great time to apply some of this enthusiasm in the direction of commute options programs, because when employers support these efforts, employees sign up.

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

Eyes on ATL: Other areas of the country watching the story

While Atlanta has treasures that make other cities green with envy – world’s busiest international airport, robust convention infrastructure and broadband all over, to name a few – the competition to attract new companies to the region remains as stiff as ever.  The larger region has netted some big-time wins in recent years.  But it has also swung and missed at a few opportunities, with traffic congestion cited in some cases as a deal-breaker.  Rejecting the referendum may provide more ammunition for rival cities to lob in our direction when courting out-of-state business.  One time-zone away, for example, rival Dallas shared these thoughts about the T-SPLOST outcome in Atlanta.  What deserves more attention is that some of the best programs anywhere to provide traffic relief are found right here, from Georgia NaviGAtor to HERO units and The Clean Air Campaign.  

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Yes Vote: In the River Valley, a political will to approve T-SPLOST

While the measure encountered rejection in most areas, a few, including the Chattahoochee Valley, approved it.  The project list for that district includes new roads, bridge repairs and even enhancements to the River Walk, along with new transit access points.  What sealed the deal for this region?  According to this story in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, commuters and employers simply accepted that there was not enough funding for the projects they wanted in the timeframe they wanted without the T-SPLOST mechanism.  It's still important to keep the timeline for these projects in perspective.  Some smaller projects could begin as early as the spring of 2013, but the majority of the larger projects will begin later as funds become available, and are expected to take multiple years to complete.  While the region waits for these projects to come online, strategies like encouraging commute options are an important part of present-day plans and will continue to be in the future.

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Moving On: What Georgians learned through this process

If it accomplished nothing else, the intense dialog on both sides of the referendum helped educate Georgians about the current state of affairs on transportation infrastructure.  Our state ranks at the bottom for transportation spending per capita.  The current framework for the motor fuel tax only covers roads and bridges.  Metro Atlanta traffic sucks away $2.5 billion annually from employers in lost productivity.  And while the voting base is more informed today about the size of the elephant in the room, the challenge still remains to find a long-term, sustainable funding solution that Georgians believe in.  But no matter what shape that solution might take in the future, the mission of The Clean Air Campaign and its partner organizations does not change.  Clean Air Campaign programs and resources help Georgia’s commuters protect their transportation investments against overuse.  While the conversation today is about which projects are going to get built or not, stewardship of existing resources never goes out of fashion.  

Merge.



Brace yourselves.  The most anticipated shopping day of the year is almost upon us.  And while the Black Friday experience makes for some good bargains on holiday gifts, it can quickly become a bad deal for traffic and air quality at malls and stores all over Georgia.  That’s because half of the smog-forming emissions in the state come from tailpipes.   

While not a traditionally onerous day for commuters on the major roadways, Black Friday can cause pandemonium in the parking lots and painfully slow traffic heading into and out of shopping centers.  According to the National Retail Federation, up to 152 million people nationwide plan to shop during the 2011 Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).  This makes Black Friday a terrific time to use commute alternatives so you can focus on the doorbusters and discounts. 

After you make your list and check it twice, take advantage of carpooling, riding transit, special mall shuttle service and other options to save you money and time.  For ideas on how you can help The Clean Air Campaign turn Black Friday blue, click here.



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: MyFoxATLANTA.com

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.



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.



Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports a minor traffic accident involving a chicken truck had commuters clucking.  No fowl play is suspected, but commuters in the vicinity are advised to be careful.  Just reinforces what we've said all along: traffic is for the birds ;)



It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the 1996 Olympic Games.  This two-week event fostered unprecedented growth in the region and recognition for years after the closing ceremonies, truly solidifying Atlanta as an international city.

As we commemorate the 15th anniversary of Atlanta's Olympics, it's understandable if many Georgians who were part of the experience are feeling a bit nostalgic.  Some of us may even be tempted to dust off our Izzy memorabilia.  But those involved with The Clean Air Campaign are excited to celebrate the occasion for a different reason: the Olympic experience shaped our mission for less traffic and cleaner air, providing a glimpse into what was possible.

As the 1996 Olympics approached, senior business and political leaders agreed that traffic congestion and poor air quality could have an adverse impact on the success of the Games.  Atlanta had cultivated an image as the City that would carry off the biggest, most successful Games in history. This required not merely facilitating the 10,000 athletes involved, 15,000 members of the international press and more than 2 million spectators on hand, but also ensuring that gridlock and poor air quality issues did not upstage the Games. All agreed this would require significant efforts to reduce normal traffic congestion in the region.  For their part, the business community agreed to take steps to encourage employees to significantly reduce commuting trips during the period of the Games. In preparation for this effort, The Clean Air Campaign was officially launched in the late-spring of 1996.

The arrival of the "Games of the 100th Olympiad" brought unparalleled excitement for many, but employers and commuters were concerned about the impact of millions of visitors on Atlanta's transportation network.  How would the business community be able to conduct business as usual during the Olympics if employees couldn't get downtown?  And so, a business strategy came into focus, albeit years ahead of its time.  Allowing employees to work from home or from remote locations (telework) would help keep them out of traffic and be productive.  Ask anyone who traveled the roads at rush hour during this time and they'll tell you it was surprisingly empty. A vision for less traffic was achieved in part through the proactive, business-driven decisions of Atlanta employers.

At this same time, Atlanta's environmental and health communities observed a remarkable trend.  Air quality in the region actually improved during the Olympics.  No Code Red or Code Orange exceedences for ground-level ozone or particle pollution were observed.  A study even found area visits to emergency rooms for respiratory illness declined 40% during this timeframe.  With half of all smog-forming emissions in the region coming from tailpipes, this unexpected and positive news on air quality validated the notion that voluntary actions could move the needle toward cleaner air.

Fifteen years after the Olympic cauldron went dark, there is still much to celebrate.  The Clean Air Campaign and its partners currently work with more than 1,600 Georgia employers across the state on commute options programs that improve employee productivity and morale.  Tens of thousands of Georgia commuters have also changed their commute activity with assistance and resources from The Clean Air Campaign and more than 330 Georgia schools are involved in the Clean Air Schools program, educating future leaders about the importance of air quality.  Nearly a decade has passed since the region last experienced a Code Purple exceedence for ozone, and the number of Code Red exceedences has declined significantly. 

The transformational impact of the Summer Games on this region will always be a point of pride.  So, too, is the mission for less traffic and cleaner air.



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.



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