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.
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.