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.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

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."



Every mile we drive produces about a pound of pollution and while the majority of the pollution in our air comes from tailpipes, our built environment affects it greatly as well. Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment, human health, and the economy, and successful green building strategies can reduce emissions and conserve water and energy.

The Bullit Center, currently under construction in Seattle, might be the greenest office building ever built. Powered by solar panels, heated by geothermal wells, and utilizing rainwater this building is aiming to be self-sustaining for at least twelve months.

The building was designed to meet the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge, as put forth by the International Living Building Institute, a non-governmental organization committed to global sustainability. This certification is even more intense than LEED because it truly focuses on the sustainability aspect of the building itself.

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living in New York and The Living Learning Center in Missouri have already achieved this coveted standing.

Many of these offices make sure to build near public transit and utilize bike racks to help support clean commuting, which in turn helps improve the air we all breathe. Building “green roofs” on top, like Southface’s Eco Office in Atlanta, help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by lowering air conditioning demand. Additionally, these buildings strive to produce cleaner indoor air to benefit the personal health of the people working inside.

The Clean Air Campaign is committed to improving air quality and teaching our community what we can do to make it better. While building green offices for our workforce can greatly improve the air we breathe, there are some steps you can take as individuals to help better our air. Choosing a commute alternative is just one of these as reducing the miles driven each day will reduce the amount of pollution in our air.

Sarah Wilgus is an Outreach Intern at The Clean Air Campaign and a senior at Georgia State University. As a MARTA rider, she uses her commute time to do schoolwork and listen to “Spotify.”



When I was very young, people didn’t really wear seatbelts on a regular basis. However, I clearly remember how, as I moved into upper elementary school, seatbelt safety became a regular topic of discussion at schools. It made such an impression on me that I became an avid seatbelt enforcer in my own home.

At eight years old, I launched a family car safety campaign. I strictly enforced seatbelt usage on family car trips, even though we rarely drove anywhere more than three miles from our house. I never told them that I’d privately titled myself Official Family Safety Officer, but I think they got the hint.

And while my friends may not have gone after the idea with the same level of gusto, I do know that many of them similarly evangelized the idea to their own families.

Seatbelt usage is now required in nearly every state—but in my world, it had become common practice long before it was officially legislated.

Now, how does this story relate to air quality? Let’s talk about Clean Air Schools.

Schools in my day used a bottom-up approach to encourage the practice of wearing seatbelts regularly—and it worked. And for today’s kids, the issue at hand is air quality, particularly when it comes to cars idling. At The Clean Air Campaign, we’re similarly inspiring young people to spread the word and take action against issues that affect their health and safety.

Clean Air Schools programs can help lay the groundwork for kids to take a stand with their own families on idling. And resources like our Breathe Easy student leadership toolkit, our Get There Green student planning initiative, and our OnAir teen social media initiative can put the influence in their hands, motivating them to effect lasting change.

Surely this task is doable. Surely No Idling can become standard practice nationwide. It just needs to start occurring to more of us on a regular basis. The Clean Air Campaign wants to spark that fire.

If you’re interested in learning about how Clean Air Campaign programs can fit into your child’s school, visit cleanaircampaign.org/schools, or get in touch with us at Schools@cleanaircampaign.org.

Lesley Carter is the School Communications Program Manager for The Clean Air Campaign. She coordinates the Clean Air Schools team communications and oversees The Clean Air Campaign’s OnAir social media initiative, which invites Georgia teens to join the growing conversation about air quality and the environment.



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that metro Atlanta has reached an important milestone for air quality. The region has achieved compliance with federal standards set in 1997 that determined a threshold for unhealthy air pollution, coming in under the maximum allowable concentrations for ground-level ozone. This accomplishment, years in the making, resulted from an effective blend of regulatory controls developed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and voluntary programs such as Georgia Commute Options and The Clean Air Campaign’s Clean Air Schools initiatives.

But the celebration may not last long. That’s because the measuring stick for air quality has been made shorter in recent years. Presently, there are 15 counties in metro Atlanta that do not meet the newer, more stringent set of federal standards for ground-level ozone, introduced in 2008. So how do we clear the next hurdle? The near-term strategy our organization is working on involves reducing the smog-forming emissions that come from vehicle tailpipes. The Clean Air Campaign, working in partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Atlanta’s transportation management associations to deliver Georgia Commute Options programs, offers solutions that help commuters use alternatives to driving alone.

More than 1,600 employers and 85,000 commuters have participated in Georgia Commute Options programs over the past decade. And more than 350 schools have taken part in Clean Air Schools programs designed to improve air quality around school communities. And while there’s no doubt the region is making progress for cleaner air, much work still remains to be done. There’s room at the table for more workplaces, commuters and schools to get involved now.

Tedra Cheatham joined The Clean Air Campaign as Executive Director in 2011, leading statewide efforts for cleaner air and less traffic. Previously, Tedra worked to advance economic growth and quality of life initiatives as Chief Operating Officer for the Greater North Fulton Chamber. 



The recent severe weather outbreak across North Georgia is a prime example of why I became a meteorologist. It all started as a teenager growing up in South Texas. I remember being fascinated with all severe weather elements: lightning, thunder, tornadoes, hail. The weather drew me in and I wanted to know more. This is why I made severe weather my passion.

After surveying the recent Adairsville tornado, emotions were running high. The other reason I became a meteorologist became valid. I wanted to save lives. To see all the mangled trees, houses and overturned cars choked me up. To track the storm in the studio is one thing, but to see the actual devastation literally took the breath out of me. At the end of the day I found comfort knowing that I quite possibly saved lives. That's the best feeling in the world.

Outside of severe weather I still have to keep people safe from all elements. Here in Atlanta, air quality can get bad in the summer months and become unhealthy. This is where The Clean Air Campaign comes in. They are a great group to work with. They prepare air quality alerts for the area when smog and ozone are at high levels. In turn, I pass that information on to you so you can take precautionary measures to protect yourself. I enjoy working with them on stories that can help cut down on pollution for our area. If we can improve our air quality, everyone will enjoy a better quality of life.

In honor of National Weatherperson's Day, I invite you to think of your local meteorologist in a different way. We're more than just a person talking about how gorgeous your weekend is going to be. We're here to protect you.

Cris Martinez joined CBS Atlanta News as the Severe Weather Meteorologist in August 2009. He can be seen anchoring the weather on weeknights. Cris worked in both Texas and Florida before his move to Georgia.



At the age of 10, I became fascinated with the world of TV news. As I watched both local and national news, the thought occurred to me, “These people telling me the news knew this information first.” I decided I wanted to be that person: the messenger.

Through my teen years, my thirst for knowledge and information continued to grow. I asked a lot of questions because I wanted to learn. I soaked up the facts of the daily newspaper, I read in depth coverage of events in magazines, and I always watched the news. I dreamed of telling people’s stories. Keep in mind this is long before CNN, FoxNews, and the Internet.

My quest to become a broadcast journalist led me to the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism. As I learned and honed my craft of being the messenger, a long time professor suggested I look into world of weather. He saw in me, my God-given ability to ad-lib. I was able to communicate facts, thoughts and stories without the aid of a script. It is an unusual talent, but one he thought could take me to my goal of delivering important information to people. He said that nothing affects all people more than the weather.

I took his advice to focus on weather and enrolled in a continuing education program of meteorology at Mississippi State University. While I had the ability to communicate weather information, I needed to learn the hows and whys of the science of meteorology. 28 years later, I would have to say it was a wise decision.

The daily opportunity to provide the public valuable information so they can plan their day is beyond rewarding. My dream of “knowing things first” happens every day. The responsibility of sharing life-saving information during severe weather threats is a challenge I look forward to.

I am honored to be a person of trust that the public will turn to gather and ingest facts that have an impact on their daily lives. Daily weather reports, the pollen count, and the air quality report mean something to their lives and being the person to deliver that news is again, a dream fulfilled.

Forty years later, I am still that 10 year old boy who was fascinated with the immediacy of television news. I am blessed to be that person who is the messenger. The vehicle of the message has expanded from television to the internet, but there is still a need for someone to deliver it and I’m that someone!

David Chandley is an AMS certified meteorologists and appears on Channel 2 Actions News Monday through Friday. He is also involved in team coverage whenever severe weather breaks. He joined the Action News team in November 1988. David's broadcast career has been all over Georgia, with stops in Albany, Macon, and Columbus.



Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
 
Governor Nathan Deal issued an Executive Order in September 2012 challenging one Georgia group to be thoughtful and make a positive change within the State. This Order encouraged State of Georgia Agencies and employees to set the precedent for inspiring change from other Georgians and employers in regards to making “smarter” commute choices in their daily commutes to and from work. It’s also a key strategic effort to enhance customer service that State Agency employees provide every day.
 
The result? A State of Georgia clean commuting initiative, in partnership with The Clean Air Campaign, called Georgia CommuteSmart.

More State of Georgia employees are riding transit, carpooling, and teleworking to keep single occupancy vehicles off Georgia’s roadways, leading to less traffic and cleaner air. In addition to the amazing environmental impact that clean commuting provides, we are seeing State of Georgia employees who are loving their cleaner commutes and raving on the positive impacts.
 
Laynea Allen, a Human Resources professional with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services reiterates that Georgia CommuteSmart attracts and retains, and encourages productive employees.

“With the changing face of the workforce, commuting options are increasingly becoming a selling point for both hiring and retaining employees. CommuteSmart’s education program has started to reach all facets of our workforce, from auditors to educators to programmers. New applicants increasingly inquire about how our workplace promotes green commuting options, while current employees and managers are working together on creative ways to get work done by incorporating teleworking where possible. At the end of the day, the goal is a more engaged and effective workforce. CommuteSmart brings those goals together by inviting everyone to think outside the box toward a common goal and utilize all tools available.”
 
Georgia CommuteSmart and the State of Georgia are setting the bar high with their encouragement of clean commute options. Georgia employers, are you ready to follow suit?

Lettie Hernandez Ongie is an Employer Program Manager with The Clean Air Campaign. For the past six years, she has assisted the State of Georgia’s various agencies with implementing clean commute options and programs, her personal favorites being Telework & Compressed Work Weeks. An avid teleworker, Lettie enjoys using her extra hour saved on telework days to spend time with family and blog.



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.

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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.

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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.
 
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."



It’s no surprise that one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight and get fit. Gyms offer pop-up discount memberships. Department stores display their athletic gear so that the basketball shorts and brightly colored sports bras smack you in the face with the smell of new spandex right when you walk in. Reminding you that this is the year you are going to get that six-pack you have always wanted. Getting in shape is also one of the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions. It is hard to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise when work kicks into full gear and you find yourself much too busy to grocery shop, let alone spend hours at the gym. Instead of devoting time traveling to the gym, working out, and then traveling home, why not use your trip to work as your work-out? Why not try active commuting?

Biking, walking and taking public transit to work is a great way to include physical activity in your daily routine. Incorporating active commuting into your workday will also help transform exercising into a regular habit, the most important thing you can do to retain a change in behavior. Active commuting even one or two days a week will make a big difference in the size of your waistband and the weight of your pockets- and sneakers don’t require regular fill-ups to run! Unlike that neon green sports bra that fades into a dull green color after too many washes, adopting active commuting as a habit is a gift that can continuously give back. Happy New Year!

Source: New Public Health

Raina Sayer is a Commuter Services Coordinator with The Clean Air Campaign, helping individuals utilize the Georgia Commute Options services like ridematching and earning money for clean commuting. Raina is also the Health Subject Matter Expert for the team.



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.  

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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.

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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."



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