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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.

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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.  


On July 31, commuters in metro Atlanta and around the state have the opportunity to vote on a referendum that will fund transportation improvements through a regional one percent sales tax.

In the Atlanta metro area, The Atlanta Regional Commission has announced plans to host a series of 12 interactive sessions via phone over six evenings in June – beginning next week – to help voters understand what projects are on the list and how the penny tax would impact their communities.

According to ARC Chairman Tad Leithead’s opinion piece in the Saporta Report, the format for these sessions draws inspiration from one of FDR’s “fireside chats” 70 years ago.  

Franklin Roosevelt gave what has become known as the “Map Speech” at one of his fireside chats. In anticipation of his radio address he asked all Americans to buy world maps. The response was overwhelming and actually created a shortage of maps across the United States. Millions of citizens listened to the President’s address on February 23, 1942, in which he detailed the progress of the wars both in Europe and in the Pacific, while citizens used their maps to follow along at home.

Fast forward to 2012, and the Atlanta Regional Commission is adapting this idea for the 21st century by organizing a series of Wireside Chats.  These hour-long telephone conversations will feature a brief overview of the proposed transportation projects, and a Q&A forum.

Local officials will be on the phone to answer questions during each chat. In order to participate, commuters can simply register their name and phone number at  According to the website, ARC pledges not to share the contact information of any participants. Several days ahead of the chat, commuters will receive email reminders with a project map attached. The night of the scheduled chat, citizens will be called at the number they registered and have the opportunity to ask questions. Everyone who asks a question will receive an answer, even if it wasn’t answered live during the call.

The Clean Air Campaign recently won an award from the the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.  Hosted annually, the APEX Awards honors organizations for exemplary standards in business development, employee programs, business innovation, contribution to DeKalb County and the Metro Atlanta Region.  The Clean Air Campaign was recognized for its partnerships with DeKalb employers and commuters to reduce traffic and improve air quality.

The Clean Air Campaign nets award from DeKalb Chamber.  Pictured from L-R: Leonardo McClarty, President, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce; The Honorable Karla Drenner, GA House of Representatives, District 86; Tedra Cheatham, Executive Director, The Clean Air Campaign; Betsy Mercier, President/CEO, CDC Federal Credit Union and Vice-Chair, DeKalb Chamber Small Business Committee; Brandon Clark, Employer Program Manager, The Clean Air Campaign; Karl Humphrey, President, Mail Centers Express, 2012 Apex Awards Chair

Happy National Transportation Week!  According to US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, 2012 marks the golden anniversary of an event that is rooted in education about the importance of our national transportation network.  And on a local level, the signs of new thinking on transportation are everywhere.  This week brought the launch of the “flex-lane” driving experience on the shoulder of Georgia 400.  A new airport terminal opened its doors to the world.  And The Clean Air Campaign typed up this blog entry for your enlightenment.  Some might call this an epic week.

Wireside Chats: Dial In for Details on Transportation Referendum Projects

Media attention continues to build in anticipation of the July 31 regional transportation referendum that will allow voters to choose whether to use a penny sales tax collected over ten years to fund $8.5 billion in transportation improvements across the 10-county metro Atlanta region and parallel improvement projects at differing levels of investment drawn up in 11 other regions of the state.  In a recent conversation with officials representing the Transform Metro Atlanta campaign, their hope is that news outlets and citizens will begin to dive deeper into the specific projects that the referendum would fund.  During six evenings in June, the Atlanta Regional Commission will host a series of 12 Wireside Chat events, which are hour-long interactive phone conversations centered around a detailed map of proposed projects. Local officials will provide a brief overview of the July 31 referendum and answer questions about the project list that goes with the referendum. Worth a few minutes to be part of this conversation to see what might get built near your home or workplace.  Register at

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Halfway There: The Potential of “Park to Pedal”

May is National Bike Month.  In its role as an invitation to drivers to try bicycle commuting, the message is well-received by a growing number of people in the metro Atlanta region.  But the barrier for most remains high, given that the average metro Atlanta commute is 17.5 miles each way.  Still, this recent article in the Huffington Post outlines an idea that might work for more of us.  What if we drove partway to our work destination, parked the car, pulled the bike out of the trunk and then pedaled the rest of the way in?  In a climate of crazy gas prices and less free time to work out, this might become a worthwhile strategy to test out.  Could you do it?     

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Costly Commuting: Driving Costs Per Mile Edge Upward

The American Automobile Association recently released its annual “Your Driving Costs” study, which examines the cost per mile to own, operate and maintain a vehicle.  According to AAA, this study has been performed annually since 1950, when the cost per mile was a whopping nine cents.  Fast forward 62 years and the cost per mile has risen to 59.6 cents per mile.  That’s up about three cents from a year ago due to higher costs for resources like gasoline and rubber to make tires, as well as higher insurance premiums and taxes.  The Clean Air Campaign uses a lower number that excludes ownership costs to illustrate the savings commuters can realize when they drive less.  Take our updated commute calculator for a spin and see what you could put back into your piggy bank.

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Air Aware: 15 Metro Atlanta Counties Not Meeting Latest Ground-Level Ozone Standard

The US Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final designations for areas that have been found to be out of compliance with standards for ground-level ozone.  When the 2008 standard was implemented, the measuring stick got shorter.  So, too, did the list of counties not meeting the standard.  That’s an encouraging sign of progress, as regulatory and voluntary actions in Georgia continue to work harmoniously to improve air quality.  But with long-term growth projections and increasing energy demands, there is more work to be done.  


The countdown is on for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games! With the London Opening Ceremonies drawing near, a final push of preparations is underway. One of the major undertakings has been a $15 billion investment of revamping the transportation system through London – a civil engineer’s dream!

London is renowned for its extensive transportation infrastructure so one could only expect it to be advertised as the preferred method of Olympic travel. Some of the major implementations to ensure the greenest Olympic Games to date are:

  • Parking will only be available for officials and the disabled.
  • Commuters are being given free access to public transit throughout the day of an event with their ticket.
  • Two high speed trains - the Olympic Javelin and the EuroStar. The Javelin is capable of reaching 140 mph and will run every 7 minutes carrying 25,000 passengers per hour. The EuroStar helps long distance commuters from France into London.
  • Car-sharing, carpooling, bike sharing and additional buses will help relieve the street traffic.
  • A 39-mile ribbon of fast lanes and shortcuts throughout London, called the Olympic Route Network, has been engineered to transport the 80,000 athletes, officials and members of the Games’ inner circle.

All of this will help ensure transportation efficiency so spectators, athletes and officials arrive to the events on time.

The circumstances are quite different compared to the 1996 Olympics. The Atlanta Games were spread across the state reaching Athens, Savannah, Stone Mountain, Conyers and Lake Lanier, and without the expansive transportation systems London boasts, issues were bound to happen - buses full of reporters were not meeting deadlines, athletes moved out of the Olympic Village in fear of not getting to their venues on time, and events were delayed due to athletes arriving late.

Today’s technology is also far more superior. In 1996, Google had just been born, MMS was science fiction, and the DVD was a year away. Today, we have progressive programs allowing better traffic simulations, modeling and training.

It wasn’t all terrible in 1996 – the Buckhead, Medical Center and Dunwoody MARTA stations opened in preparation for the Games, adjustments were made to trains allowing more standing room, Express parking lots outside the Perimeter allowed bus services to Stone Mountain and Conyers, and major downtown employers introduced clean commute methods that The Clean Air Campaign promotes like carpooling, flex-time and teleworking, which helped keep street traffic manageable.

In just a few weeks, we will see what kind of show seven years of planning and construction, $15 billion and long-lasting improvements will look like. What we can hope for this upcoming summer is not only many medals won by our athletes, but swift, safe and green transportation to and from events, for both spectators and athletes.

On this Valentine's Day, and every day, our hearts beat true for less traffic and cleaner air.  So, pucker up and embrace the clean commuting love in this latest edition of Merging Lanes.

Romantic Routes: Georgia Ranks High on Roads with Amorous Names

Who knew?  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, an entertaining report from a maker of GPS devices reveals that some of the most “romantic” roads in the U.S. are found right here in the Peach State.  Georgia boasts 70 miles of roads with amorous names that include phrases like “Darling” or “Rose” or “Heart” in them.  Perhaps just the inspiration you need to fall in love with a commute alternative, like this cute couple.

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Thinking Big for Cleaner Air: Article Suggests Smog Solutions

Great article from National Geographic that describes the causes of air pollution and offers a handful of “big picture” ideas to tackle the problem.  While the intro concentrates on the state of the air in Los Angeles, there are many parallels to the challenges we’re facing in Georgia, from population growth to increasing pressure on the existing transportation network.  Among the many spot-on suggestions?  Increasing public awareness when air quality is unhealthy.  The Clean Air Campaign has you covered with Smog Alerts.  More than 12,000 Georgians are signed up to receive them.  Are you?

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Purchasing Power of a Penny: ATL Transportation Referendum Projections Spell Out Potential Benefits

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently released a raft of projections about the economic and quality of life benefits that the 150+ projects on the docket for Atlanta could yield.  Among the notable forecasts: the total $8 billion list could yield a 4:1 return on investment, and the environmental benefits derived from less vehicle idling in traffic could yield air quality improvements roughly equal to 72,000 fewer tailpipes on the road.  Still puzzling through the data, but it's clear this information will shape the way in which this referendum is presented to voters.

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New Twist on Traffic Fate: Psychic Predicts Your Commute

Stalled out vehicle on the Downtown Connector.  Heavy volume at I-575.  Sunshine slowdown on I-20.  Sometimes, our collective rush hour commuting fate can feel like a roll of the dice.  And more commuters are embracing tools like 511 and Georgia NaviGAtor to help dodge traffic.  But ABC news recently reported on a more … um, celestial … method some folks are using to predict the outcome of their commute.  With tarot cards at the ready, could the traffic psychic have answers about your next trip?


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.  

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"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.

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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?" 


Today The Clean Air Campaign released its inaugural list of Platinum Partners, recognizing employers and property managers whose employees and tenants use alternatives to driving alone for at least 20 percent of their commute trips. The initial list consists of 130 metro Atlanta and Georgia employers and property managers, including Georgia Tech. The Clean Air Campaign salutes Tech and all of the Platinum Partners achieving success in reducing traffic congestion and improving the quality of the air we breathe. When it comes to less traffic and cleaner air, these organizations are “In Good Company”. To view the complete list, click here.

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Early last year our transportation planning staff realized it was difficult to gauge how effective we were being in providing commute alternatives for employees around the Georgia Tech campus.  We had great commute programs established, but we didn’t have the exact data needed to determine just how effective we were in encouraging campus members to use clean commutes.  The result was the University’s first annual commute mode survey in which staff and students that commute to campus were surveyed on their transportation patterns (campus residents were excluded).  The results were validating for our programs, and we found that over 41 percent of the Georgia Tech community was arriving to campus via alternatives to driving alone.   Here’s the breakdown:

Using this baseline that 59% of the Georgia Tech community was driving to campus alone, we also wanted to see how we could decrease single-occupancy trips and increase the number of clean commute trips.  Finding out what catalysts would change a person’s commute to Georgia Tech’s campus was just as important to us:

These survey results really sparked some substantial improvements in our commute programs, and we wanted to share some of our progress.

While the request for more car sharing vehicles like Zipcar was fairly small (5%), it was an easy, inexpensive win for us.  Today’s 18-34 year-olds are embracing the idea of collaborative consumption, and car-sharing use has been a great success story at Georgia Tech.  Because of increased demand, Zipcar-Atlanta was able to increase our fleet by 40% to 12 vehicles.

For carpooling we were a bit surprised at the number who deemed it difficult to find carpool matches (12%), as there are already many great resources to find rides in Atlanta.  What we found was that safety was a major concern in seeking a carpool partner, and so we established an exclusive carpool ride-matching service for Georgia Tech.  The feedback has been tremendous, with 1,600 new users in six months and over 450 ride posts.  With the new system we are now able to promote commuting to campus every day, as well as ride-sharing to away football games, spring break trips and weekend grocery store visits.

The biggest takeaway from the survey was the desire for more bicycle infrastructure on campus.  Increases in bicycle commuting have been well documented in Atlanta, and Georgia Tech is seeing a similar trend.  Georgia Tech wants to continue to promote this commuting option, and the Institute and Student Government have invested over $200,000 in new bicycle infrastructure, including bicycle racks, bike lanes, bike “sharrow” markings and an innovative bike-share system that is destined for mass-appeal.  Georgia Tech has also partnered with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Midtown Alliance and the City of Atlanta to install the city’s first cycle track at the West Peachtree and 5th Street intersection in Technology Square.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made this past year in promoting commute options in Atlanta, and we look forward to seeing how the next commuter survey reflects these improvements.  This goes without saying, but Georgia Tech could not have accomplished these projects alone.  A big thanks to our community partners: Midtown Transportation Solutions @ Midtown Alliance, Lanier Parking Solutions, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, the City of Atlanta, Zipcar-Atlanta, viaCycle and The Clean Air Campaign.

Aaron Fowler is a Campus Transportation Planner at Georgia Tech.

As we head deeper into autumn, the landscape is treating us to a spectacular parade of orange, yellow and red hues.  Yes, turn signals and brake lights at rush hour are indeed a sight to behold.  But it’s more fun to wax poetic about the fall leaves.  So, frolic in the foliage and rake in this latest edition of Merging Lanes.

Smog-Eating Concrete

In the future green economy of America, the streets won’t be paved with gold.  They’ll be paved with titanium dioxide.  Demonstrating that innovation knows no boundaries in the shared space between transportation and air quality, engineers in Missouri recently laid down a 1,500-foot strip of asphalt that can break down ground-level ozone pollution.  Mixed into this special blend of concrete is a titanium dioxide additive that creates a photo-catalytic reaction, absorbing smog, using sunlight to break it down, and releasing it as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  Neat.

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The Morning Ritual That’s Ruining Your Car’s Engine

With the chill of autumn comes those frosty mornings that all commuters must endure.  But there’s one driveway ritual that Georgia commuters should stop practicing because it can ruin a car’s performance.  Warming up the engine in the mornings by allowing it to idle can actually wear down engine parts and create more air pollution.  The practice of unnecessary idling on cold mornings can produce up to six grams of carbon monoxide per minute.  That’s equal to the carbon monoxide content from three packs of cigarettes.  Turns out, it’s also an easy way to get your car stolen.  Simply put, the best way to warm up your engine and create less air pollution on your morning commute is to drive your vehicle instead of idling.

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Where the Germs Are

If you need extra motivation to drive less, look no further.  From the Yuck Department, a new study found that gas pump handles may be among the dirtiest surfaces that we touch.  A team of hygienists conducted tests in six cities – including Atlanta – and determined that gas pump and mailbox handles, escalator rails and ATM buttons were more likely to harbor high concentrations of germs that can lead to illness.  In all, 71% of gas pump handles tested had high contamination levels.  Gross!

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Families Trapped in Vehicles
The headline of a recent article in Time magazine points out the depth of America’s car culture: “We Pay More to Drive Than We Spend on Taxes.”  Citing a new study conducted by a Washington, D.C. think tank, the article describes how difficult it is for the average American family to scale back on driving costs, even in the face of higher energy prices that influence everything from the cost of a gallon of gasoline to a gallon of milk.  Over the past decade, The Clean Air Campaign and its partners have helped more than 85,000 Georgia commuters get relief from the high cost of commuting through a combination of financial incentives and support programs.  We’re ready to help more people make their dollars go further by using commute options.


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.

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