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Welcome to the bliss of a Georgia summer that has brought unexpected good news about the air we breathe and a bevy of fun events to celebrate commute alternatives. Frolic with us and enjoy the latest edition of Merging Lanes.

Smog-Free (So Far) in 2013: Keep Up the Good Work!
Turns out what’s NOT making headlines this summer is actually big news. Georgia’s hottest months, combined with high humidity and stagnant winds, usually create ideal conditions for smog. But so far this summer, metro Atlantans have been able to breathe easier, as there have been – surprisingly – no days so far in 2012 when ground-level ozone concentrations have reached unhealthy levels. This is the deepest we have gone into the calendar year without a Smog Alert since the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Ambient Monitoring Program began collecting air quality data in 1996.

What do we have to thank for our cleaner summer air? Certainly the frequent rain and cooler temperatures have been helping, considering Atlanta’s rainfall stands about 15 inches above normal for the year. It’s been a relief to those who suffer from asthma and bronchial problems, which can be aggravated by higher concentrations of ozone and particle pollution. But an equally important factor is the 400,000 commuters in the Atlanta region who choose commute options. Every workday, green commuters eliminate a combined 1.1 million miles of vehicle travel – enough to circle the globe 50 times. Is this streak of healthier air likely to last? Who knows what will happen next with the weather. But with commuting patterns set to change in August for the return to school, it’s important to keep up the great work by choosing greener commute options.

Lanes ends 2,000 feet.

Preview of Coming Attractions: Georgia Telework Week
What’s the commute option that 64% of metro Atlanta execs rely on most as part of a business strategy to give their organizations a competitive advantage? It’s telework, and the region is wired to support it, with tens of thousands of miles of fiber optic cable … and a systemic traffic problem that has more managers looking for ways to get their employees out of traffic. The many partners that deliver Georgia Commute Options programs are joining forces with Governor Nathan Deal to kick off the fourth annual Georgia Telework Week, taking place August 19-23, 2013. Employers can find out more about what’s in store – including can’t miss seminar events and recognition – by clicking here. And commuters who telework - or are interested in making the case to their boss about why they should - can get more info here.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

Eat This, Walk That
Several stories have surfaced recently about academic research pointing to a disconnection between eateries posting calorie counts for their menu offerings and comprehension or changes in behavior. The hamburger says it has 500 calories, but what does one do with that information? This handy infographic from a University of North Carolina study on the topic helps put calorie counts into context with active commuting.

Commuters who ride a bike or walk part of the way to work or to a transit station have a head start.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Vanpoolooza 2013: The Fun Continues
Did you know there are more than 400 commuter vanpools rolling in Georgia? There’s an incredible sense of camaraderie that comes with riding together on a van. To put the fun and friendship into pictures, there’s a fun photo contest coming soon to the Georgia Commute Options Facebook page. Vanpoolers are invited to decorate their vans and submit a photo for the chance to win prizes. Get the scoop here, but don’t dally: photo submission deadline is Friday, August 2.

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."



Does this job make me look fat?

In the past 50 years, much of the American workforce has shifted from agricultural and manufacturing jobs to the more sedentary office job. Because fewer than 20% of jobs require moderate physical activity, the average American worker is burning 100 calories less per workday than they did 50 years ago, equaling 25-35,000 fewer calories a year. Additionally, we are walking less in our everyday lives and walk the least amount of any other industrialized country. Americans spend more time in our cars than anywhere else in the world; more time spent driving means less time spent on activities that provide health benefits.

How does Georgia compare?

One of the biggest reasons people are walking less is that we live farther from the places we need to go. WalkScore.com measures the walkability of cities based on proximity to nearby amenities. Georgia cities have an average Walk Score of 35 out of 100, which is unfortunately not too great. However, there are some walkable cities within the state, the best including Decatur, North Druid Hills and North Atlanta. Among Georgia’s least walkable cities, and labeled as “car-dependent” are Evans, Union City and Sugar Hill.

If you live in an area where it is difficult to walk to work or run your errands, there are still ways to get some walking into your day.

  • Divide your lunch so you eat half the time and take a walk for the other half
  • Get up and move during commercial breaks
  • Use stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of calling or emailing them
  • Make it a habit – whenever you need a break at work or start to feel tired, take a quick stroll around the office

Walking is shown to drastically improve lives by lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and decreasing your chance of diabetes. So, try taking some small steps to walking more.



What's good for your wallet, your safety and the environment is also good for your well-being. What is clean commuting doing for the physical and mental health of Georgians?

1. Shrinking Waistlines
We're starting to see more stories come in lately from commuters who have found they can turn their commutes into workout regimens, shedding pounds and improving their physical health. It's a timely topic given the ongoing discussion about healthcare and the fact that Georgia ranks 14th in obesity among adults (and 3rd for children).

But for the die-hard bicycle commuters and the folks who strap on their walking shoes, it seems to go deeper. One walking commuter tells us she's lost 70 pounds via her daily stroll to the office, and in the process her first choice now is always to walk when practical. And a bicycling commuter describes how he "went from 250 lbs (heaviest) to 185 lbs on a 6' 2" body frame. My doctor says my health report looks like that of an athlete." Another rider tells us bicycling to work "allows me to take in the beauty of the city that sometimes we overlook as we hurriedly rush by in our cars. It also allows me time to plan out my day and get energized before I hit the office."

Employers and property managers are increasingly responding to the needs of their bicycling and walking employees, too, through programs like Commuter Choice and with deals arranged via nearby fitness clubs to provide access to showers. RideSmart even makes a "Bike Buddy" service available to help bicycling commuters in Atlanta find riding partners.

2. Expanding Minds
Commuting and wellness can be about brains just as much as it can be about braun. We explored in the last post the many reasons drive-alone commuters shouldn't try to think about anything other than the task at hand when they're driving. But many commuters are stretching their thinking and getting tasks done when they get to ride along in the passenger seat. A carpooler recently described all the things she accomplishes on her ride: grocery list, Sudoku puzzle, view news on her mobile phone, read books, etc. What activities do you do from the passenger seat to wake up your synapses and neurons?

The Clean Air Schools program is also broadening the minds of thousands of Georgia students in elementary, middle and high schools with a new and expanded library of about three-dozen air quality lesson plans. With emphasis on science, social studies, math and geography, these new resources could not arrive at a better time, as Georgia educators must work harder to make ends meet.

3. Helping Us All Breathe Easier
Fortunately for those living in metro ATL - the 9th worst city for asthmatics - this year's smog season has been among the most forgiving since 2005 (so far ... knock on wood). However, new studies are finding that long-term exposure to ground-level ozone can affect lifespan, trigger asthma attacks in children (apparently, traffic and stressed out parents have a lot to do with it) and even impact brain development in babies.

It's encouraging to see more schools in Georgia become part of the No-Idling program offered through The Clean Air Campaign's Clean Air Schools initiative as the new school year kicks off. This program, now in it's second year of support from The UPS Foundation, boasts more than 100 participating schools who are working to reduce air pollution on campus by encouraging bus drivers and parents to shut off their engines while waiting to pick up students.

Do you clean commute for the health benefits? Tell us how using alternatives to driving alone has improved your body and mind.



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