Friday, December 22, 2006

Clean Air Campaign on long, steady drive

Posted By on Fri, Dec 22, 2006 at 9:23 PM

Outside, the cars slog bumper-to-bumper through Buckhead. Inside, Mike Halicki, communications director for the Georgia Clean Air Campaign, finishes off a cup of coffee and talks about mobile-source pollution.

"We're looking to stop the bleeding," he says.

What you see here is a guy who wants to completely change the way people think about transportation.

Granted, that's tough in America.

Halicki knows it.

Car consciousness takes hold early.

When you're 18 and you've been told your whole life about essential rites of passage involving war and drink and cars, how can you beat the power surge of revving a V8, failing the immediate presence of combat and/or a lithesome female?

Well, there are alternatives.

For Halicki's part, he's facing down this sense of inevitability about America's car culture. He admits Atlanta is probably never going to be Portland, Ore., where city leaders brag about becoming the most European American city. But we have to do something here, even if it's only incrementally, to wean people off automobile dependency.

Check out some of the figures.

Metro Atlantans spend more time in cars than urban dwellers anywhere else in the country. On average, Atlantans pay $6,000 per year on gas and automobile upkeep, or 22 percent of their household income. On red-zone air days in Atlanta during the height of ozone smog season, asthma emergency-room visits increase by one third. The population's booming. Like that Native American said in the television miniseries "Into the West" last year, people keep coming, "like locusts." The city sees an influx of between 80,000 and 100,000 residents per year.

It's bad.

But what can I do about it?

The Clean Air Campaign has a Cash for Commuters program, which gives Atlantans who carpool $3 per day, up to $180. There are between 2,500 and 3,000 drivers who participate in the program. And to hear Halicki tell it, they keep coming.

"We're backlogged with about 500 applications," he says.

Sixty-four percent of the drivers who participate in the program continue carpooling after they've taken advantage of the $180 gift from the Clean Air Campaign, which receives operating funds from the federal government, incidentally.

"It's not a lot of money," Halicki admits of Cash for Commuters. "We're just trying to sweeten the deal."

To those who are pondering a move to Atlanta, settle intown, Halicki suggests.

"Drive that commute before you buy," he says. "A lot of people come to us and complain about their commute."

Their woes could have been diminished had they selected a home base near mass-transit infrastructure.

If you're forced to drive and you're looking to buy a car, check out www.fueleconomy.gov for the best fuel-efficient vehicle, Halicki says. And then check out that Cash for Commuters program at the Clean Air Campaign.

And if you feel a little guilty about bailing on cars and you want to uphold at least one of our other hallowed traditions, head over to the Dark Horse Tavern the second Thursday of every month to hobnob with other greens at "Green Drinks." For information, click here.

-- Max Pizarro

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