“That is something that all of us can control,” Executive Director of the Clean Air Campaign Tedra Cheatham said at the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead.
The downtown Atlanta-based campaign is actively working toward helping community members change transportation behaviors for the economic and environmental benefit of metro Atlanta.
Cheatham, of Candler Park, spoke to association members about the economic and environmental impacts of traffic congestion on the Buckhead community and greater Atlanta.
The campaign is about making businesses better and creating sustainable communities, Cheatham said. She said it was a result of the efforts made for the 1996 Summer Olympics, which prolonged a period of low-ozone pollution, significantly decreased rates of childhood asthma and reduced pediatric emergency room visits.
“It started about 15 or 16 years ago right after the Olympics,” Cheatham said.
She said the most current trends affecting our region are worsening traffic congestion, economic stagnation with a lack of infrastructure funding and volatile gas prices. Cheatham said parents should turn off their vehicles while waiting in school pickup lines because idling for 30 seconds wastes more gas than turning the car off and on.
And Cheatham said metro Atlanta’s population is expected to grow by about 3 million by 2040.
“That’s like adding another state of Arkansas or a few more Fulton counties,” she said.The campaign launched Georgia Commute Options, a statewide program, which bundles services together to make them understandable for workplaces.
“They are free services to help workplaces improve productivity by getting employees out of traffic,” Cheatham said.
The campaign works with more than 1,600 Georgia employers and offers services including telework consulting and manager training on how to handle teleworking, guaranteed rides home if in a bind and onsite events.It also offers cluster analysis where the campaign goes to a business and gathers addresses to figure out which employees can carpool with each other.
Cheatham said clean air commutes, including teleworking, ride shares, buses and trains, has increased by 20 percent since 2007.
“But we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Cheatham emphasized how commute alternatives like teleworking or sharing rides can impact both traffic and air quality.
“About 22 counties, most in the metro Atlanta region, … we do not currently meet EPA standards for air quality,” she said.
Half of people with clean air commutes are teleworkers, who work from home at least once a week, she said.
“336,000 people stay home once a week rather than on the roads. That’s a full day’s traffic on the Downtown Connector,” she said.
One association member asked,” For employees to get tax benefits, how is that validated?”
Cheatham said, “We’ll actually come out and meet with HR people and explain everything. We’ll walk you through the process. We’re happy to do it.”
She said teleworking reduces overhead costs by 10 percent to 19 percent.
Aside from saving money on gas, Cheatham said teleworking reduces vehicle wear-and-tear, decreases dry cleaning bills and makes it easier to avoid dining out every day for lunch.
She said 20- to 30- year-olds these days are looking for work-life balance, flexibility and sense of place.
“We have to think about businesses differently,” Cheatham said. “This is all about personal choices."