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Be Air Aware During Air Quality Week May 1-5

28 Apr

Talking about a double whammy, pollen counts are giving a lot of us serious sneezing, red eyes, and breathing problems. Now, it is also the beginning of ozone season, a real air pollution problem in our region. When high pollen counts and air pollution occur together, their combined effects are even worse.

And while we can’t do much about pollen (check pollen counts here http://www.nynjpollen.com/), we can take a few steps to reduce ozone levels. That is why the DEP is kicking off the Air Quality Week between May 1-5 to educate the public about the health impacts of ozone and what to do to protect ourselves. Some things to know and actions to take to protect your health and the environment:

  • Ozone in the stratosphere is good because it protects the earth from ultraviolet rays. Ozone at the ground level is harmful for plants and humans. Elevated levels of ground ozone can trigger coughing, throat irritation, congestion, and can worsen bronchitis and asthma.  Ground ozone levels can be reduced by conserving energy, not idling, and driving less.
  • Ground level ozone is also known as smog and it is the large health threat in New Jersey. Smog damages lung tissue, and impacts natural photosynthesis in plants. Protect yourself when ozone levels are high by limiting outdoor activities. You can monitor air quality by signing up for alerts at http://www.gmtma.org/pg-community-air-quality.php.
  • Ozone levels in New Jersey have decreased in the past 10 years but we still have a lot to do.
  • Energy consumption is one of the big causes of air pollution because power plants release greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Turn off electronic devices when they are not used, unplug extra refrigerators if they are rarely used

You can calculate your carbon footprint here. New Jersey offers financial incentives to people who adopt greener driving habits. You can learn more about it here.

The Air Quality Partnership, a program of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) also encourages ozone reducing actions such as:

  • Take transit or rideshare.
  • Don’t top off your gas tank. Spillage adds two tons of pollution to the air each day.
  • Refuel at the end of the day. Ozone levels are highest in mid- to late-afternoon.
  • Be sure to clean out your trunk, since an extra 100 pounds reduces gas mileage by up to 2% and wastes fuel.
  • Trip-link when possible. Combining errands with your daily commute will save time, money, and the environment.
  • Follow regular maintenance schedules for your car. A properly running vehicle emits less pollution and saves gas.
    • Check your owner’s manual and properly inflate your tires. Properly inflated tires can improve your gas mileage up to 3.3%.
    • When changing your oil, use a manufacturer-recommended grade motor oil to improve fuel economy by 1-2%.

If you want to further reduce your carbon footprint, learn how to reduce waste and save money along the way here.

Be air aware to enjoy an easy breathing Spring!

This Earth Day Green Your Commute

21 Apr

This Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day, marking the end of Earth Week, an event celebrated in 192 countries, to increase awareness about the environment, sustainability, animal extinction, rainforest depletion, and other issues.

This Earth Day we’d like everyone to focus on reducing CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. A recent NJ Spotlight article highlights the need to reduce greenhouse gases and to increase public awareness of the impact climate change had on people’s health.  In New Jersey there are 590,000 adults and 180,000 children that have a chronic respiratory disease.  The asthma rates for adults and children are higher in NJ (9%) than the national average of 8.4% for children and 7.6% for adults. Climate change also exacerbates allergic reactions and infectious diseases. It seems like we have many reasons to keep working on reducing emissions and take steps to improve our health.

This Saturday will be a good day to go out, enjoy the great weather and leave your car at home.  Maybe you can even try extending your active travel to 2 or more days a week by choosing one of the following:

  • Public transit – you can find info about traveling by bus and train in Ocean and Mercer County
  • Try bike commuting and if while you’re at it sign up for Bike to Work Week and get a free t-shirt; you can find more information about bike commuting, bike lockers, ask for maps, and more
  • Give carpooling and vanpooling a try, you can start once or twice a week and go from there – more information and registration form are available here.
  • And if you don’t have a choice and have to drive, why not go electric?!? Kudos if you already did. A lot of Americans were buying trucks and SUVs last year because the gas prices are so low, and while these vehicles may have better fuel economy than they once did, they are still impacting the environment in a negative way.

We know there are many people out there who made active commuting a lifestyle. Many people take the bus or train, bike and walk to work and that is great. Kudos everyone and we hope to see even more.

Happy Earth day and we hope you enjoy the outdoors this weekend.

 

Sources:

http://www.earthday.org/campaigns/green-cities/green-your-ride/

http://inhabitat.com/fascinating-earth-day-facts-that-you-may-not-know/

https://motiondigest.com/2017/04/18/earth-week-2017-lets-go-green-commuting/

http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/17/04/18/is-climate-change-already-aggravating-asthma-other-diseases-in-new-jersey/?utm_source=NJ+Spotlight++Master+List&utm_campaign=714520017d-Daily_Digest2_5_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1d26f473a7-714520017d-398644857

Street Smart Campaign Back in Princeton

7 Apr

Greater Mercer TMA and the Municipality of Princeton will kick off the second phase of the Street Smart campaign during April 10- April 14 in Princeton.  The first phase was conducted in October 2016 with a street level pedestrian safety initiative focusing on outreach and education designed to change unsafe behavior by pedestrians and drivers on our streets. In the second phase, GMTMA, Princeton Police, and Princeton University Safety will be back with outreach and education and enforcement.  Before the enforcement period starts, let’s review some of these safety tips.

Pedestrian Safety Tips

  • Cross the Street at marked crosswalks and intersections
  • Before crossing, look left, look right, and left again
  • Use pedestrian pushbuttons
  • Begin crossing the street on “walk” signal
  • Stay visible after dark and in bad weather
  • Watch out for trucks and buses backing out of parking spaces and driveways

Cycling Tips

  • Obey all regulatory signs and traffic lights
  • Never ride against traffic, ride with the traffic to avoid potential crashes
  • Use hand signals to tell motorists what you intend to do
  • Ride in a straight line at least a car door’s width away from parked cars
  • Always a wear a helmet
  • Use lights at night and when visibility is poor

Driver Tips

  • Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
  • Slow down and obey the posted speed limit
  • Yield to pedestrians and cyclists when turning
  • Look before opening your door
  • Be careful when passing stopped vehicles
  • Allow 3 feet when passing bicyclists
  • Do not drive distracted

And if you are curious about what the laws say click here.

Enjoy the spring weather and remember to be safe!

Why Walking is Worth the Effort for Me

27 Jan

This week’s post comes from a www.strongtowns.org Pathfinder, Michelle Erfurt. Michelle’s story shows how beneficial it is to find a time to walk.

I love following along with the work of John Simmerman of Active Towns who shares examples of towns that support a culture of activity. The practice of getting fresh air by taking a walk every day is something that should be easy for me to do… I work from home, my house is in a town with sidewalks, near a big park, beside a historic district, and two blocks from a quaint downtown. I’m not lacking in things to see or places to go.

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Michelle walking her son Eddie. Photo credit: Michelle Erfurt

But working from home on my computer and taking care of a 3-month-old always takes a higher priority and before I know it, the day is over and I haven’t gotten outside. Let’s just say that I’m completely on board with the philosophy of Active Towns and Strong Towns, but the practice is challenging. I have two kids and a job, I’m often tired and seldom alone, so taking time to be active outside feels like a big hassle. Then, the next edition of the Active Towns newsletter lands in my inbox and I’m reminded that I really need to get out there.

We had really nice weather the other day so I decided to walk to pick up my 4-year-old from school instead of drive. I put the baby in the baby carrier and walked him, the stroller and myself to day care. It’s about a mile away.

When I picked up Eddie (the older kid), he did not want to walk. He said he wanted to “ride in his car”. As we went, he hugged every parking meter and after a block, he decided to ride in his stroller. In his stroller, he talked non-stop commenting on how big the trees were, how he loves trees, pointing out all the newspapers in front of people’s houses, and talking, talking, talking. He talks a lot and at a very loud volume. I was happy to not have to constantly remind him to use his inside voice. Eddie has a speech delay and gets speech therapy twice a week. It’s very hard to understand him most of the time but the more we practice, the better it gets. Finding opportunities where speech practice can naturally occur is really important. And this walk was full of them.

When we were almost home, a little girl came out of a house saying “Eddie! Hi Eddie!”. It turns out that she is in Eddie’s classroom in the mornings and her grandmother lives down our street. She hangs out with grandma in the afternoons. Maybe I finally found a neighborhood kid for him to play with this summer.

Picking up Eddie like this takes me a full hour. When we got home I was sweating, the stroller and baby attached to me became heavier and heavier. It would definitely be much less shorter in the car and would take a lot less effort on my part. But the benefits outnumbered the challenges: I got outside, the baby got outside, Eddie practiced his speech, we got to do something fun together and we met some neighbors. I felt really proud of myself too! The active lifestyle looks different for everyone.

The next day, Eddie told his dad “I want mommy to walk me home every day”. So, I guess he liked it too.

Thank you Michelle and Strong Towns for this article! Michelle Erfurt is a Strong Towns “Pathfinder” and a mother of two.

This article originally appeared on www.strongtowns.org and was reprinted with permission,” followed by the permanent link to the blog post. http://www.strongtowns.org/contributors-journal/michelle-erfurt

Active Transportation and the Health of Our Communities

20 Jan

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) released a new report, The Case for Healthy Places, in December 2016 in which they highlight key areas that support healthy placemaking.  According to PPS one’s zip code is a better predictor of health than genetic code. Where we live and where we work matters and we can see that from research highlighting health disparities among low-income communities and high-income communities.

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We already know that Americans have some of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and certain cancer types.  Americans also suffer from poor mental health and all of these conditions are linked to insufficient physical activity among other factors. Insufficient physical activity is directly related to the way our communities are designed.   PPS states issues such as sprawl, unwalkable communities, poor air quality, unsafe street design for walking and biking, all have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

One of the key areas named in the PPS report is Walking and Biking. According to research cited by PPS, placemaking supports more walkable and bikeable communities which leads to improved safety  and accessibility of streets,  a sense of community, increased physical activity, support of local economies, and reduced air pollution. And we now have enough evidence that physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic disease.

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So what would encourage more physical activity? According to the American Planning Association cited by PPS report, there are nine features that encourage active transportation:

  • Sidewalks
  • Bike lanes and racks
  • Traffic calming measures
  • Crosswalks and signals
  • Aesthetics and placemaking efforts, such as public art and fountains
  • Public space including parks and plazas
  • Street trees
  • Green infrastructures, including greenways and rain gardens
  • Street furniture, including benches, bus shelters, and signage

The report shows that active transportation is not only good for our health but also for the health of our local economies. And studies show that physically active kids have better concentration, mood, self-image, self-confidence, and fewer chronic health problems.

What do you think about the walking and biking conditions in your community?  What do you like? What would you like to change?

Let us know; you can comment on our social media or write a guest blog.

You can find the full report here and the report release article here.

Holiday Season is Near, Drunk Driving is the Wrong Kind of Cheer

9 Dec

From December 14th to January 1st, NHTSA will run the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign to raise awareness and prevent drunk driving.  New Jersey is cracking down starting today, December 9, until January 1!

Infographic source: NHTSA

Infographic source: NHTSA

Every year during the winter holidays there is an increase in the number of drunk-driving crashes and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2014 10,076 people died in drunk driving crashes, in 2015 10, 265 people died in drunk driving related crashes. Over a five-year period, close to 4000 died in drunk driving related crashes during the month of December. It is sad to see these figures and the fact that they are going up every year. It is very sad to think that 181 children 14 and younger were among those who died in a crash involving a drunk driver.

The most dangerous times are nights, weekends, and the holidays.  In December 2015, the number of fatal crashes that involved drunk driving was 4 times higher at night than during the day. Let 2016 be the year when the trend reverses.

You can help! Be prepared and have a plan in place before going out. Have a designated driver if you plan to drink, call a cab or try NHTSA’s SaferRide mobile app, which allows users to call a taxi or a friend by identifying their location so they can be picked up. The app is available at http://ow.ly/RWs3S for Android and http://ow.ly/RWs8h for iPhone users.

Another option for planning a night out, a company holiday gathering or other social events and trips, is to hire a professional driver to get you there safely and in comfort. Greater Mercer TMA members: A1-Limousine, Starr Tours, and Stout’s Transportation have limousines and buses available to ferry you and your guests to holiday festivities.

Other things you can do to keep the Happy in Holidays are: helping other people be responsible, if someone you know has been drinking, don’t let them drive and if you see a drunk driver, call the police.

Happy and safe holidays!

Source: http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov

Bicyclists Outnumber Drivers In Copenhagen

2 Dec

When we think bicycle friendly city, we think Copenhagen.   And these days Copenhagen is getting a lot of attention and envy because it just reached a milestone; the number of bicyclists surpassed the number of drivers.

You can’t help but wonder how did it get here?

It turns out Copenhagen started as a city of bicycles, and then people embraced car ownership in the 1920’s. In a simple twist, bicyclists were seen as slightly annoying to motorists and the number of traffic accidents involving bicyclist and motorists increased.

Copenhagen was headed in the same direction as many other cities, congestion, traffic accidents, and pollution. People riding bicycles kept being pushed to the side of the road or off the road and they took the streets; they wanted to be able to ride their bikes safely again. Copenhageners protested and asked for a change in street design, putting bikes first and cars second and asking for safe bicycle infrastructure.

There was, as you might expect, some back and forth about design, cost, and how to pay for the new bicycle infrastructure.

In the end, city planning gave space to bicycle lanes, bicycles experienced a comeback, and it is now once again seen as a symbol of health, freedom, and the symbol to clean and lively cities. Most people in Copenhagen, even kindergarteners and a large number of politicians, bike year round.

I guess the answer is good planning, starting young and keep the wheels spinning until it becomes such a big part of your life that you are no longer willing to tolerate pollution and traffic accidents anymore and would rather leave the car behind.

Sources:
https://cleantechnica.com/2016/11/28/people-bicycling-driving-copenhagen-now/
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/how-denmark-become-a-cycling-nation
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/copenhagen-bike-city-for-more-than-a-century
http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/02/danish-bicycle-infrastructure-history.html
http://www.copenhagenize.com/
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/04/why-streets-copenhagen-and-amsterdam-look-so-different-ours/1849/