The grassroots environmental group GreenTown Los Altos is challenging residents to get out of their cars and hit the streets running, biking or walking, beginning Friday, Earth Day.
In an effort to curb solo driving, the non-profit organization joins surrounding communities including Cupertino, Palo Alto and Menlo Park in a two-week Drive Less Challenge.
The contest requires participants to register online and track how they get around from Friday through May 5. Participants can contribute to a blog by sharing stories of how they stayed out of their cars on the event’s Web site at www.drivelesschallenge.org.
Local merchants will donate prizes, such as a $60 haircut coupon from Andiamo’s hair salon and a commuter backpack from REI.
Residents can compete alone or in groups, according to their workplaces, faith communities or schools.
Last year, Los Altos residents competed in a truncated version of the race, according to Margie Suozzo, GreenTown’s new leadership chairwoman, and this year they’re going all out.
“We’re encouraging the high schools to compete with each other, and we’ve talked to Egan Junior High School folks,” Suozzo said.
GreenTown organizers hope the contest stimulates local shopping by offering incentives for people to “fix their bikes or just walk downtown,” she said. As a Los Altos Hills resident, Suozzo said it takes her just six minutes to ride her bike downtown.
“And the experience is better than people anticipate, because there’s no need to park once you get there,” she said.
Los Altos resident Nancy Schwartz posted an account of how much she enjoyed carpooling with a colleague to a wine trade show in Menlo Park last year.
“We were delighted to save gas,” she wrote, adding that they ran into former football player Terry Hoage, who now owns a Paso Robles winery.
Moms shared stories about walking their children to school in the morning, and others posted ridesharing requests.
In 2010, 400 people entered the contest, logging more than 29,000 green miles and replacing 17,500 pounds of carbon emissions. Winners placed in categories for Least Carbon-Dioxide Emissions, Most Trips without Car Miles, Most Improved (based on baseline miles) and Most Use of Alternative Methods of Transportation, including walking, biking, carpooling and small electric vehicles.
The greenest groups were NASA/Ames, Hillview Middle School, friends of Menlo Velo Bicycles, Palo Alto Little League and Congregation Etz Chayim.
Coming on the heels of a management change at GreenTown, Suozzo oversees the contest. Executive Director Keith Turner resigned for personal reasons in early April (see sidebar). Suozzo, co-founder and a longtime member, continues to manage the programs’ group. She earned two master’s degrees, one in environmental studies and the other in public policy.
Because the group follows a collaborative organizational model, she said she relies on its many active volunteers.
For more information or to volunteer, visit www.greentownlosaltos.org.