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Drive Less Challenge set to begin Sunday


Photo By: Courtesy of Peg Champion
Photo Courtesy Of Peg Champion Dr. John McBirney, outside his Los Altos dental office on Second Street, competed in the Drive Less Challenge last year, challenging himself to give up “selfish habits.”

Earth Day is Sunday, which means GreenTown Los Altos is gearing up for its Drive Less Challenge.

For a two-week period starting Sunday, local residents are asked to challenge themselves to drive their cars less and instead use an alternative form of transportation to run errands and get to and from work or school.

GreenTown Los Altos’ Karen Janowski launched the challenge in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills in 2011.

“Last year, our GreenTown Los Altos community collectively logged a total of 8,837 green miles, saved more than 5,400 pounds of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and placed fifth out of nine participating communities,” she said. “Our goal this year is to double our miles – and our carbon savings.”

Drive Less Challenge participants can win prizes donated by local shops and services. Grand prizes are awarded for best performance in several categories. Prizes will be presented at GreenTown’s Bike, Walk, Win! Party, scheduled 6-8 p.m. May 10 – Bike to Work Day – at 359 State Street, the pop-up bicycle shop in downtown Los Altos.

Motivation not a problem

Previous winner Dr. John McBirney recently explained his motivation for participating.

“I challenged myself to give up selfish habits,” said McBirney, a Los Altos dentist. “Instead of thinking of all the reasons not to ride my bike to the office, I asked myself, what are the reasons to ride?”

He said he found plenty.

“Riding increases vitality and clears your head. It allows you to engage with people and with your environment,” said McBirney, one of 900 Peninsula residents who took part in last year’s program. “Plus, you save energy and money.”

Chris Hlavka, another 2011 winner and a member of the Los Altos Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said she participated last year to increase awareness of alternative modes of transportation.

“Strong participation in the Challenge encourages cities like Los Altos to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists,” Hlavka said.

Tom Fenstermacher, GreenTown’s overall winner a year ago, added, “The Drive Less Challenge provided the motivation I needed to change my San Francisco commute routine. I started taking Caltrain and biking to and from the station. I got 5 miles of exercise, left work at a consistent time, caught up on email and arrived home in time for family dinner. Thanks to the Challenge, I was happier and healthier.”

Children can enter the challenge, too.

Last year Dylan Weitz, then a first-grader at Gardner Bullis School in Los Altos Hills, traveled by bike to school with his dad, Marvin, every day of the Bike Less Challenge and won in the student category for Most Miles Biked.

Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter is taking the challenge this year and plans to walk to work downtown, rather than drive.

“Walking is a great way to get to know your neighborhood,” she said. “We live in a beautiful area with fantastic weather – get out and enjoy it.”

Los Altos Hills Mayor Rich Larsen said he believes in the health and environmental benefits of biking and is challenging himself to ride to at least one meeting per week.

Challenge benefits all

Joe Eyre, a member of the Los Altos Environmental Commission, said he plans to participate again this year.

“It makes you think about what you are doing for yourself and your community, every time you head out the door,” he said.

According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, motor vehicles are a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area.

The Drive Less Challenge started in Menlo Park in 2009 to promote health and quality of life and to reduce solo trips in gas-powered vehicles. Each year, the program has spread to additional Peninsula communities.

To sign up for the Drive Less Challenge, visit drivelesschallenge.com.

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