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Drive Less, Win a Prize?

Can Mountain View beat cities like Los Altos and Palo Alto and log the most ‘green miles'?

Saving the Earth and being more green are all the rage these days. But when it comes to giving up conveniences like plastic bags and driving, it can become quite a challenge to stay motivated enough to make the necessary sacrifices.

Leaving the car at home and walking, riding a bike or taking the bus to work, to run errands or to drop and pick up the kids at school can double the amount of time those trips take.

But would you make the sacrifices if there were prizes involved?

On Earth Day, this Friday, the Drive Less Challenge begins. Cities across the Bay Area will compete against each other to determine who can save the most miles by walking, biking or taking alternative transportation over a two-week period from this Friday through May 5. According to organizers, in just the past few years the challenge has taken place, the positive impacts on the environment have had significant results.

“We’re trying to get people to change their habits and help them see that not taking their car can take more time but has so many benefits," said Ellen Lee Gibson, the Drive Less Challenge representative for Mountain View. "Riding a bike is good for your health; it costs less, because you don’t pay for gas, and it lessens your carbon footprint.”

Mountain View will participate in a challenge against other local cities like Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park. 

“Even taking one less trip per week by car is progress in the right direction,” said GreenTown Los Altos’ Karen Janowski, representative for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. “For GreenTown Los Altos, one of our top initiatives is to reduce the number of vehicle trips in town.”

In 2009, 120 participants in Menlo Park, where the challenge originated, replaced more than 5,000 car miles with alternative “green” trips, reducing local CO2 emissions by more than two tons. In 2010, 280 participants in four communities replaced 29,000 miles, the equivalent of taking 55 cars off the road.

Now, in 2011, the challenge’s third year, 13 communities will participate, and organizers expect a substantial increase in both the number of participants and the number of “green miles” logged.

Participants can sign up on the Drive Less Challenge website either as an individual or as a local team, such as a group from an office, church, club, or just friends or family members.

Then for each mile traveled—by any method other than your car—the number of miles “saved” get calculated and entered under the individual's or group’s name on the Drive Less Challenge website.

Your miles will count toward your city’s total, and also toward your individual total, making you eligible for prizes.

“The Drive Less Challenge’s unique online tool makes it a fun experience, where you can track your trips, see how you're doing compared to friends and neighbors, and see how your community is doing against others,” said Adina Levin, member of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens’ Committee and founder of the Drive Less Challenge.

Participants can follow along and share their experiences with friends and colleagues on Facebook and on Twitter at "@driveless." An awards ceremony will take place May 21, 7 -9 p.m., at in Menlo Park. Prizes, such as gift certificates to local restaurants and shops, will be donated by businesses in each participating city.

The Drive Less Challenge has also engaged the help of several sponsors this year, like Microsoft, Specialized Bicycle Components, Interactive Sciences Inc. and Valley Transportation Authority. Google also signed on this year for the first time.

“By doing this for two weeks, we hope that’s enough to help people see that it’s not difficult, and then maybe they can make this a permanent change,” Gibson said.

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