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Menlo Park’s ‘Drive Less Challenge’ Now a Bay Area-Wide Competition

Just two years ago, Menlo Parkers saved 5,000 miles during the first ever ‘Drive Less Challenge.’ This year, 13 cities have signed on for the challenge of driving less—and nabbing prizes.

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

Between driving to work, taking the kids to and from school, and trips to the grocery store, the dry cleaners or a restaurant for lunch—it’s true, leaving the car at home and walking, riding a bike or taking the bus can double the amount of time those trips take.

But, could you find the motivation to do it if there were prizes involved?

Earth Day is this Friday, and that means the Drive Less Challenge is on! Cities all across the Bay Area are competing against each other to see who can save the most miles by walking, biking or taking alternative transportation over a two-week period from this Friday, April 22 through Friday, May 5.

“We’re tying 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—riding a bike is good for your health, it costs less because you don’t pay for gas, and it lessens your carbon footprint,” said Ellen Lee Gibson, the Drive Less Challenge representative for Mountain View. “So by doing this for two weeks, we hope that’s enough to help people see that’s it’s not difficult, and then maybe they can make this a permanent change.”

“Even taking one less trip per week by car is progress in the right direction,” said GreenTown Los Altos’ Karen Janowski, the 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.”

Local cities participating in the challenge include Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park, among others. Already, in just the past few years the challenge has taken place, the positive impacts on the environment are showing significant results.

The challenge began in 2009, and was started by Adina Levin of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens’ Committee. In that first year, 120 participants in Menlo Park replaced over 5,000 car miles with alternative “green” trips, reducing local CO2 emissions by more than two tons.

In 2010, the challenge expanded, and 280 participants in four communities saved a total of 29,000 miles, which is equivalent to taking 55 cars off the road.

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

How can you participate? If your city is on the list of those participating—which can be found on the Drive Less Challenge website—you can sign up either as an individual, or as a local team. Local teams can be made up of anyone, such as a group from your office, your church, your mom’s club, or even just a group of friends or family members.

Then, for each mile you travel by any method other than your car, calculate the number of miles “saved” and enter it under your name or your 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, 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 on Saturday, May 21, 7-9 p.m. at in Menlo Park. Prizes are being donated by businesses in each participating city, such as gift certificates to local restaurants and shops.

The Drive Less Challenge also has a handful of generous sponsors this year, such as Microsoft, Specialized Bicycle Components, Interactive Sciences Inc., Valley Transportation Authority, and others. A new major sponsor this year, Google, just signed on to support the cause on Monday, April 18.

The Drive Less Challenge has room for more major sponsors and more businesses to donate prizes—and, of course, for more challenge-takers. To sponsor or donate, e-mail drivelesschallenge@gmail.com. To view the full list of participating cities or to sign up for the challenge, visit www.drivelesschallenge.com.

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