Jim Murphy & Sons

How green is your driving?

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Editor of GREENE Magazine

We interrupt what was to have been a short course on driving greener to pass along a warning: By the time you finish reading this article, another traffic accident will have occurred in the Ozarks.

Officially, that’s one every 9.6 minutes. At some times of day (evenings on Friday and Saturday), the odds are that you may encounter an impaired driver.

In Missouri, the number of fatalities is on the rise. By September, 554 persons had died in a traffic fatality. With three months to go in 2012, that’s more than the 498 killed in all of 2011. If the trend continues, another 183 people will die by year’s end.

More than 60 percent of people who died in accidents were not wearing a seat belt. Even if you survive, the consequences can be expensive. Of those who were wearing seat belts, the average cost of recovering from the accident was $21,000, a third of the hospital costs for those not wearing a seat belt ($62,000).

The reason seems pretty obvious: those not wearing a seat belt were more likely to be tossed about or event ejected from the vehicle. So if you really want to save, drive carefully.

You’re not in this alone.

US 60 & 65 Interchange

Springfield’s new ‘flyovers’ on U.S. 65 took seven years to complete. They’re expected to save lives, fuel and time. Photo by Bob Linder

The Missouri Department of Transportation has installed rumble strips on the edge of roadways and cable median barriers to prevent crossover crashes. Both save lives.

The Missouri Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies also mount educational campaigns by airing public-service announcements. But it turns out that traffic safety is a community commitment. From road designs to carpooling, the cost of driving a vehicle coincides with many factors, some of them related to thinking and driving greener.

For example, Springfield’s traffic accident rate peaked at 8,100 in 2010, and declined to 7,200 in 2011. That coincides with a major safety campaign (Drive Smarter) and a street improvement plan to widen major streets and intersections, add additional turn lanes, install flyovers on U.S. 65 at Interstate 44 and U.S. 60.

To encourage carpooling, the Missouri Department of Transportation installed community parking lots at key locations.

"They will actually put people together if they are interested," says Earl Newman, retired Springfield Traffic Engineer. "They will go out and visit with the major employers."

If you’re interested, learn more at OzarksCommute.com or call 831-RIDE.

Natasha Longpine, principal planner for the Ozarks Transportation Organization, has compiled a list of "Green Driving Tips." (See box above and savings tips on the next page).

Of course, not everyone can take these steps all of the time, but most of us can adjust our driving habits enough to put money in our pockets.

Take trip-chaining, which is simply a function of planning and thinking ahead to combine several stops. If you have kids to drop off at school, combine it with a trip to the library or shopping. Same on the way home.

As we reported last month, some parents have evening created a "walking school bus" so that kids walk to school safely in a group, benefit from the exercise (as do parents), and save both fuel and time spent waiting to drop off or pick up a child.

One also wonders why school districts haven’t "retooled" their own rules for riding a school bus or city bus? For taxpayers, the false economies of budget savings during a tough economy don’t always save real dollars when carefully analyzed.

Springfield, Columbia and other communities have been another important commitment: bike lanes, parking and public education campaigns to encourage more of us to bike. But when all these steps come together, a key element involves safety. Bicycle riders lament they don’t always get the room they have right to, just as any other vehicle does.

Then again, many bike riders refuse to wear safety helmets. Some walkers cause problems for themselves by crossing streets wherever and whenever they choose, and we’ve all witnessed cell phone users and texters who seem oblivious to traffic and expect others to look out after them.

It is not for a lack of planning and research that Ozarkers haven’t done more to help ourselves. Local, regional, state and federal organizations are continually thinking and acting to improve both efficiency and safety. With various planners, volunteers, private industry, and yes, even politicians, doing their part, it remains for the rest of us to take notice. Various reports document annually how we’re doing, what we’re doing and what we could be doing to save lives and dollars.

Springfield is a leader in using technology. These days the newTransportation Management Center monitors dozens of traffic cameras throughout the city to study traffic flow, study improvements and deal with everything from weather to special events. Lest anyone think it’s just Big Brother watching, you can watch as well at OzarksTraffic.com.

City Utilities of Springfield has been grappling with both the location and direction of public transportation for years, in part because so few people use the system that there is always some higher priority to occupy our thinking. Throw in a drought, a couple of ice storms, a few tornadoes and the agenda gets pretty full.

But there are intriguing possibilities. For example, California has a new law that could allow robotic commuting in cars.

More realistic is telecommuting, which allows employees to work at home at least some of the time. Longer work days and shorter work weeks (and school weeks, we might add), offer the potential for substantial savings. Online classes are the area when colleges are growing fastest.

The Ozarks is particularly suited to thinking about work and learning alternatives. We have only to look at how often rural schools are forced to cancel school to realize there possibilities for long-distance learning and commuting.

So where do you go to get wiser, more involved and to keep track of what others are doing?

OzarkTransportation.org may be just your ticket to thinking about how you get around in new ways. Among many ways to get involved, you will meet up online with a growing community of bicycle riders trying to make it easier to get around safely. For the past year, the "Ride On" column in GREENE Magazine has been a forum for ideas about riding. This month, Dave Hutchinson, a Springfield traffic engineer, shares his personal commitment to bicycle transportation.

As we’ve traveled the Ozarks, we’ve observed traffic patterns you don’t see everyday. From Amish buggies to cross-country cyclists, to the occasional drifter pushing a chain of shopping carts, it’s all here. So watch out for one another.

Some ways you can drive greener and save money while you do

Saving a little at the pump can add up to big savings. Here are some ideas for increasing your car’s fuel efficiency, saving money and helping the environment. Even if you just do a few, you will notice savings.

  • Walk or bike when you can: The best way to save on gas is not to use it all. Sometimes you can walk or ride a bike to where you want to go.
    Avoid congested traffic: Adjusting your work schedule even a few minutes to off times you are less likely stuck in traffic more likely to use less fuel.
  • Carpool: Find someone you work with (or even close by) and arrange to take turns driving helping with gas. Missouri Department of Transportation may be able to help you find a carpool, or find community parking
  • Use air conditioning wisely: On short trips at low speeds, air conditioners reduce gas mileage. Drive with a vent open. At high speeds, open windows create drag and reduce your gas mileage; so it’s cheaper to use air conditioning on highways.
  • Keep your car in good shape: Cars in poor running condition use more gas. A tune-up it will pay for itself in better gas mileage. Dirty spark plugs, air and fuel filters also waste gas – and you can learn to change them. Note: Don’t top off your fuel tank; gas may expand in the heat and overflow from the tank.
  • Check your tires: The wrong tire pressure, especially on the low side, wastes gas and wears out tires faster.
  • Use the recommended grade of motor oil: Using the manufacturer’s recommended grade can improve your gas mileage. Look for motor oil that says "energy conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.
  • Drive for fuel efficiency: Aggressive driving (speeding, accelerating and braking too fast) can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent on the highway and by five percent around town. Note:
  • Drive the speed limit: Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds more than 60 miles per hour. Each 5 miles per hour you drive past 60 is like paying an extra 10 cents per gallon for gas.
  • Accelerate slowly: A lead foot on the accelerator can cost you over time. It takes less gas if you accelerate to higher speeds gradually and methodically.Don’t let your car idle too long
  • Try not to idle your car engine: Idling gets 0 miles per gallon. It usually takes less gas to restart the car than to let it idle for more than two minutes.
  • Use cruise control on highways: Cruise control helps you maintain a constant speed and usually saves you money. on gas.

A sustainable transportation system is one that:

  • Allows the basic access needs of individuals and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and with equity within and between generations;
  • Is affordable, operates efficiently, offers choice of transport mode, and supports a vibrant economy;
  • Limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, minimizes consumption of non-renewable resources to the sustainable yield level, reuses and recycles its components, and minimizes the use of land and the production of noise.

Changes your ways to save

  • Trip chaining.
  • Carpooling
  • Walking between stores
  • Keeping tires properly inflated
  • Embrace flex time to avoid rush hour
  • Work shorter week; longer hours
  • Telecommute

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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