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Get into Gear for the Drive Less Challenge

By Peg Champion GreenTown Los Altos Correspondent

“I challenged myself to give up selfish habits,” says John McBirney, a dentist and past winner of the Drive Less Challenge. “Instead of thinking of all the reasons not to ride my bike to the office, I asked myself, what are the reasons to ride?”

John McBirney, outside his Second St. dentist office says, “The Challenge was a contract I made with myself; it inspired me to be better.” McBirney rides his bike to work every day.

There were plenty.

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

Take the Challenge For a two-week period starting on Earth Day, April 22, you can challenge yourself to use an alternative form of transportation to run errands and to get to work or school. By leaving your car at home, you can improve your health, save money, conserve energy and eliminate CO2 emissions.

What is the Drive Less Challenge? According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, motor vehicles are the 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 more San Francisco Peninsula communities.

GreenTown Los Altos’ Leadership Team Member Karen “KJ” 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 lbs. of CO2 and placed fifth out of nine participating communities,” Janowski says. “Our goal this year is to double our miles – and our carbon savings.”

Bike! Walk! Win! Party! In addition to saving money and gaining health benefits, Drive Less Challenge entrants can also win prizes donated by local shops and services. Janowski says, “Los Altos merchants have been very supportive, and we’ve put together some great prize packages for entrants.” Grand prizes are awarded for best performance and will be presented at GreenTown’s “Bike, Walk, Win!” Party on Bike To Work Day – Thursday, May 10 – from 6–8 p.m. at 359 State Street, a pop-up bike shop in downtown Los Altos. Random daily prizes are also awarded.

Kids can enter the challenge, too and win, too. Last year Dylan Weitz, then a first grader at Gardner Bullis, 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.

Mayors Meet the Challenge Val Carpenter, Los Altos mayor, is taking the challenge and plans to walk to work downtown, rather than drive. “Walking is a great way to really get to know your neighborhood. We live in a beautiful area with fantastic weather – get out and enjoy it.”

Los Altos Hills Mayor Rich Larsen says he believes in the health and environmental benefits of biking and is challenging himself to ride to at least one meeting per week. “Biking is fun and healthful,” Larsen says. Both cities have committees that specifically address bike and pedestrian safety issues.

Meet Others Who Met the Challenge A 2011 winner and a member of the Los Altos Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Chris Hlavka, says 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.”

“The Drive Less Challenge provided the motivation I needed to change my San Francisco commute routine,” says Tom Fenstermacher, GreenTown’s Overall Winner. “I started taking CalTrain and biking to and from the station. I got five 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.”

Mike Gospe with his bike

“With gas prices going through the roof, now is the perfect time to take the challenge,” says Mike Gospe, a 2011 Drive Less Challenge winner. Gospe enjoys riding his bike around town to do errands.

For Mike Gospe, winner of Best Blog Story, it was easy to get involved, thanks to his flexible work schedule. What began as a personal challenge – riding his bike to do errands around town, combining tasks with exercise – soon became a pleasure. Gospe says, “When I started blogging about my adventures, I’d end up talking to people about what I was doing. I’d ask them to take my picture. It turned out to be a lot of fun.”

Even if you already drive fewer miles than anyone you know, you should still take part, says Joe Eyre, a member of the Los Altos Environmental Commission. Eyre 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.”

Peg Champion is a member of GreenTown Los Altos and the principal of Champion Organic Communications. She bought bikes for her family so they can take the Challenge.

Sign Up Now – Here’s How! Sign up at It’s easy and free. Set your personal goals, join the GreenTown Los Altos team and track your progress. Encourage your friends to participate and win great prizes!

Check out the GreenTown Los Altos blog for updates and progress reports on the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Drive Less Challenge community

For more information about the 18th Annual Bike to Work Day visit:

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