Don't drive to work today. Catch a ride. Take the bus. Walk. Bicycle. You might even win a prize.
By Monday, the Charlotte region had violated federal standards for ozone on 24 days this year. Three were “code red” days – unhealthy for everyone – and 21 were “code orange” – unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children and the elderly.
What does driving have to do with ozone? Motor vehicles are responsible for the bulk of the polluted air in Charlotte. That's because they're the biggest creators of ozone, which is Charlotte's biggest air pollutant. Ozone is a colorless and odorless product of chemicals – including nitrogen oxides – that get cooked by heat and sunlight.
To raise awareness, Mecklenburg County's air quality division is teaming with the Charlotte Area Transit System, and nonprofit groups Clean Air Works and N.C. Air Awareness. They're offering prizes if you're among those who choose a different way to get to work today.
Want to try for a prize? By noon Thursday e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll be entered in a lottery for prizes including an electric lawn mower and an iPod Touch.
Of course, one reason ozone is a problem in this region has little to do with people avoiding the bus or being too lazy to walk or bike. This region has developed with land use patterns that make walking, biking and transit service difficult. Even in Charlotte, where CATS has expanded in recent years, many neighborhoods lack easy bus service.
The forecast for today calls for some rain, but don't let that deter you. If you can walk to work, lace up your shoes – and grab an umbrella. Walk to the bus stop, if you can, or catch a ride with someone. Or grab your bike helmet and a poncho.
One day's action won't solve the ozone problem, of course. But if Don't Drive Day gets more people thinking about the footprints they're leaving on our earth and its air, then it should be deemed a success.