By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Apr 12, 2008 at 5:23 AM

If things look a little greener around here this April, there’s a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.

By now, even if by accident, you know all about the benefits of hybrids, so we'll spare you the speech. Owning an energy efficient vehicle is a great thing to do for the environment, but buying a new car is a huge commitment, so if you're still saving up, or better yet, don't want a car, here are a few transportation tips that require more common sense than dollars and cents.

Carpool: It's not just for work buddies anymore. Plan shopping trips with neighbors, take turns carting the team around, take advantage of those HOV lanes and find out if your employer offers incentives for carpooling to work. Of course, working, shopping and dining close to home is ideal, if you have to travel, even carpooling once or twice a week can have an impact. Busy parents might find sites like helpful.

Use public transportation: Every little bit helps, so even if you can't commit to taking the bus to work every day, start small with the goal of taking public transportation at least one day a week until you figure out the system. Use the ride to catch up on that pile of Newsweek magazines accumulating on your coffee table. Ask your employer if they offer discounter or free bus passes.

Going to Chicago? A one-way Megabus ticket costs between $5 and $10. The Amtrak costs $21.

Want to show off Downtown to tourists? Use the Milwaukee Water Taxi.  It costs only $10 for the whole day and the electric boats have zero emissions.

Bike: There are two major bike systems through the city. The Milwaukee County Parks Oak Leaf Trail consists of nearly 90 miles of off-road paths, parkway drives and connecting street paths for walking and biking. The City of Milwaukee Bike Trail consists of 146 miles of on-street and 35 miles of off-street bikeways, and marked bike lanes now define much of the city travel. Look for designated bike parking and bike lockers downtown. Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is a great resource for recreational biking and commuting.

Tune up: Not only will your car run better if you keep your car tuned up -- it will last longer and use less gas. Check the pressure on your tires monthly and keep them properly inflated. Low tire pressure wastes about two million gallons of gasoline per day in the United States. Also make sure to have your wheels aligned annually to reduce tire wear and rolling inefficiencies. Be sure that the shop doing your car repairs recycles its automobile oil.

Plan ahead: A little planning goes a long way. If you can avoid rush hour, do so. Sitting stuck in traffic for a long time, your car emits more pollutants than if you can drive uninterrupted from point A to B. Consolidate your trips and call ahead to make sure what you need is in stock before visiting a store.

Slow down: This significantly reduces wear and improves gas mileage. Increase your speed gradually and avoid "jack-rabbit" starts. Keep a safe distance between yourself and the car in front so you aren't constantly tapping your brakes when you get too close.

Go to the carwash: It seems surprising, but washing cars in our driveways is not an eco-friendly chore. While household waste water gets treated before it is discharged into the environment, the runoff from your car goes right into storm drains -- and eventually into rivers, streams, creeks and wetlands where it poisons aquatic life. Federal laws in the U.S. requires commercial carwash facilities to drain their wastewater into sewer systems, so it gets treated before it is discharged back into the great outdoors. Car washes also use computer-controlled systems and high-pressure nozzles and pumps that minimize water usage and many recycle and re-use the rinse water.

Buy carbon offsets: It's all a balancing act. We emit carbon when we drive cars and use energy, so to counter act that, we can support projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The goal is to completely offset your carbon footprint, or be "carbon neutral." Here are good places to start: ad

Think about the future: If you're thinking about buying a new car, research which have the highest efficiency.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”