Idle Hands


Class-cutting school kids in Bushwick and the South Bronx, fear not. The clipboard-wielding women standing outside your school aren’t looking to bust you, they’re trying to help you breathe. As reported in last week’s New Yorker Talk of the Town:

The women belong to a nonprofit group called the Asthma Free School Zone, which, for the past year, has been holding covert stakeouts of schools around the city to aid a campaign against vehicle idling. New York City prohibits idling for spurts of longer than three minutes (the fine is from three hundred and fifty to two thousand dollars), though the law is rarely enforced. In 2004, after receiving a tip from the A.F.S.Z., Eliot Spitzer, who was the attorney general at the time, sued several school-bus companies for breaking the rule, and last month, as governor, Spitzer signed a ban on all bus idling in school zones. "In Switzerland you have to turn your engine off if you’re more than four cars behind the stoplight," Rebecca Kalin, the group’s founder, said the other day. "Idling is rude there. It’s like burping-you just don’t do it."

Kalin had arrived at P.S. 274 a little before two o’clock, with three colleagues: Lori Bukiewicz, a public-health worker; Jen Richmond-Bryant, an assistant professor at Hunter College (courses: Ventilation, Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality); and Bin-Yun Zheng, the group’s assistant. When no one was looking, they wheeled out a small gray cabinet with a plastic tube sticking out of the top. The cabinet emitted a low buzzing noise, and it contained a car battery, two Sidepaks-used to gauge air quality by counting small particles called PM2.5-and an instrument called an Aethelometer, which measures black carbon.

…In an hour and a half, there had been twelve idlers: seven cars, one truck, and four school buses. The PM2.5 reading was on the high side.

Next month, A.F.S.Z. will launch a public awareness campaign in New York and Kalin, Bukiewicz, and Richmond-Bryant will give presentations on their recent air sampling activities at the American Public Health Conference in Washington, DC.

No word yet on whether Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. will demand that A.S.F.Z. cease and desist until an Environmental Impact Statement can be conducted to determine whether school bus exhaust is, in fact, harmful to children. 

Photo: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy School Bus Air Quality Monitoring Project

  • ddartley

    Great news. Idling, as an issue, is one of the many terrible, big holes in PlaNYC. If the Mayor were really honest-to-goodness committed to the carbon goals in PlaNYC, he’d make sure there was a well-publicized crackdown on idling.
    The city would probably get halfway to its PlaNYC carbon goal INSTANTLY. But no.

    I actually had a cop tell me recently that they have a rule that while sitting in a patrol car on-duty, they HAVE to keep the engine running. He even used the phrase “per Mike Bloomberg.”

    Kudos to Asthma Free School Zone.

  • Brooklyn

    I had to tamp down the urge to cough looking at that school bus picture. Soooo glad that I never had to board one of those cattlecars, and if I’m ever a parent, no kid of mine is getting on one of those things.

  • Anon

    Glad to see more initiative in helping our children breathe easier. The AFSZ deserves a huge thank you. School bus idling is disgusting – our children do not need to breathe those fumes.

    But really, why the mean crack about Senator Diaz? His insistence of an environmental impact study before the congestion pricing plan was and is reasonable. Obviously there is nothing to gain from opposing our billionaire mayor – – who always has his eyes on more money.

    Can anyone really believe that Senator Diaz had any other motivation to fight for that study aside from protecting an already asthma-ridden community from more pollution. Everyone seems to deserve an uphill battle …

  • JF

    Gee, Anon, could you possibly be working for the anti-pricing people? Your allegations sound suspiciously familiar: allege “meanness” or “vitriol” where there is only legitimate criticism; attack the Mayor, when he’s hardly relevant here. Maybe you’re not Richard Lipsky (who put Diaz up to demanding the study), but you sure sound like him.

    Why yes, I can believe that Diaz had other motivation to demand a study. To anyone who gives it a moment’s thought – without having their mind made up beforehand – it’s pretty clear that congestion pricing would remove lots of cars from the highways and boulevards that people drive on to get to the Manhattan pricing zone, thus reducing the amount of congestion and pollution in the Bronx.

    I could imagine an open-minded public servant who acknowledged the argument above but said, “let’s study this just to be sure,” but that’s not what Diaz said. Like Lipsky, and Brodsky, and Dinowitz, he ignores everything the pro-pricing side says and repeats the same flawed argument over and over again. In other words, he deserves a gentle poke every now and then.

    The fact of the matter is that congestion pricing would do a ton of good for air quality and bus service in the Bronx. I don’t know how Diaz, Dinowitz and their friends can look at themselves in the mirror every morning before they go off to argue for maintaining a system that screws over poor Black and Latino people.

  • steve

    Enforcing anti-idling laws would be great. I’m not sure but I think those laws apply only to trucks. There’s on on great need to enforce anti-idling measures against cars, because so many people like to hang out illegally standing in inclement weather with the a/c or heater on. They would move on or park and get out of their cars if they couldn’t idle.

  • Anon

    Sorry to burst your bubble, JF. I am not working for anyone. I’m a mom who has asthmatic children, who suffers from asthma, and who lives in the Bronx. I want clean air to breathe for myself, for my children, and for my Bronx neighbors.

    You must work for Bloomberg, or be part of his team who will get some of the federal money or you wouldn’t be so insulting.

    I don’t like the idea of the mayor grabbing for a handful of federal cash to buy cameras and charging drivers who go into the city before seeing what kind of damage this will do to my borough. It’s something I believe should be reviewed first.

    If they want to cut traffic fumes immediately, they should cut the number of cabs in Manhattan and let the wealthy NY’ers who cab it all over town place their precious bottoms on the NYC subways and buses.

    You can’t be for real if you think reviewing this is to screw over poor Black and Latino families, and you can’t be for real if you think Senator Diaz – – – who actually does quite a lot to help Black and Latino families – would be part of this supposed screwover.

  • Dane

    I think we should get away from the who-are-you-working-for accusations.

    I think Diaz is either deeply misinformed or a giant hypocrite to say that he cares about asthmatic kids in his district and then reject the best method that world cities have yet come up with to reduce urban traffic congestion. For Diaz to call for a years-long EIS process in the face of his district’s childhood asthma epidemic, the city’s increasingly crippling traffic congestion and the planet’s climate crisis is just, well, it’s horrible and sad, really.

    An EIS will give us very little new information beyond what we already have in PlaNYC, its technical documentation and data from other cities that currently using road pricing.

    The best way to test congestion pricing is to just set up a pilot project and try it. See what happens. It’s not like we’re building a stadium on the west side of Manhattan here. If pricing truly fails — if traffic congestion doesn’t decrease, air quality doesn’t get better and transit doesn’t improve after some pre-determined period of time — then you can just flip the switch and turn off congestion pricing. Or you can re-jigger it — move the border lines, stagger the fees at different times of day, or heck, increase the fees. There is a lot of flexibility in the technology.

    The best EIS process is a pilot project. The best way to ensure that nothing happens to change the Bronx’s childhood asthma epidemic is to do a years-long EIS process. Let another cohort of Bronx 2- and 3-year-olds grow to be kindergardeners who carry inhalers.

    I really think that Diaz should be ashamed. So very few people in his district even own cars no less use them. Who does he think he is defending and protecting here?

    Let’s just try a pilot project, set really strict benchmarks, see if it works.

  • ddartley

    Here are the meaningful steps the City is taking to control idling:

    Dear Mr. Dartley:

    Thank you for your email to Mayor Bloomberg. We appreciate your taking the time to share your concerns about vehicles that idle with the motor running. If you see vehicles not following our City’s idling laws, I recommend you call 311 to report the violation.

    This Administration values your involvement as we work to build a greener, greater New York. Thank you for contacting the Office of the Mayor.

    Jody J. Kaplan
    Director of Correspondence

    Wow, with me on the case, dialing 311 twenty times a day, the air will be cleaner in no time!

  • Anon

    I can’t believe that someone named Dane has such insight to write on this blog :”I really think that Diaz should be ashamed. So very few people in his district even own cars no less use them. Who does he think he is defending and protecting here?”

    Amazing. Dane has revealed the truth. In fact, no one at all has cars there – not even the Senator himself. There’s plenty of parking spots, let’s fill them with cars from upstate and idling buses.

    Dane, you should be ashamed of sounding like such a careless out-of-towner who is clueless about even the basic living conditions of the South Bronx. “They” have cars – and you better be careful because “they” have been given the right to vote! “They” also have waste management plants in “their” neighborhoods that Senator Diaz has been opposing for years because of the serious health concerns that impact “their” lives.

    The Mayor doesn’t seem to care about the waste management stations – the contracts are almost automatically renewed – despite how it harms “their” health. But let’s not criticize him. Let’s look for someone who is not a Bozillionaire to take cheap shots at.

    I looked up Senator Diaz’s statement about congestion pricing this on his website. Why don’t you read it and write back if you still think he isn’t looking out for “them”.

    Here it is:
    “As a State Legislator who is faced with deciding whether or not to approve the Congestion Pricing Plans proposed by the Mayor of the City of New York, I must ask: who is really going to benefit from these plans, and who is going to suffer from their impact?

    Although some media organizations, advocacy groups, and distinguished experts have come out in favor of these plans, as a representative of a core part of the South Bronx, which has been identified as the area with the highest asthma rates in the nation – I have some questions to ask.

    If approved, how can we prevent more people with vehicles driving through and/or park in the The Bronx – especially the South Bronx?

    How can we be assured that these plans won’t increase traffic congestion in The Bronx and add more pollution to our already polluted community and further increase the serious and ongoing asthma and respiratory problems that cause our children and families to suffer?

    Although I respect the goals of the many distinguished representatives and environmental groups supporting the plan, it puzzles me to see how these groups can approve any project without an environmental impact study before the plan is imposed. It would not be acceptable to build a mini-waste plant in any community and then after the fact, conduct an environmental impact study.

    The simple reason for overlooking this health concern is money. What we have is the Mayor’s rush to grab a large part of the $1,1 billion dollars in federal setup funds. The United States Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters warned, however, that the City’s potential share could be endangered if the Mayor’s plan did not have State approval by this August.

    If there is any possibility that this plan could be environmentally detrimental to our community – how can it be implemented before first ruling out threats by first conducting an environmental impact study?

    Another main concern is fairness. Why is it that Manhattan residents, who already have the best transportation means in the world available to them, will only have to pay $4.00 to drive in our City while those of us in other boroughs who often struggle to travel around our City will have to pay $8.00. I believe the residents of Manhattan who benefit the most, since they have the greatest benefits, should pay more – perhaps $12.00.

    Will people who do not have Manhattan residential stickers on their cars be allowed to park in Manhattan, and how will they be able to afford to pay these fees on top of the entering fees?

    How can we support a Congestion Pricing Plan that the Mayor alone can decide if the plan may continue or not? The legislators – not the Mayor – should have the power under a sunset provision of three years to decide if this Congestion Pricing Plan is worth it or not.

    Finally, I must ask, who will be in charge of implementing this project and collecting the fees? Who will make these determinations?

    As a State Senator who resides and works in the South Bronx, I urge New Yorkers to continue to care for our environment, but to not overlook some very serious questions and concerns that must be addressed before anything is set in stone.”

  • Dane


    Oh, I’m quite certain that you are correct in your assumption that Senator Diaz owns a car. I would imagine the good Senator hasn’t been on a subway or bus in decades.

    You have actually revealed yourself to be quite clueless about living conditions in the Bronx (outside of Riverdale, at least).

    The Bronx has the lowest rate of car ownership in the entire city. Only 16% of Bronxites own cars.

    Only 5.2% of Bronxites commute by car for work in Manhattan’s Central Business District.

    In other words: Only a very small minority of Bronxites would ever feel any pain from congestion pricing. And if the funds are used to pump up mass transit, as the Mayor has proposed, the vast majority of Bronxites would benefit.

    Again, I ask: Who is Diaz actually representing? Has he been driving back and forth to Albany for so long that he simply forgot that 84% of his constituents don’t even own cars and 95% don’t drive into Manhattan for work? It seems to be the case.

  • Anon


    Do you really think that our Senators do nothing all year except drive back and forth to Albany? That must keep state troopers entertained and gas station attendants busy.

    Your statistics are hardly impressive. Why don’t you take a taxi to the Senator’s District and see how many cars there are for yourself. Try to find a parking spot at night.

    It makes no sense to argue with you and pull apart your misstatements. I just feel sorry for you because you can’t appreciate what’s going on and won’t appreciate the efforts of the people who do.

  • Dane

    Good question! What do our State Senators do all year? Aside from running bogus “Troopergate” investigations and fighting over drivers licenses for immigrants, I’m really not sure what else is going on up there, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle.

    I’m sorry that you are not impressed by Bruce Schaller’s statistics derived from the federal Census and the State Dept. of Motor Vehicles but they are really the most solid numbers out there. It’s important to make policy based on good data.

    I’ve taken the subway to the Bronx plenty of times. I’ve got family there and know very well how many cars are clogging the streets both parked and moving. The fact remains: Only a very small minority of Bronx residents — just 16% — own cars. And only a very small minority of Bronx residents drive cars to work in Manhattan’s CBD — just 5%. So, all of that street-clogging is being caused by a very small percentage of your neighbors, whenit comes down to it. Where’s the justice in that?

    The simple fact is that congestion pricing won’t take a penny from the vast majority of people who live in the Bronx and ride the subway into Manhattan every day.

    This is why Diaz’s stance is just so shameful. He is not representing his constituents’ interests at all.

  • Anon


    Not representing his constituents are all? That’s an incredibly broad statement by someone who is not a constituent. Who are you to say that?

    Look at his website. Look at the photo section. See the happy faces of his constituents and community leaders standing with him.

    Just because you disagree with Senator Diaz’s philosophy about how to improve air quality doesn’t mean you have a right to say that his goals are not good and for his community.

    One of the great things about this country is that people can disagree with each other and still respect each other. It’s called diversity. If you only surround yourself with like-minded people, you live a sheltered life.

    Why don’t you take a trip to his district and ask his constituents how they feel about Senator Diaz and ask them if they think he represents them. Why don’t you meet him? You might surprise yourself and actually respect him.

  • Dane

    I’m sure Reverend Diaz is a lovely fellow, Anon, and has done plenty of fine things in his community.

    His stance on congestion pricing, however, is wrong and shameful and not beneficial to the vast majority of his constituents, most of whom do not own cars.

    Why would he choose to represent the interests of a small, relatively well-off, motoring minority when only 16 percent of Bronxites own cars (probably less in his district) and the neighborhoods he represents are plagued with some of the worst traffic congestion, pollution and childhood asthma rates in the entire nation?

  • Anon

    It looks like Senator Diaz is representing the asthmatic families who live and try to breathe, and not letting “them” continue to be exploited for the profit of others – ie Bloomberg & company.

    Dearest Dane, why don’t you make an appointment to meet with the Good Reverend and ask him what his reasons are instead of blogging nasty remarks about him being the boogie man.

  • JF

    I’m sorry that you are not impressed by Bruce Schaller’s statistics derived from the federal Census and the State Dept. of Motor Vehicles but they are really the most solid numbers out there. It’s important to make policy based on good data.

    This is what really bugs me about congestion pricing opponents: their willingness to repeatedly ignore facts and studies, particularly this one.

    Diaz, Weprin, Cook, Fidler, Dinowitz, even Brodsky: in all these districts, people who drive to the CBD are a tiny (and wealthy) minority. The rest of the residents have to suffer because of these people. Yet who do these politicians fight for? The tiny, wealthy, polluting, killing minority. So progressive, Mr. Brodsky! Sticking up for the little guy, Reverend Diaz! Protecting your constituents, Ms. Cook!

  • JF

    It looks like Senator Diaz is representing the asthmatic families who live and try to breathe, and not letting “them” continue to be exploited for the profit of others – ie Bloomberg & company.

    Okay, Anon, since you ignored the heart of my comment from above, I’m reposting it:

    To anyone who gives it a moment’s thought – without having their mind made up beforehand – it’s pretty clear that congestion pricing would remove lots of cars from the highways and boulevards that people drive on to get to the Manhattan pricing zone, thus reducing the amount of congestion and pollution in the Bronx.

    I could imagine an open-minded public servant who acknowledged the argument above but said, “let’s study this just to be sure,” but that’s not what Diaz said. Like Lipsky, and Brodsky, and Dinowitz, he ignores everything the pro-pricing side says and repeats the same flawed argument over and over again.

    In other words, if he cares so much about the asthmatic kids (including my own), why doesn’t he at least acknowledge that congestion pricing is claimed to reduce pollutants – in his district?

  • Anon

    I believe that the disgrace is the people and groups – elected or not – who use the suffering of poor Black and Latino children to get more money for projects that don’t end up helping anyone except the one with the deepest pockets.

    That has been a strong part of Senator Diaz’s opposition to the Mayor’s grab for federal cash to supposedly help our air quality.

    His other concerns seem valid to me.

    I love my children more than anyone could and hate the fact that my family and other Bronx families suffers from asthma. I want clean air too.

    Dane, please quote for me when and where you recall when Senator Diaz “repeats the same flawed argument over and over again” so I can be better informed.:)

    I have no idea what JF was trying to convey in her last blog.

  • What everyone is trying to make clear to you, Anon, is that congestion pricing will help people with the shallowest pockets, if we must speak in such metaphors. You don’t want to see it, because you have a car and don’t want to pay to drive. I actually can sympathize a tiny bit with Bronx residents like yourself who don’t want to be a media accessory to congestion pricing, while being against it for personal reasons. I’ve seen my own (former, actually) lower Manhattan representative claim to be against pricing, but in the supposed interest of the Bronx! How absolutely ridiculous. The inconvenient fact for you both is that pricing is nothing like a “mini-waste plant,” for any borough. It is a positive environmental program from start to finish, and using impact study obstructionism against it is the greatest of ironies. Whatever hypothosized “edge effect,” if there is one at all, is not going to counter the effects of a program that will REDUCE DRIVING. And for that matter, no program that could effectively reduce driving is going to make a devoted motorist like yourself happy.

    Can we stop playing games? I’ve sworn off from the carpetbagging. If Bronx residents like yourself don’t want to reduce driving on the thoroughfares that go through your borough to Manhattan and thereby reduce asthma rates for your children, because it’s more important to you to drive your own car for free, I’m not going to try to save your children for you. If we succeed without your support, perhaps I’ll go to the zoo more often when the air is safe to breathe. On the subway, in which I elitely travel all over this city.

  • JF

    I have no idea what JF was trying to convey in her last blog.

    Okay, here it is: congestion pricing is designed to help asthmatic kids in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. If you don’t understand how, then ask.

    Anon, you may very well be a mother of an asthmatic kid living in the Bronx. If so, you seem willfully obtuse, but you have my sympathies.

    Richard Lipsky, this is aimed at you and only you: if you’re posing as the concerned mother of an asthmatic child in the Bronx, you’re despicable.

  • Anon

    I am not now, nor have I ever been Richard Lipsky.

    What is the problem with responding to the valid questions and concerns Senator Diaz listed?

    I refuse to place blind trust in any effort of any elected official until it has been properly reviewed and scrutinized and it seems like a good deal. Vote for me an I’ll set you free…not here. Sorry.

    Mayor Bloomberg lost a lot of people’s trust in his alleged concern for the environment when he fought like a dog to build a stadium on the west side of Manhattan. What was he thinking? ($$$) It makes me sick that waste management stations litter areas of the South Bronx and the City – and this administration – without any concern for families who struggle to breathe – renew these contracts.

    If this proposal is really worth it, then answer the unanswered questions that Senator Diaz asked. I can’t imagine he has anything to gain by taking this position except for being attacked by bloggers.

    I didn’t have a Godiva fountain party in my home to help Bloomberg get elected or re-elected. He hasn’t bought us all off, and he hasn’t charmed us all into believing that he’s got our children’s best intentions in mind.

  • JF

    Ah yes, ignore what everyone writes and spend two irrelevant paragraphs attacking Bloomberg, who is not connected with this site or any of the posters here. If you’re not Lipsky, you’re working directly from his playbook. Your posts are so disingenuous and manipulative it makes me cringe.

  • Anon

    Cringe if you want to, but please stop calling me Richard Lipsky, or one of his surrogates. I’m a woman, and a mom, and I don’t work from anyone’s playbook.

    One of my sons had serious asthma problems everyday for 4 years straight. This is not a game for me or my family – it’s very serious and I don’t appreciate being attacked for going on this blog and asking for some answers.

    You can’t be for real if you think that people don’t have the ability to think on their own try to and discern what is best for their children, their neighbors and themselves. If anyone dares to ask a question, they care called disingenuous and manipulative?????

    And you can’t be for real if you think that moms and dads are not suspicious of people who blindly jump on Bloomberg’s bandwagon. I don’t trust him – and that is based upon policies he has made in NYC since he took office.

    I want more proof that this will help and not make matters worse – especially in the Bronx. And please don’t go on about England. Things are different here.

    The questions Senator Diaz asked are important. Why can’t anyone answer them and sort through what matters to some of us?

  • JF

    I’ll stop alluding to Lipsky if you stop insinuating that we’re Bloomberg toadies. That’s the manipulative part. My son has asthma too, and I have bad allergies (which some have linked to pollution). The traffic in my part of Queens is out of hand. I’m doing this for my family’s health and safety.

    This congestion pricing plan seems like it would be a tremendous boon for Queens, and then people like Weprin come and shit all over it, without offering any other way to get the cars off our streets. That’s why this dad is suspicious of people who have nothing but “questions and concerns” and never seem to hear the answers to their questions and concerns.

    The problem is that you weren’t actually asking for answers; you started off calling us out for picking on poor Senator Diaz – when we’ve actually been quite respectful in our criticism of him.

    You want answers? Dane and I have already given you a bundle, right here in this thread, but you ignored all the content and tried to make it out like we were attacking Diaz. I’m not going to write any more about congestion pricing for your benefit if I don’t think you’re actually going to read it and acknowledge it.

  • Anon

    For now, I’m going to call it quits on this message board.

    I reread all of the comments, and have been stonewalled, called manipulative, called Richard Lipsky, and cringed at by people who won’t answer basic questions.

    After posting Senator Diaz’s questions, which are concise – as opposed to posting Assemblyman Brodsky’s report which is much more detailed – I still can’t get any of the bloggers on this site to answer them.

    In review of the comments on this blog, I have to say that the replies about Senator Diaz don’t qualify as respectful, but are not respectful at all.

    I will try to find other advocates for congestion pricing who may have not drunk the juice and can hopefully offer some answers for basic questions about the proposal.

  • JF

    Anon, I was tempted to find a way to answer Diaz’s loaded “questions,” but I honestly don’t trust you not to ignore or dismiss my answer, like you did with my two previous posts about the value of congestion pricing for the Bronx.

    Clearly you’re not getting what you want (unless you wanted a chance to repeatedly identify us with Bloomberg and then insult him and us), and you’re not contributing anything, so I’m not sad to see you go.

  • You (or Senator Diaz) can find responses to many of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Mayor’s congestion pricing proposal in this four-part Q&A with Rohit Aggarwala:


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