Rally Wednesday for Tougher Idling Regs Near Schools

Last week’s Chinatown disaster has prompted a good bit of discussion about idling vehicles. As it happens, two bills are wending their way through the City Council that would tighten idling restrictions and foster improved enforcement.

A vote is expected tomorrow on Intro. 2007-631, which would reduce the maximum idling time from three minutes to one minute when the vehicle in question is "adjacent" to any public or private school. The bill, from Council Member John Liu, appears to enjoy wide support, but opposition remains. A 9:30 a.m. rally on the steps of City Hall will precede tomorrow’s vote. Says Rebecca Kalin of Asthma Free School Zone:

Idling is harmful to health and environment; it’s wasteful and against the law. Now, we can add "dangerous to pedestrians." The Chinatown tragedy might never have happened if the driver had simply turned the key.

A separate bill, Intro. 2008-881, by Daniel Garodnick, would empower city traffic agents to enforce idling laws through the use of their hand-held computers. As it stands, according to a press release from the council member, the Department of Environmental Protection is the "lead agency" in citing vehicles for exceeding legal idling limits. Since DEP has 38 inspectors covering the entire city, it’s not surprising that very few citations are issued (536 in 2007, says Garodnick).

The council’s Committee on Environmental Protection recently held a hearing on Intro 881. Again, cross-checking co-sponsors, a number of supporters of 881 have also signed onto the parking meter "grace period" bill. Let’s hope they don’t try to dole out more leeway for idlers too.

  • Rhywun

    A driver should not exit a vehicle and leave it running–period. There is no excuse for that.

  • I’m very happy about Garodnick’s bill.

    This morning outside my building, Zipcar was doing some promotion, complete with green zipcar flags and hired barkers handing out brochures.

    the main barker guy was saying stuff like “eco friendly!” Meanwhile, the zipcar they had there as part of the event was sitting there parked and empty with its engine running.

    (I told him that that’s not “eco-friendly” or legal, and he said something like “I’ll take that into account” or some crap. Felt like calling the cops.)

  • Some schools have recognized that they don’t need the legislation to deliver this message to idling parents.

  • Would the one minute idling law apply to school busses which are probably among the worst offenders? How would drivers know they were near a school? Would it require the City to make more signs? Seems to me it would make far more sense (and $$$ for the City) to simply enforce the three minute law that’s currently on the books. We don’t need new laws unless we’re prepared to actively enforce them.

  • Yes, Stacy, the school buses are the worst because their exhaust is so full of particles.

    The school buses operated by private schools do pickups at each door, and seem to be required to wait 5 minutes before leaving without their little charges. Due to a hydrant right next to the cityrack on my block, there is a big curbside space right in front of where I lock up. Many mornings, there is a a full-size school bus waiting for tardy Fieldston students that’s blowing extra-chunky diesel exhaust in our faces as we unlock. But I’d be pleased to see the problem at the schools addressed as a first step.

    As far as enforcing what’s on the books, I had always thought the existing three minute law applies only to commercial vehicles. Am I wrong?

  • Starting in 2005, there was an agreement reached between the 9 major bus companies and schools to reduce idling time to one minute. In fact, in 2007, Governor Spitzer signed the following bill.

    “State law already restricts bus and truck idling to no more than five consecutive minutes. This legislation authorizes the Commissioner of Education to require that school buses to be turned off while waiting for passengers to load or unload on school grounds or in front of schools, unless idling is necessary for heating, mechanical or emergency conditions. The Commissioner of Education must promulgate these regulations by July 1, 2008.”

    If you think about it 3 minutes is hard to enforce because you have to count all three minutes – but if you show up to ticket someone for idling and there is a one-minute regulation, you can go 60 seconds and ticket then. 5 minutes is out of control and you might want to consider encouraging Fieldston to speak to their operators. I find that schools will do many things in the spirit of “going green” these days.

  • BicyclesOnly – Intro. 2007-631 as linked above contains proposed changes to the existing law §24-163. Those changes are underlined while the non-underlined text is the current law. There doesn’t seem to be much distinction between passenger and commercial vehicles. As far as I know the three minute limit applies to both.

  • So, Rhywun, they should never do so, eh? I take it you’d prefer to have them turn the vehicle off and generate more emissions by restarting it than let it idle for 30 seconds to retrieve something.

    Sweeping generalizations. Gotta love them.

  • J. Mork

    Good news, Nanterking, there’s a study:

    If you believed the myth that restarting takes more fuel than idling, the myth is busted.
    Our research showed a V6 restart takes about the same fuel as 5 seconds of idling.


    That’s the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Florida Section.

  • Michael Steiner

    Note in some places in Europe, e.g., Switzerland, you have to turn off the engine even when stopping in front of a red light or a railroad crossings (with some exception for the one in front) ….. ! In the context of these laws, which were enacted probably more than 20 years ago, most myths such as increased pollution, drastically reduced engine life, etc. have been convincingly debunked.

  • Incidentally, Zipcar replied promptly, and with appreciation of my complaint, and a statement that they’d take action, after I emailed them complaining about the promo event I describe in my comment above.


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