Monday, June 10, 2013

Op-Ed | Local | Idling Reduction: A Common Sense Plan

Old habits are hard to break. To most, idling a car may seem fairly harmless, but in fact, there are many adverse effects. Carbon emissions have a major impact on air quality, with implications for public health and the environment, as we all know. One way to lessen these emissions is to reduce needless pollution from idling. However, most drivers don’t think twice about running their engine while the car is not in motion. For this reason, the City of Portland and Multnomah County need to work together to create idling regulations for passenger vehicles.

The two municipalities have worked together briefly on this issue before, during the Idling Gets You Nowherepublic outreach campaign in the summer of 2011. As part of that effort, Mayor Adams’ office convened an idling reduction task force to look into various options for addressing the issue.  Multnomah County took the lead on outreach by creating an informational website, hanging “Idling Gets You Nowhere” banners across the Hawthorne Bridge and mobilizing volunteers to hand out postcards explaining the dangers of vehicular idling during bridge lifts and at community events.

The partnership makes sense in light of the two municipalities’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In 2009, the City of Portland joined forces with Multnomah County to adopt the ClimateAction Plan, a three-year plan to put us on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. “The Climate Action Plan commits the City and Multnomah County to 93 actions over the next three years and establishes 18 objectives for 2030 (City of Portland, 2009).” However, in the whole 70 page document, idling is mentioned only twice.

To me, this seems like a huge missed opportunity. Tackling idling in passenger vehicles seems like common sense. Many cities, counties, and states have idling regulations. New York City, for example, has had success focusing on passenger vehicles. “Since the early 1970's, NYC law restricts the idling of motor vehicle engines while parking, standing or stopping as part of the City policy to reduce air pollution. No motorized vehicle can idle for longer than 3 minutes unless it is being used to operate equipment (NYC Administrative Code,  Title 24, Chapter 1, Subchapter 7, Section24-163).” Amendments established penalties for non-compliance, broadened enforcement to multiple city agencies, and limited idling to no more than one minute adjacent to a school–public or private (NYC Administrative Code). "Vehicle emissions contribute harmful pollutants to the air we breathe, and we must be particularly attentive to this in areas that have historically seen the highest asthma rates,” said Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Carter Strickland at an Asthma Awareness Month press conference (NYC DEP PressRelease).

On the whole, the health effects can be dire. According to the Department of Environmental Quality of Oregon, no less than 40 to 50% of air toxics in Oregon come from vehicle exhaust, making it the leading source of pollution in the state.  Air pollution is one of the leading causes of asthma attacks and upper respiratory illnesses in both children and adults. In 2009, Oregon ranked in the top five states for highest percentage of adults with an asthma diagnosis in the nation (Services, 2010). According to the Portland Bureau ofTransportation, these symptoms are increased as a result of car exhaust. As far as effects on the environment, it is a common understanding that climate change is a problem and that transpiration emissions are a major culprit.

In addition to the health and environmental costs, idling has many economic costs. Though it’s easy to think that running the engine for a few minutes won’t add up, in fact in 5 minutes of idling, we can burn between 0.4-1 cup of gasoline. Over the course of a year, this adds up to 11-22 gallons of gas, at a cost of $43-$80 per year per vehicle ($3.75 per gallon). The Environmental Defense Fund, in its 2009 report, said that city wide, idling wasted an average of 30,000 gallons every week day.

The opportunity is there for City of Portland and Multnomah County to team up again on this issue, which aligns so well with the environmental goals of both entities. This could be done with the county continuing its outreach and education efforts and the city overseeing the creation and enforcement of regulations, most likely pairing enforcement with parking violation oversight.


NYC DEP Press Release, C. G. (2012, May). DEP Announces "Stop Idling" Enforcement and For Emmidiate Release: Public Education Campaign at City Schools in Neighborhoods With High Asthma Rates. NYC Department of Environmental Protection. NYC, NY
City of Portland, M. C. (2009). Climate Action Plan. Portland: City of Portland, Multnomah County.
Multnomah County, (2010). Idling gets You Nowhere
Fund, E. D. (2009). 2009 Anual report. Environmental Defense Fund.
NYC Administrative Code, Sanitation, N. D. (2013). NYC Vehicle Engine Idling Laws
Portland Bureau of Transportation, 2007, Idling Gets You Nowhere brochure (out of print)
Services, O. D. (2010). The Burden of Asthma in Oregon: 2010. Portland: Oregon Asthma Program. 


1 comment:

  1. Do you know how the policy is enforced in New York? It seems like it would be difficult to determine how long a car has been idling. Not that I don't think it's a good idea -- every time I've waited for the Hawthorne Bridge lift,most people seem to leave their engines running, even though there's a sign advising them not to. Too bad; it seems like it would be common sense, if only to save the gas.


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