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Wheels & Heels: Decatur Considering Idling Ban

Sitting in a running car waiting to pick up the kids from school or waiting in a drive-up window wastes gas and pollutes the air. Decatur is considering banning idling.

Whatever they say about an idle mind, an idling car creates devilish pollution on the playground.

Buying organic grapes and recycling milk bottles won't compensate for the pollution you generate by patronizing drive-up windows at fast food joints or if you let the car idle while waiting to pick up the kids from school.

The city's Environmental Sustainability Board has been kicking around the idea of drafting a law against idling. And at the moment, it's mainly an idea, according to Lena Stevens, the city's Resource Conservation Coordinator. 

The group is following up on an item in Decatur's 2010 Strategic Plan, which asks the board to help the city create a "climate action plan," including such initiatives as an "ordinance to limit motor vehicle idling, and roof color standards to reduce the heat island effect."

A lot of other places around the country have ordinances against idling, including Atlanta, the state of California, Minneapolis, and Park City, Utah, to name a few listed in a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency tally.  

Idling vehicles waste gas, not a whole lot – a half a cup every five minutes—but it adds up. If 145 million passenger vehicles idle for five minutes a day, approximately four million gallons of gasoline are consumed, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Idling pollutes the air needlessly. Is not having to get out of the car to get a Chick-Fil-A breakfast sandwich really worth needlessly adding nitrogen oxides , volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to the air? An hour of idling releases nearly four pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

Decatur already prohibits unnecessary idling among city-owned vehicles. The policy applies to anyone driving any gasoline-powered city vehicle and, to a limited extend, diesel vehicles.

Drivers of internal combustion engines could help their gas mileage and breathing by following Decatur’s anti-idling policy:

  • City fleet vehicles will not be parked with the engine operating for more than two minutes unless it is essential for performance of work.
  • Initial “warm up” idling should be minimized. Start driving after no more than 30 seconds of idling, assuming your vehicle’s windows are clear.
  • If you are going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds, except as required while operating the vehicle in routine traffic, turn off your engine. As mentioned previously, idling a vehicle for longer than 10 seconds uses more fuel that it would take to restart the vehicle.
  • Vehicles with diesel engines should not be shut down unless the vehicle is going to idle for more than 20 minutes because stopping and starting a diesel engine numerous times, such as might be required when repairing potholes or picking up garbage/recycling containers, is hard on the engine.

The policy has many exceptions, such as emergency vehicles on duty, vehicles stuck in traffic, when running an engine for repairs or defrosting a window.

Agnes Scott College also prohibits idling on campus. The college was the first educational institution in enact an idling ban, according to the Clean Air Campaign, a Georgia non-profit that works to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. At Agnes Scott, trucks and service vehicles on campus are required to turn off their engines while making deliveries. The campus posted “No Idle Zone” signs in areas where service and delivery vehicles frequently operate while on campus.

Decatur city schools also have no-idling zones at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, and Clairemont and Oakhurst elementary schools , and discourages school buses from idling, said school spokesman Bruce Roaden.

This is a green initiative that each driver can take on. Instead of using the drive-up window, park and go inside. I’ve found that it’s always faster if there’s more than one car ahead of you in the drive-up. If you’re picking up or dropping off a child or other passenger, and you anticipate a wait of more than two minutes, roll down the window and turn off the car.

We'll all breathe easier when you do.

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