What One Man Does to Improve Air Quality


Photo via Flickr by N1NJ4

Though Mayor Bloomberg is signing bills to eliminate vehicle idling, New York City's traffic code, Section 4-08, Subsection P, already prohibits vehicles from idling for more than three minutes. So, a new ruling isn't required. As is, the current law could bring steep fines up to several hundred dollars for keeping an engine running. Not many know about it. And apparently it's not often (if ever) enforced, except by an unassuming civilian, who cares about air quality and patrols the streets knocking on parked car, truck, van, and bus doors to let drivers know that idling is illegal. Not a welcome notification, the response is often hostile.Called the Verdant Vigilante by his friends, George Pakenham's personal anti-idling crusade was recently profiled by Ben McGrath in The New Yorker in a story called "Engine Trouble." During breaks while working with international mortgages on Wall Street, he strolls the streets to warn drivers about the idling law, which 71% claim they don't know about. Many don't seem to share Pakenham's concern. "They'll rev the engine just to annoy me," he says about his chronicled adventures.

Pakenham is far from idle himself. If he'd actually been able to write tickets, the equivalent of $158,620 would be in Manhattan coffers. Wonder how much CO2 he's eliminated from the air with those who do comply with his warning? According to his log, Con Edison is the most common corporate offender. The eco-Samaritan notes statistics about offenders and reactions to these confrontations, like "Then don't breathe" or "go green." One repeat idler now drives a hybrid. (Is this individual's effort to reduce greenhouse gasses making a difference?) Soon, Pakenham believes, "it'll be like secondhand smoke."

Also in the same issue of The New Yorker, another story, "Green Collars," by David Owen featured a meeting of Locals 40 and 361 of the Ironworkers' Union screening a documentary, "The Greening of Southie," by Ian Cheney, about an eco-friendly apartment building. After the film, the welders asked the director some savvy questions about the sustainability of the project, such as inquiring about the environmental impact of concrete vs. steel and imports of bamboo vs. local materials.

Seems these new union members will pass the test. The director of training said, "The future is going to be a lot different than it is now."

More on engine idling:
Enforcing Traffic Fines for Idling
Treehugger Homework: Stop Engine Idling
Pure Waste Challenge, Part III: Take Action, Stop Idling

Tags: Activism | Air Quality | Fuel Efficiency | Green Building | New York City

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