Pols try to clear the air-New legislation is aimed at combatting idling engines

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An idle mind may be a devil’s workshop, but idling buses create unwelcome air pollutants that can increase adult and child asthma rates throughout Brooklyn.

Two bills passed the City Council last week aimed at reducing vehicles idling throughout the city by spreading enforcement duties among several agencies and reducing the time that cars and buses can idle in front of schools to one minute only.

“New York City has one of the highest asthma rates among children in the country,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Today’s legislative actions take greater steps to improve air quality and public health by enforcing idling regulations and reducing idling, particularly around our city’s schoolchil­dren.”

Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky, whose district covers parts of Northern Brooklyn, introduced a bill that extends the authority for issuing tickets to idling vehicles to both the Sanitation Department and Department of Parks and Recreation. Currently, only the NYPD and DEP are allowed to write tickets for idling violations. In addition, Yassky’s bill will enable citizens to bring their complaints against trucks for violations of the Air Pollution Control Code in a similar way that they can lodge complaints against buses that idle in their neighborhoods.

“As a city, our asthma rate is through the roof,” said Yassky. “We’ve got idling laws on the books, but there’s no one around to enforce them. Drivers keep their engines going because they know they’ll get away with it. This bill will significantly increase enforcement so that these laws do what they were designed to do.”

Queens Councilmember John Liu, a candidate for New York City Public Advocate, proposed a bill to reduce the amount of time that cars and trucks can idle in front of public and private school buildings from three minutes to one minute. The new legislation will also require the city’s Environmental Control Board to send a report detailing the number of idling violations that were given out each year and city’s the Department of Finance to send a list of summonses issues and penalties imposed.

Brooklyn Councilmember Vincent Gentile, whose district covers Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and parts of Bensonhurst, noted that the bills came about primarily as an effort to reduce the high rates of asthma in their districts, particularly among neighborhoods bisected by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway which is heavily used by trucks.

“More New York City children have asthma than almost anywhere else in this country,” Gentile said. “By decreasing the amount of time cars and trucks can idle outside of schools, we’re increasing the quality of the city’s air and improving the health of our children.”

Alvin Berk, Chair of Community Board 14, which oversees Flatbush, Midwood, Kensington and Ocean Parkway, said he was unaware of specific complaints made to the community board office, but he has noticed that school buses have been idling throughout his South Brooklyn district.

“School buses frequently idle for long periods of time here because the driver has to remain in the bus in cold weather, waiting for children to be discharged from school to bring them home. It’s not limited to just one school,” said Berk.

According to a recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund, vehicles waste over 20,500 gallons of gasoline each day idling by city curbsides. This adds up to about 7.5 million gallons of gasoline and 5 million gallons of diesel per year, at a cost of $53 million in wasted fuel expenses. The EDF estimates that idling vehicles contribute 130,000 tons in carbon dioxide, 24 tons of soot and 6,400 tons of carbon monoxide citywide.

According to the most recent figures from the New York City Department of Health, 5 percent of adults in Brooklyn report having asthma, compared with 3 percent for the rest of the city.

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