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Health, Science & Environment

Bexley considers banning vehicle idling, citing health, environmental concerns

A car sits in a parking lot behind two signs reading "Bexley Square Shopping Center" and "Bexley City Hall."
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
A car sits in a parking lot near Bexley Square and Bexley City Hall. Bexley City Council is considering regulating or prohibiting vehicle idling in order to reduce emissions produced by cars.

Bexley City Councilwoman Lori Ann Feibel has not been idle in her attempt to stop vehicle idling.

Feibel is leading an effort in Bexley to restrict or prohibit idling in an effort to help protect the health of people and the environment.

An ordinance to require drivers, including commercial and school bus drivers, to put vehicles in park and turn off their engines when stopped, had its second reading at Bexley City Council’s Aug. 22 meeting. The legislation lays out some exceptions to the idling rule, including when someone’s health or wellbeing is at risk.

The proposed law – or some amended form of it – could be passed with a third reading at the next meeting on Sept. 12.

Feibel said she’s been researching the impacts of idling and vehicle emissions for over a year. She started after she noticed someone in a Starbucks parking lot had left their car running while they went inside to get their coffee.

“And it just made me angry,” Feibel said.

Feibel said her fellow council members agree that something should be done to reduce unnecessary idling, but they worry about trying to regulate idling on private property, and they’re “attached to their remote starters.”

A woman stands in the Bexley City Hall meeting room.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
Bexley Councilwoman Lori Ann Feibel introduced legislation to prohibit vehicle idling in the city in an attempt to protect the health of people and the environment.

Impact of Idling

Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission Sustainability Officer Brandi Whetstone says in central Ohio, vehicles play a significant role in pollution.

“And when you think about unnecessary vehicle idling, it wastes fuel and money, but it also creates harmful air pollution at the same time,” she said.

Vehicles in Franklin County account for about 61% of nitrogen dioxide emissions, according to MORPC. The reactive group of gases come from burning fossil fuels and contribute to the formation of ozone and particulate matter – which can affect human health and contribute to climate change.

Whetstone said in general, idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel – and creates more emissions – than stopping and restarting the engine. She recommends turning off a vehicle when idling for more than 30 seconds.

Reducing idling is especially important near schools because children are more vulnerable to air pollution, Whetstone said. She noted that children breathe faster and breathe in more pounds of air than adults and are typically shorter and therefore breathing at the same level where the most emissions are located.

“That can be a real concern,” Whetstone said.

Air pollution also disproportionately affects those with conditions like asthma, heart disease and COPD.

“And when you think about unnecessary vehicle idling, it wastes fuel and money, but it also creates harmful air pollution at the same time."
- Brandi Whetstone, MORPC sustainability officer

Air awareness

MORPC has an air quality awareness program, as well as an Idle Free Central Ohio campaign that offers sample policies and parking lot signs. Whetstone says local communities, organizations and businesses have taken advantage of the program.

In 2018, a group of students at Delaware’s Dempsey Middle School launched a successful no-idling campaign, Whetstone said. A Delaware City Schools' spokesperson said the district already had a no-idling policy, but students raised awareness for the environmental impacts of idling on social media and pushed for additional signs at the school, especially in pickup lines.

Whetstone said MORPC also has an internal idle-free policy.

Regulating idle time

The U.S. Department of Energy said in 2019 that 29 states – including Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – had laws to reduce engine idle time.

The Department of Energy notes that modern cars don’t need to idle. Newer vehicles reach their ideal operating temperature faster while driving than idling and aren’t damaged by being turned off and on.

In Columbus, city employees driving city-owned vehicles are not allowed to idle, unless it is required for their work and they must follow other fuel-efficient practices, thanks to a 2005 executive order by then-Mayor Michael Coleman.

Cleveland and some of its suburbs have laws prohibiting any vehicle from idling for more than five minutes in an hour, or more than 10 minutes while loading and unloading – with some exceptions. Idling for a longer period of time is a minor misdemeanor and carries a fine up to $150.

“Even if the laws don't come into place. Just to raise awareness is really important."
- Bexley Councilwoman Lori Ann Feibel

Tough issue to tackle

Feibel admits that enforcing an idling law would be difficult, but she hopes to "give this law some teeth,” so the city can hang signs and police can issue warnings.

Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said sustainability must be top of mind, but it’s a tough issue to tackle.

“And I think the important balance we have to strike is, you know, making sure that people are able to stay safe so, you know, defrost their windshields in the winter and warm up their cars so they can travel safely on their way, but also balance those individual rights with the greater rights of our community, as well as our children,” Kessler said.

Feibel noted her original ordinance has already changed, but said, “something is better than nothing.”

“Even if the laws don't come into place. Just to raise awareness is really important,” Feibel said.

Air quality in central Ohio

The Columbus area currently meets federal air quality standards and overall has been improving, despite a so-called unprecedented summer for air pollution and air quality alerts, which was mostly caused by wildfires in Canada, said Whetstone.

But, as central Ohio grows, she said everyone will have to work harder to continue to improve air quality while adding more people and vehicles and new development.

Drivers can reduce emissions by keeping vehicles well-turned and tires properly inflated, which increases fuel efficiency, Whetstone said.

Regarding idling, Whetstone also said, “When everybody's doing it, even for a short period of time, it has a big impact. It adds up. So, if everybody can do a little bit to reduce their own vehicle emissions, it can go a long way.”

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.