NYC Billy ‘Idle’ Campaign Dodges Root Causes of Air Pollution
New York City’s recent announcement of a US$1-million anti-idling campaign featuring British glam rocker Billy Idol may be witty, but what the community really needs is the political will to take more cars off city streets—an unlikely prospect, given Mayor Bill de Blasio’s penchant for governing “from a windshield perspective,” writes Grist.
Spurred by the fact that motor vehicles generate “11% of fine particulate air pollution and 28% of nitrogen oxide pollution” in his city, de Blasio is seeking to “make a dent in that pollution by harnessing the star power of, uh, Billy Idol to try to get New York drivers to stop idling,” Grist reports, wryly noting the pun in “Idol” and “idle.”
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Announced at the beginning of March, before coronavirus control measures brought down New York’s epic traffic congestion by 35%, the publicity campaign was to consist of a month-long blitz of ads plastered across billboards, kiosk posters, and taxi TVs. City Hall hopes that the ad, which features an image of a scowling Idol accompanied by the message “Billy never idles. Neither should you,” will guilt and amuse drivers into turning off their engines when waiting in their car.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is also expanding its “snitch line,” which offers New Yorkers a potential reward of $87.50 for reporting idling freight trucks and buses.
Idling is an urgent problem in New York, writes Grist: In the decade since an Environmental Defense Fund study estimated that the practice was producing “thousands of tons of pollutants associated with respiratory disease, cancer, asthma, heart disease, and other health effects, along with 130,000 tons of CO2,” the city’s traffic has gotten much worse, “thanks in part to the explosion of ride-hail apps and a rise in home deliveries.”
And the trucks that deliver all those Amazon parcels “are especially bad offenders due to their size and diesel engines.” Grist cites the EPA, which estimates emissions from these vehicles alone at “11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 180,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 5,000 tons of particulate matter annually” across the U.S.
But will a rock star’s rebel yell against idling have any real impact on the practice, especially on all those delivery trucks idling in bike and traffic lanes throughout the Big Apple? The idea doesn’t bear up against the reality of why all those drivers keep their engines running, says Grist. Freight trucks circle, idle, and park illegally because there are too few loading zones in the city—and that’s because creating more would mean taking away street parking, a move that city politicians are still loath to make.
“Though de Blasio has made some big promises to expand the city’s networks of bike and bus lanes,” writes Grist, his actual policies, such as expanding the city’s parking placard program to give “50,000 more city workers the right to park effectively anywhere without consequence,” and opposing “a congestion pricing plan that would reduce traffic and raise funds for subway improvements,” benefit cars instead.
“If we stopped unnecessary idling in New York City, it would mean the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road every single day,” de Blasio said when he unveiled the Idol campaign. But, Grist observes, “it’s emblematic of de Blasio’s overall approach to transportation planning that he’s aiming for the former rather than the latter.”