noidle.jpgSection 4-08, Subsection P of the New York City traffic code prohibits engine idling for more than three minutes. Engine idling, obviously, significantly pollutes our air, consumes exceedingly precious scarce natural resources, and mightily contributes to our trade deficit.

New Yorker magazine recently ran a short article (May 18, 2009, Talk of the Town, “Dept. of Samaritans: Engine Trouble”) about a lone New York City crusader against engine idling, one George Parkenham. Parkenham, 59, works on Wall Street and does not own a car. He has selflessly contributed his lunch hours for more than 2 years to a one-man effort to reduce engine idling in the city. How? By courageously knocking on the car windows of idling vehicles, handing them a card containing Section 4-08, Subsection P of the New York City traffic code, and asking them to turn off their car engines and cease polluting.

Parkenham, who as you might guess is probably a tiny bit on the obsessive-compulsive side, keeps a spreadsheet that documents his “encounters.” He has a 76% success rate and his encounters run 89% male and 56% white. His failures are insightful: “I’ll walk away and they’ll rev their engine just to annoy me, just to show they’re powerful jungle creatures.”

Vignettes of the city:

February 12, 2008: white female, truck, age 50+: “I won’t freeze for you.”

March 13, 2008: white male, city vehicle, 4 time offender: asleep at wheel.

July 11, 2008: black female, age 25-35: “Then don’t breathe.”

September 3, 2008: repeat offender: “Get away from me. Move to China.”

Parkenham believes that the tide of public opinion is turning against engine idling, that in three years it will be like secondhand cigarette smoke. Then everyone will understand the health dangers and compliance will be the norm, just what civic-minded citizens do to help the community and the environment. Then the Earth be a better place to live for ourselves and future generations.