Surveillance catches flagrant idling in city

In just about any community, drive-through restaurants are the biggest source of vehicle idling.

In just about any community, drive-through restaurants are the biggest source of vehicle idling.

Red Deer is no different.

Last July, 26 out of 30 vehicles in the McDonald’s Restaurant (3020 22nd St.) drive-through lineup kept their vehicles running for a total of 182 minutes, over the course of one hour.

But the worst offenders aren’t necessarily just at drive-throughs

A driver of an SUV in the Sobeys South parking lot kept his motor running for 26 minutes that same summer.

Another driver of an SUV idled his vehicle for 27 minutes at St. Teresa of Avila School while presumably waiting for his children.

“For me it was a little bit surprising to see the length of time that people idle,” said Nancy Hackett, the city’s Environmental Initiatives supervisor.

“Some vehicles were idling for 19 or 26 minutes. That is really a long time to leave your vehicle running while you are in a grocery store or in a public building.”

Hackett referred to some of the findings of the city’s first informal idling monitoring campaign conducted last summer.

The city is now in the fifth year of its idle-free awareness campaign designed to encourage residents to turn off the key.

There are nine businesses or institutions and 28 schools in the coalition.

Signs are up at the sites encouraging motorists to turn the key off.

Six locations around the city were under surveillance by a summer student paid through a Volunteer Alberta program.

The student was tasked with recording several observations, including the number of vehicles idling, the time spent idling and time of day.

Hackett said this is part of the community-based approach in which they want to understand what is happening in the community.

A sample of locations were monitored — the Collicutt Centre, downtown Red Deer, McDonald’s, Sobeys (2110 50th Ave.), Normandeau School and St. Teresa of Avila School, at different times of the day.

The locations were chosen because of the high probability of idling at the sites.

The student would stake out the location, chat with motorists about the idle-free campaign and hand out information.

“I think that sometimes we think we are going to be in a grocery store only a minute or two but it is often longer,” said Hackett. “And these were in the summer in June and July. It was not just a winter thing. I think that was the other surprise.”

Hackett said the drive-through numbers were not a surprise because that is the way they are designed. She said they included the drive-through because there has been a lot of talk in the community about drive-through idling.

Two schools were chosen because one is in the city’s idle-free program and the other is not. This allowed the city to examine how successful the program has been. The two schools were monitored at different times of the day. The observations at St. Teresa, part of the idle-free program, took place in June in the afternoon. As in the other five sites, the locations were monitored twice. Seven vehicles out of 35 were idling for a total of 33 minutes the second time compared to 10 out of 46 vehicles idling for a total of 82 minutes during the first observation.

At Normandeau School, which is not part of the program, 10 out of 53 vehicles idled for 73 minutes during the first observation compared to the six out of 40 vehicles idling for 20 minutes during the second time.

A recreation centre was chosen because people of all ages used the facility. According to the report, there was a high volume of idling vehicles when there were organized sports events.

The report concluded that people are willing to accept the information. However, many did not know the harmful effects of idling and how they benefit from reducing idling.

In the 2013 Customer Service Satisfaction Survey, residents were asked which environmental programs they are aware of or have participated in. More than 75 per cent reported being aware of the idle-free education campaign and more than 56 per cent who were aware reported participating by not idling their vehicles.

This was the first year the question was asked on the survey so there was no comparison to previous years. The survey also revealed many residents would support more action around idle-free to protect local air quality.

The city is in its fifth year of the educational campaign.

This summer’s monitoring campaign is underway. The report will be available by September. The same sites will be monitored and a few others have been added to the program. Hackett would not disclose the new locations.

“The education program has been successful in raising awareness, having more schools involved, having more signs in the community,” said Hackett. “What the student work shows us is that people are still idling.”

Hackett said residents should keep in mind that they can save money by turning their vehicle off and not running them for the extra time. Hackett said motorists should idle their vehicles for one minute or less.

On Monday night, council extended the idle-free education campaign until 2016 when the Environmental Master Plan is up for review. During this time, city staff will research tools and strategies to curb idling in the city.

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