Flagstaff urged citizens to turn off their engines while idling with the goal of shrinking carbon footprints and preserving the city. But one year later, the initiative has evaporated from local awareness.
In September 2018, city council passed the Turn It Off initiative, urging those waiting for the train, getting food at the drive-thru or sitting in traffic to turn off their engines to save gas and keep the city’s air clean. According to a city of Flagstaff FAQ regarding the initiative, leaving a parked car running wastes more gas than turning the engine off and back on.
The initiative urges Flagstaffians to choose one place they usually idle and make an effort to turn off their cars in that spot. To encourage citizens to participate, the city launched an online pledge.
A city survey conducted in summer 2018 identified that excessive idling tends to occur in drive-thrus, parking lots and at the train tracks. Other regions, including Maricopa County, have regulations on car idling, but there are no legal ramifications. The initiative is purely voluntary and is not regulated by law.
Flagstaff communication manager Jessica Drum said that while no official metrics have been taken and there is no way to objectively measure the success of an initiative like this, the goal was to get people’s attention and not to create city restrictions.
“The goal was to increase awareness of the impacts of car idling and what that can do to your fuel consumption, as well as air quality, in our community,” Drum said.
Turn It Off attempted to rid the city of misconceptions about idling. The money-saving statistics and debunking claims of possible engine damage were intended to get Flagstaffians on board with turning off their cars when necessary and safe to do so.
According to the city, “Idling your engine for more than 10 seconds wastes more fuel than turning the engine off and on again. Americans waste $13 million every day on unnecessary idling.”
Car idling is also tied to increased rates of asthma, allergies and heart disease, according to the Turn it Off FAQ, but it can hurt cars, too. Idling can cause engine damage due to the buildup of fuel residue in engine cylinders.
“Air pollution affects everyone, and reducing idling is a way to reduce your impact on the environment that also saves you money,” said Flagstaff sustainability specialist Jenny Niemann to Cronkite News. “It’s something that everybody who drives can do, and they can pick the way they want to turn it off.”
Although reduced car idling has positive implications, Flagstaff residents are likely unaware of the initiative. The Turn It Off website and FAQ detail the benefits of idling reduction but are unclear regarding how many people actually have participated and if this initiative has had an impact.
Turn It Off was funded by a grant from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network with the intention to spread awareness about idling, but it is unclear where this grant went. There are no sign postings at the train tracks or any other high-idling areas, and there are no other physical indications that this initiative exists, outside of online posts.
The Flagstaff Sustainability Program posted about Turn It Off on Facebook multiple times during September 2018 and has posted about a national initiative of the same vein, but the page has been inactive on the topic throughout the past year.
The goal of Turn It Off was not to ban idling, but to work with businesses to spread local awareness and encourage sustainable habits. However, by not making official legislation, citizens may remain unaware of the initiative and its goals.
Sophomore environmental science major Bryce Thayer said he never heard of the Turn It Off initiative, but now that he has, he will turn his engine off in the future.
“I don’t drive in Flag all that often. I do usually prefer to bike around if the weather permits it. However, I do sometimes get stuck in my car at the tracks, usually for three to five minutes,” Thayer said. “I don’t usually turn my car off, because I haven’t thought of it all that much. But yes, I’d turn my car off in traffic or at the train.”