August 11th, 2008
By John DeFore
Not long ago, a City of Austin crew spent the day installing new “No Parking” signs along the streets of my neighborhood. Two big Ford F450 trucks sat outside my home-office window for hours while the men dug holes and planted posts — and their engines ran the entire time.
Not wanting to be the block’s eco-scold, I said nothing as the trucks rumbled. But the waste of fuel nagged at me even after the noise was gone, and I eventually called the city to find out why workers would be allowed to run their engines like that. Surely the city didn’t approve of polluting the air all morning just so the truck would be pre-air-conditioned when workers took a coffee break?
After calls to three or four city departments, I found a public works supervisor with some answers. All work trucks keep their engines running, she told me, because of the LED arrow boards mounted on them which warn drivers to keep their distance. “You can’t turn the engine off and keep the arrows going, because your battery will die down,” she said.
It was easy to see how a safety-based practice might serve as an excuse to keep the cab cooled off, even when running the arrow was unnecessary: In my case, the truck was parked on a dead-end block where no traffic could approach from behind it. The woman I spoke with agreed that conserving fuel wasn’t the easiest topic to raise with work crews. “They’ve been here a while,” she said, “and when I mention this they kind of get, ‘Well, fine, what do you want us to do for safety?’”