September 22nd, 2008
By Catherine Colbert
When David Kilbourne picked up his 8-year-old son from Lake Travis Elementary in spring 2007, he noticed smoke billowing from idling buses parked in queue behind the school. The exhaust fumes his son was breathing each day as he waited to be picked up, he says, were contributing to his son’s migraine headaches. “My son is the quarterback for his youth football team,” said Kilbourne. “Because there’s only one quarterback, when he gets these headaches, it affects the team.”
Kilbourne remembers noticing the bus exhaust during the school’s bus safety week. “They were talking about how buses are safe when it comes to traffic accidents,” he said, “but there’s more to a bus’s safety than traffic accidents, like having air that’s safe to breathe.”
The coincidence spurred Kilbourne to take action. Not only did he write several letters to his local newspaper, but Kilbourne approached the head of his district’s transportation department to discuss air quality in and around its buses. After he spoke to Rick Walterscheid, the transportation director at the Lake Travis Independent School District, the school system put a no-idling policy into effect.
Walterscheid didn’t stop there, either. Later that year the 79th Texas Legislature adopted House Bill 3469, which established and authorized the formation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to administer a statewide clean school bus program.
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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?’”
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