Freedom to Idle v. Freedom to Breathe

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 22, 2007

Is it too early to write this off as a lame-duck council?

The Economic Development and Planning Committee (EcDev) is putting the brakes on Mayor Fred Eisenberger's proposed anti-idling bylaw, which would prohibit cars from idling for more than three minutes.

We already know idling is bad: there's no mechanical justification for it (cars need a maximum of 30 seconds to warm up), it pollutes the air unnecessarily, it wastes fuel, and it's even bad for the vehicles themselves.

A host of other municipalities has already banned idling, some several years ago. Hamilton itself already acknowledged last year (when the previous council defeated a proposed anti-idling bylaw because they didn't want to spend money on an enforcement officer) that idling is harmful, and encouraged Hamiltonians not to idle with a public education campaign.

We also know education campaigns don't work. Most people understand that idling is bad; but we do it anyway because without a legal imperative, not being cold is more compelling than not being harmful.

Nevertheless, in yesterday's Hamilton Spectator, Eric McGuinness reported that EcDev is putting it off until March 20 "so staff can provide more information on enforcement, fines and exemptions."

EcDev chair Dave Mitchell, the councillor from Glanbrook who is also trying to prevent the city from making rural Hydro corridors into walking and cycling trails, doesn't support the ban.

Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson has come out in opposition as well, claiming the law is "authoritarian" and "unenforcable".

Roy Green interviewed Ferguson on his CHML radio program yesterday and asked about his opposition to the ban (sorry, the audio file is proprietary WMA format):

Green opens his program like this:

Do you really, really, really, do you really, really believe we need an anti-idling bylaw in Hamilton or Burlington or anywhere? Do you really believe we need legislation for this, or is this just another case of Big Brother finding something to do, Big Brother looking for something to do, and finding something to do, passing another law, another restriction on our freedoms, another common sense assault?

It goes downhill from there, as Green brings Ferguson onto the show and they have a big ol' libertarian love-in about the evils of big government meddling in people's personal affairs, with scarcely a word about the fact that the foundation of libertarianism is that people should be left alone as long as their actions do not hurt others.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:15:45

What a load of crap. How the hell do people like frickin Ferguson and Mitchell get to constipate these planning committees when they can't be bothered to learn the first thing about what they're actually making laws about?!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By driving me crazy (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:28:29

Lloyd Ferguson says the law is unenforcable, but that's not the point. Today if I ask someone to stop idling their car, they'll tell me to go f--- myself. If it's against the law I can say 'Excuse me, but did you know that it's against the law to idle in Hamilton?' Some people will still tell me off but at least I have the law on my side and some people will say 'yeah you're right' and turn it off -- especially if I'm polite about it. Right now if I ask someone to stop idling it's just out of common decency -- which they obviously don't have because they're idling in the first place. The enforcement comes only partly from bylaw officers and mostly from the community. The law just gives us the right to make the demand.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 14:23:15

How can it be hard to enforce?

Park near a drive through and film people sitting in their cars idling. When they fight it in court, show the tape.

When filming, make sure you can see the headlights so that you can tell whether or not the car is being turned on or off.

The few times that I go in the drive through the engine gets turned off when I'm sitting still but I've never seen a car in front of me do that.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 14:46:07

Clearly, EcDev is just a platform for personal ideology.

Where is the economic benefit to wasting gas? To polluting air?

What possibly could be their argument other than some crap reflecting the personal biases of membership?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2007 at 17:35:20

The argument Roy and Lloyd seem to be making is that this bylaw is 'too much government'. It restricts our personal freedoms. It appears to be the same logic people use to complain about the seatbelt and bike helmet laws.

I have some sympathy for this line of thought however I know from my own observations and experience - so much so that this has become common sense (to me at least) - that when it comes to anti-social and 'harmful' behaviours, we humans really do need protecting from ourselves. As one commentator noted above, this bylaw is as much about setting the right tone than practical enforcement.

I remember coming over here from the UK and laughing at the Canadians standing at the traffic lights. "There are no cars" I would say to my British friends as we ran across the red light laughing, "Why don't they go? This would NEVER happen in Britain..."

Then I heard about the jaywalking bylaw and gradually I came to realise that one way to encourage generally accepted sociable behaviour is to legislate it. Hell - I even stopped jaywalking myself.

Since then the UK has introduced 'anti-yob' bylaws - spitting, congregating and so on - and it is starting to have the desired effect.

Same goes for idling. Yes Roy, and Lloyd, of course we all know the environmental impacts of our anti-social behaviour, but it doesn't mean we're going to do anything about it. The fact is that as human beings we sometimes need a little push to modify our behaviour. I agree that such governmental interference can be a slippery slope but in such cases as this we have plenty of evidence to show that this is not an overly oppressive restriction and - it works!

It is saddening to me that I should feel the need to post such an obvious comment as this buy - hey! This is what you gotta deal with in Hamilton. Here's hoping Mr Ferguson shows a little more enlightened leadship soon (there's still time - right?)


Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mark (registered) | Posted February 23, 2007 at 16:35:00

Well, Roy Green has announced his intention to retire from the radio on March 30. All I can say is good riddance!

Of course, with our luck, he'll be running for a spot on City Council in 2010... God forbid!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Number33 (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2007 at 18:46:10

Honestly, what I think should be done on ALL CARS from now on is to use an alternator/starter that is a larger motor than a standard starter that could start the endine up automatically when stopped for longer than a few seconds at a time. I see lots of poeple who leave their cars idling for like 15 minutes, with their keys in the ignition [i]unattended[/i] so they can go into stores to buy things, wasting gas and practically begging for their car to be stolen (It's nonsense like this why car insurance is so expensive...)

If the issue is that they want their car to be warm as soon as they walk in, one way that this has been done on a few high-end cars is to keep an insulated bottle of hot wax in the car connected to the coolant line -- this will stay hot even if the car has been off for a day or two, meaning first thing you start up in a daily-driver car, you have hot air blowing out of your vents, and your engine won't pollute as much and won't get as much wear and tear as it doesn't need as long to "warm up".

For things like cabin heating, they can cycle the engine off and on periodically to keep the engine coolant temp up if it drops too low, and to generate battery power for electric seat heaters etc, without constant idling (throws most the heat out the tailpipe anyway).

I bet these few changes could be implemented on a wide scale for a couple hundred bucks a car.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools