Don't be a Canadian idle

City buses run free all next week to encourage transit

The Northern Environmental Action Team and Sustainable Dawson Creek are looking to clear the air when it comes to idling.

Dawson Creek City Council has declared Nov. 23 to Nov. 29 as Idle Less Week, and are asking community members to limit their vehicle idling to three minutes or less.

"I really like the idea of being aware and educating yourself a little bit," said Mayor Dale Bumstead. "We can all be energy conscious and try to do our part, to be more efficient."

Catherine Henry, eco-advisor for NEAT, presented the proclamation alongside Sustainable Dawson Creek and Northern Health at Monday's City Council meeting.

"The Idle Less campaign seeks to remind our community members of the health and environmental impacts of excessive vehicle idling," Henry told council. "The goal of Idle Less is to provide idle facts and recommended idle times, so drivers can adjust their idling behaviour and make a positive contribution to our shared air-shed."

She noted that the time of the messaging coincides with the dropping temperatures and subsequent increased vehicle idling.

"Idling is an important topic in Dawson Creek because particulate matter and toxic gases generated by vehicle exhaust can cause respiratory disease and chronic illness, particularly in young lungs, from concentrated exposure," said Henry. "From an environmental perspective, idling impacts our local air quality and contributes to the greenhouse gas effect."

Henry presented an Idle Index the group put together, suggesting varying vehicle warm-up times, depending on the temperature. According to the index: two minutes of idling for between -1 and -10 C, three minutes for -11 to -20 C and for temperatures below -21 C, they recommended five minutes or less. She noted that wind chill should be considered, as it may increase the necessary idling time.

The recommended maximum of three minutes of idling during Idle Less week aligns with the average winter temperature in Dawson Creek of -13 C.

If the three-minute idle times don't suffice - especially having been recently hit with temperatures below -30 C - the City has also offered free public transit all week, allowing residents to leave their vehicles at home. All city buses will operate free of charge.

Bumstead said he hopes this move reminds people that there are alternatives to driving and that it increases people's ability to use transit.

"The difficulty in a community like ours, when it's below -30 outside, the ability to be more energy conscious is difficult, because you can't put yourself at risk in that extreme weather," said Bumstead. "With the ability to use public transit, you're not having to start your car and warm it up."

Bumstead said the message behind the week is that there are ways to improve old habits once you recognize that they are there. This was illustrated to him about a year ago, when he and his wife saw a video put out by BC Hydro on how to track your energy use with smart meters.

"So I signed up and started watching how our household used energy," he said.

With just two people in the house, he recognized that they were using an unnecessary amount of electricity. Becoming more diligent about shutting off lights or appliances when they weren't being used, over a four-month period he watched their usage drop by 15 per cent.

"It's not always the big stuff, it's just the little things sometimes," he said. "That awareness, for my wife and I, saved 15 per cent."

He hopes that this designated week offers the same sort of lens for recognizing where there is room for improvement when it comes to environmental consciousness.

"I see this as a good example of that," said Bumstead. "Being a little more aware, a little bit more conscious and a little bit more informed, we can have a big impact."

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