Council could tackle anti-idling rule for heavy vehicles

Jul. 1, 2015Houston Chronicle

Houston City Council could get a look this month at an ordinance that would restrict the amount of time drivers of large vehicles could spend idling ‑ allowing the engine to run while parked.

The city’s Quality of Life committee discussed the proposal Thursday, largely offering support for the plan. City assistant public health director Patrick Key said that idling vehicles emit pollutants that can exacerbate health conditions such as asthma and that diesel exhaust contributes to smog.

The ordinance would apply to vehicles that weigh more than 14,000 pounds, 18-wheelers and buses on public property. City health department environmental investigators would have the power to write citations, though Key said the goal would be to bring drivers into compliance without ticketing.

The ordinance is still being drafted, but Key said the target time limit is 30 minutes, and enforcement would largely be complaint-driven. The restriction would require council approval, and Key said the ordinance would be coupled with a broader anti-idling campaign.

Greg Quintero, head of the Museum Park Neighborhood Association, said the area was in need of the ordinance. Buses that drop off children at museums often sit idling for hours.

“This ordinance we think is quite beautiful in its simplicity,” Quintero said. “It just makes so much sense.”

Councilman Dwight Boykins, whose district D spans central and south Houston, said idling trucks are a health concern for residents in his neighborhoods.

“It’s very unhealthy, and it’s only going to get worse,” Boykins said. “This is very serious … We need to put some meat on this, council members.”

Jurisdictions in central and north central Texas, including Dallas, already have an anti-idling law in place, courtesy of an agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The law limits heavy vehicles to five minutes of idling.

Since it was first approved more than a decade ago, the law has expanded to apply year-round rather than just during the hottest months.

In Houston, 311 calls and anecdotal reports illuminate some neighborhoods where drivers of heavy vehicles frequently idle:

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Natural History and Children’s museums, along with other area museums.
Magnolia Park
El Dorado/Oates
North Shore
Acres Homes