Recently I’ve been advocating for a number of carbon reduction strategies for my home town, Seattle. Among the recommendations that I believe would make the greatest impact at the least cost is a simple education strategy which targets what the IEA calls ‘ecodriving’ (though I tend to think of this as an oxymoron).
Along these lines, I have decided to post a short piece every day or two which describes one simple way to improve fuel economy.
I’ve decided to kick this series off with a quick discussion of idling.
The latest data from the Energy Information Administration show that U.S. drivers consume 398.8 million gallons of gasoline per day. This not only sounds like a lot of gas, it *is* a lot of gas. And when burned each gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, so every day, drivers in the U.S. alone produce 7.98 billion pounds of carbon dioxide.
But what does this have to do with idling, you ask.
As it turns out, the average urban driver wastes 17.2% of all the gas they ever purchase while idling. This means that we needlessly burn 1.6 million gallons of gasoline valued at $4.8 million every day while sitting at traffic lights, in line at the local drive thru, etc. It also means that 1.36 billion pounds of CO2 are needlessly pumped into the atmosphere at the same time.
These appalling figures beg the question, “how much can we reduce idling?” As it turns out, idling could probably be cut by half. But in order to do so, a few myths must be ‘busted’. First, cars do not need to be warmed up for more than a few seconds before driving. Second, starting an engine does not take more gas than letting it idle. And most importantly, frequently restarting your engine does negligible damage to the engine. For these reasons, it has been recommended that if you are going to sit for more than 10 seconds, it is best to turn off your engine.
From the city side of the equation, timing lights and providing information on how long until the light changes are simple tricks that can greatly reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions – not only by reducing idling, but by reducing the time spent accelerating and braking.
In Seattle, where I live, there are a number of draw bridges, and the average amount of time that it takes for a Seattle drawbridge to open and close is 4 minutes. According to National Resources Canada’s nifty idling calculator, every car that gets stuck at one of the bridges burns 9.25 gallons of gas and produces 180 pounds of CO2 in a year. Now consider that as many as 200 cars can be stuck waiting at each of the four drawbridges eight or more times a day, and we see that 1.2 million pounds of CO2 are produced when 60,000 gallons of gas valued at $180,000 is burned every year by drivers who leave their engines running while the drawbridge opens and closes.
Now if Seattle is serious about reducing GHG emissions, perhaps one of the great places to start is by reducing idling through education and technology.