Idling in Aspen gets motorists nowhere |

Idling in Aspen gets motorists nowhere

Joel Stonington
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN In most towns, a motorist who leaves a car running is more worried about someone running off with it than about returning to find a ticket on the windshield. Not in Aspen – cars are left running all the time.The city passed an anti-idling ordinance a year ago, and now it’s getting serious about enforcing the law.Employees from Aspen’s environmental health department are going out once a week to look for idling cars and hand out $50 tickets if the engine is on for more than five minutes.

An average afternoon produced results quickly: Sarah Laverty, environmental project coordinator, left City Hall at 3 p.m. Wednesday with a book of tickets. Immediately across the street was a Ford Expedition idling in front of Zélé. Laverty started her stopwatch, but the SUV pulled away after a minute. Over at City Market, a Honda Element was idling unattended in the parking lot, but someone came along after a short time. It was at the corner of Galena and Cooper, 20 minutes later, that Laverty came across a Nissan XTerra. After idling in excess of 10 minutes, during which time an Aspen community safety officer ticketed the car for being in a handicapped zone ($100), the owner came out.He was none too happy to learn of the city’s anti-idling ordinance.

“You guys are ridiculous,” he said. “It hasn’t even been five minutes.”Laverty said it was pretty typical for people to think they haven’t been idling for very much time. The man she ticketed hadn’t heard of the law even though anti-idling regulations are becoming more and more common throughout the country.The federal Environmental Protection Agency reports that approximately 15 states, as well as dozens of counties and cities, have anti-idling regulations. In Aspen, there are anti-idling signs throughout the town. It’s a simple law on the books helping combat climate change: An idling car earns zero miles to the gallon and pumps out CO2 and other pollutants.

Laverty said part of it is just combating the notion that a car needs a long time to warm up. While many older cars need more time, any fuel-injected engine – almost everything built after the mid-’80s – needs no more than 30 seconds to warm up, she said.All city employees also carry informational cards with many of those facts. When they see an idling car but don’t have the ticket booklet, they just stick a card under the windshield.People who fill out a carbon calculator and bring results in to the environmental health office get a free cookie, but Laverty said few have gotten them – and a $50 ticket seems to get people’s attention a little better. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is


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