A half-dozen trucks are lined up on Halleck
Street outside the Hunts Point Produce Market. The seats are empty, but
the engines are running as drivers squirrel up in the back of their
cabs and while away the hours with the help of a little satellite television.
They are.waiting for an open bay inside the market.
It's an unusual sight in this
neighborhood only when you consider that
it comes less a week after the market's promised November 1st crackdown on
excessive idling. The product of an agreement with the state attorney
general's office, the crackdown is supposed to send a message to
out-of-state truckers: In a state that forbids non- operational idling
past five minutes and a city that forbids it past three minutes, the
city has zero tolerance for egregious offenders.
For Majora Carter, executive
director of Sustainable South Bronx, a
local non-profit dedicated to the environmental remediation of this
blue collar neighborhoods, it's a frustrating reminder that some
messages take a while to get through.
"We thought the agreement was great," says Carter. "The problem
enforcement. There's still an atmosphere that says you can do
whatever you want."
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S "CARROT"
Clearing up that atmosphere, not
to mention the real atmosphere of
Hunts Point, is no easy task. Idling is a problem citywide, as recent
clean up the city's school bus fleet has dramatized.
Here in Hunts Point,
however, the issue is a little more pressing.
Site of the two largest wholesale markets in the city -- the produce
market and the nearby Hunts Point Cooperative, a wholesale meat market
-- Hunts Point is a magnet for big rigs and the sooty exhaust they
bring. Little wonder the neighborhood scores among the highest in the
city when it comes to childhood asthma rates -- 10 per thousand vs.
6.06 per thousand citywide and 3.36 nationwide according to a 2000 New
York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study.
Lem Srolovic of the
General's environmental protection bureau, the organization that
forged a June, 2003 deal with the Hunts Point Produce Market to launch
the self-policing program, says his office is weighing other ways to
reduce emissions in the neighborhood. Still, with only four lawyers
covering a region that stretches from Poughkeepsie to Montauk, Srolovic
admits to being selective in both methods and targets.
"We've decided that with out tools and our resources, we could be most
effective at the fleet or market level," Srolovic says.
In the case of
the Hunts Point Produce Market, a regional wholesale
supplier to local green grocers, that meant applying a strategy
perfected over the last three years against large scale operators such
as Frito-Lay, Inc. and Greyhound Lines, Inc. First, Srolovic and his
documented the high number of residential complaints over truck exhaust
and truck noise, building a quality-of-life component into the state's
case. Second, they gathered together a paper trail of police and
traffic citations, framing the market as a nuisance. Finally, they
offered market operators a carrot-or-stick proposition: Fix the
problem yourself or have the state fix it at the market's expense.
"The state idling law specifically puts an obligation on the owner or
operator of real estate that exercises control over vehicles operating
within that real estate," says Srolovic. "So there is a direct legal
obligation on the market's part to effectively control idling."
credit, market operators chose the carrot. The market has
hired four enforcement officers who, since the beginning of the month, have
citations to trucks ignoring the local anti-idling statutes. Citations
run from $250 to $875 depending on the nature of the offense.
In stepping up enforcement within its own gates, however, the Hunts
Point Produce Market has achieved the unfortunate short term result of
pushing more scofflaws --and more exhaust -- out into unpoliced
Eager to correct this problem, politicians, neighborhood
even the market itself are now searching for fresh carrots and scarier
On the carrot side, Carter and her colleagues point to the nearby Hunts
Point Cooperative Market, and its 28 ."ATE" bays - ATE standing for
Advanced Truck Electrification. They were created with funds from a combination
of government and non-profit agencies.
Outfitted with air conditioners and
heating units, these towers pipe in
basic amenities that allow truckers to live and sleep in their rigs
while waiting for an open slot in one of the terminal bays.
"They've got everything: Internet, cable TV, 125 channels," notes Ernie
Digenstein, a trucker dropping off a load of frozen turkeys at the meat
Based out of Watertown, South Dakota, Digenstein says the towers are
fairly standard at truck stops across the country and provide a welcome
alternative to the engine wear and fuel consumption that comes with
operating a truck engine in idle mode as a way to generate heat and
Still, old habits die hard. So do old attitudes. New York's
reputation as one of the costliest destinations in the country creates
a situation where many drivers don't feel an obligation to do the city,
or its residents, any favors.
"If it's below zero, and the towers are full, I don't care how many
tickets I'm gonna get," says Digenstein. "I need heat."
Such attitudes will take a while to overcome. Hunts Point Produce
Market managers are already talking with companies about installing
similar units. In the meantime, local politicians are working on the
stick-side of the equation. The New York City Council is currently
weighing a bill, Bill No. 366, to increase the number of traffic officers
authorized to issue citations for off-route driving and excessive
Srolovic of the Attorney General's Office sees the June agreement as
"first step" and acknowledges that more steps will need to be taken
order to diminish the problem in a way that will satisfy Carter and
other local residents. At the same time, however, he says his office is
already looking toward the next major step in the hope that truck and
bus companies, at least at the management level, don't take the current
enforcement gap as a signal to relax.
"This is not the end of the idling enforcement story," Srolovic
says."We do have other investigations underway."
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