By Jim Stanford on September 28, 2011
One of the changes Willie Neal envisioned finally is going into effect.
Last week, Neal’s family and supporters put up the first few of 300 idle-free signs that will be installed around town in coming months.
The signs discourage motorists from leaving their engines running while parked, as per town resolution 10-19. The notices are part of a larger educational campaign that seeks to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions and improve air quality by reducing unnecessary idling.
The Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund, a nonprofit set up in memory of the late Nordic skiing standout and activist, raised $7,500 to pay for the signs and associated materials. The fund has been working with the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition and Town of Jackson.
“The end goal is changing the culture in which we live,” said Neal’s mother, Mary, who has worked tirelessly on the campaign.
The signs will be erected on public property. Business owners who wish to have them installed for free on their property can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advocates have targeted the downtown area and core streets for the signs, and have been reaching out to businesses such as banks and dry cleaners — “the quick errands that turn into several-minute conversations with people while the car sits running,” said Phil Cameron, director of the clean energy coalition.
So far, Center for the Arts, PAWS and Betty Rock are among the organizations and businesses that have expressed interest in the signs, Cameron said.
Neal, an eight-time high school Nordic state champion who was hit by a car while training in Maine in 2009, was the first to lobby the Jackson Town Council to pass an ordinance prohibiting unnecessary idling. Others took up the campaign in his memory. The council was too timid to pass such an ordinance but opted for a softer resolution last year.
By getting people to think about shutting off their vehicles, Willie hoped to inspire a host of choices about everyday behavior and energy consumption, such as choosing reusable grocery bags, water bottles and food containers rather than disposable plastic, Mary Neal said.
Mayor Mark Barron read a proclamation at the Town Square ceremony last week, saying, “People can reduce air pollution, they can turn their cars off, and in doing so they can save fuel costs.”
Idling longer than 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the vehicle; modern engines, including diesel, do not need to warm up more than 30 seconds; and driving warms the engine 50 percent faster than idling, according to the coalition, among a host of organizations.
Kudos to the Neal family, Cameron and Brian Schilling, town staffer and one of Neal’s former coaches, for helping make Willie’s dream a reality.