Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Electric vehicles and critical mass

Frequently I write about biking and sustainable transportation infrastructure more generally, in terms of the necessity of creating a full spectrum of support facilities, in order to make biking and transit sound, efficient and practical choices.

Left: a slide from one of my presentations that depicts some of the elements (besides roads) of the system that supports automobility: fueling stations; repair stations; lodging; restaurants; maps.

The same thing was done for the automobile, and it took decades to create the necessary infrastructure, to the point where automobility is the dominant mode in the US.

In the comments on the recent entry on electric vehicles ("") Charlie made the point that DC could develop a greater preponderance of support infrastructure.

Separately, Barbara, a member of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association, commented (and we had a separate e-conversation as well) about the various actions underway in Portland that in fact are leading to the development of a critical mass of users, infrastructure, and visibility and awareness.

Her example illustrates Charlie's point (and my own lack of vision...)

Right: electric Car2Go vehicles in Portland.  Image by Jon Rousseau.

She writes:
EVs won't solve all of our transportation problems, but reducing dependence on foreign oil is possible, and so is reducing auto pollution.

In case you aren't familiar, Portland OR is one of the leaders in rolling out EV's and EV infrastructure. Oregon Electric Vehicle Association has been active here for quite some time, and represents the individual driver population. Drive Oregon is a new organization, and is organizing and representing the commercial EV field. Locally, Staples has several all-electric delivery trucks. We have charging stations all over town, as part of both the US Dept of Energy's rollout program and the State of Oregon's rollout program. Downtown near Portland State University we have Electric Avenue, one-block reserved for EV charging only. And AAA has added EV-emergency-charging to several of their trucks in the area.  ...
Each summer sponsors EV Celebration Day; typically it is a Saturday in July, and held at Pioneer Courthouse Square ("Portland's Living Room").  I believe the 2014 event will take place the weekend of July 5.  It's a chance for the public to look at all kinds of EVs, private and commercial, from conversions to Teslas, and talk to EV owners.
This is a great example of the point about building a system to support various modes being necessary for take up.  Another element is how Car2Go, the one-way car sharing program, has introduced some electric vehicles into their Portland fleet.

Each of the parking spaces on the block designated Electric Avenue has access to electric charging.

It also demonstrates that Portland continues to be a leader in sustainable transportation, starting in the 1960s, when they decided to tear down a riverfront freeway and began to develop the foundations of its commitment to a new transportation paradigm focused on sustainability and quality places,. 

Each step they have taken since builds on previous steps and they continue to expand this vision, paradigm, and practice.

Portland was one of the first cities in the US to begin building a modern light rail system, the first to deploy modern streetcars, a national leader in the development of bicycle infrastructure--they have the highest number of bike commuters in the US--the first to deploy a modern aerial tram as part of its transit infrastructure, etc.--so that each project is not only complete in itself, but contributes and strengthens and extends the sustainable mobility system.

With regard to Electric Avenue, which is a short term project, see "Electric Avenue experiment may continue" from the Portland Tribune and "Portland Plans for Transit All Powered by Electricity" from the New York Times.   From the PT article:
"Electric Avenue has provided an important service to early adopters of electric vehicles, an opportunity for project partners to explore issues related to charging infrastructure in the public right of way, and a showcase for newly developed products," reads on Oct. 17 letter to the city from PSU.
This is in contrast to most cities where practice is more focused on creating individualized projects that fail to contribute to a greater whole.

Not that there aren't growing pains, even in Portland.  Barbara writes further:
A current and unresolved issue is interacting with the different charging stations.  Each vendor has its own approach to this.  Some require you to use their card key; others have you type in your email address on the screen.  As a result, users have to carry a LOT of different card keys so you can use whichever charger is available when you need it.  Over time this may smooth out into one "BankAmeriCard" approach, but right now it's a hassle.
Another issue with EV charging is that while your EV is charging, if you leave the vehicle to eat or shop, attend a meeting, or whatever, and some other EV driver pulls in and wants to charge, sometimes that other driver UNPLUGS your car and starts charging their car.  Users are trying to work out a way of communicating to one another an etiquette about this.  But some people are just jerks and don't care how much they might be inconveniencing you by unplugging your car.  Especially if you have already paid for a charging session (by the "session" not by the unit of time or KwH consumed).  At least Nissan has a feature allowing your Leaf to notify your iPhone that you've been unplugged.
Image by Jon Rousseau.

Updating my mobility shed concept for electric vehicle infrastructure.  In my unsuccessful attempt to become a bike share mogul, we were working with a European company that developed the capability of integrating bike share into an intelligent transportation system platform, that could include parking meters, electric vehicle charging, e-bikes, other forms of bike parking, etc.  But the contracting process used by cities militates against proposing something different from what is already being done.

But I need to update my writings on what I call the mobility shed ("Updating the mobilityshed / mobility shed concept") for electric vehicles along the lines of what they are doing in Portland.

Although it is "merely" another example of how to create the right conditions necessary to support behavior change, rather than addressing various elements in fits and starts and in a discoordinated fashion.

Other diagrams of a systems approach to transportation modes and integrated services.

German bike plan system diagram

Kyocera electric bike system diagram

Open parking system diagram for ITS

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At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Electric cars are still cars.

Of all the innovations in automobility, the shared use models (zipcar, car2go, etc) and the potential for automation (driverless cars) are far more consequential for the city than the fuel source for those cars.

Car2go's fleet in San Diego is all electric. I've used it there. It's nice, but the range of the smart cars is substantially reduced, and given the high turnover for that kind of service, it could be detrimental.

More electric cars are welcome, of course - but they're still cars. And you still have the same issues of meshing cars into the city.

At 12:26 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd give you the point that car2go is still a car, and with all the problems associated with that.

But the point is leveraging, and using that as an opportunity for larger use of electric vehicles and open electricity. And at least breaking the ability of PEPCO to charge 25K to connect.

I do question the ability of car2go to have much of a charge, but then again I reguarly see car2go employee/contractors filling up the vehicles at gas stations.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

agreed. I've made the argument about absolutes vs. relative improvements a lot.

But you can make the argument from a variety of perspectives.

Of course, in the Pacific Northwest, where a lot of electricity is produced by water power, it's a bit different compared to coal or NG derived electricity elsewhere.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

also this:

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

And this:

Actually a good move for Daimler would be buy Alta at this point.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

interesting idea. Don't know how much profit there is in bike share... I was mostly just interested in making a living.

The thing with the cities like NYC and Vancouver and Los Angeles (Bike Nation's failed effort) requiring the vendor to fund everything, presumably based on sponsorship, is that few cities really have the heft to pull that off. I thought it was possible in LA, but evidently not.

Vancouver hasn't launched yet. Similarly, in Seattle and Portland Alta is supposed to come up with the capital funding.

The economics of bike share aren't really positive, unless the cost of membership is at least 2x to 2.5x to 3x the current prices.


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