How to Achieve Obama's 1 Million 'EV' Goal
This past January, President and First Lady Obama walked down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the traditional Presidential inaugural parade and right over the answer to his one million electric vehicle conundrum.
It was during Barack Obama’s first term that he set the goal during his 2011 State of the Union address of putting a million electric vehicles on the roads of America, seeking to stimulate a flagging economy and assert US leadership in the technology of the future, while also reducing the need for imported oil and cutting carbon emissions. With two years to go before the 2015 milestone, sales of e-drive vehicles from plug-ins like the Chevrolet Volt and fully electric models like the Nissan LEAF (the latter now having surpassed 50,000 units globally) haven’t lived up to industry expectations or government hopes, much to the delight of the President’s detractors. At the current pace, most analysts don’t see the million EV goal even close to being achievable over the next 24 months.
So, what did the President and First Lady walk on that could help achieve his goal? The bike lanes that run down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bike lanes? Yes, bike lanes. I suggest that instead of the Administration focusing its efforts on more cars, albeit, more efficient ones, that it throw more of its weight behind bringing the nation to e-bike parity with the Netherlands, population 16.7 million as of 2011, five percent that of the United States. Depending on the time of year, as many as 40 percent of all trips in Holland are made by bicycle, and as of 2012, one million of those bikes are electric-assist, also known as e-bikes. Gazelle, one of Holland’s largest bicycle manufacturers, reports that 25 percent of its current sales are e-bikes; and it predicts this will rise to 40 percent by 2017.
Compare that to the United States where in 2011 less than 100,000 e-bikes were sold, and by two separate, independent estimates, it may have been as low as 46-47,000 units. All totaled, however, there could be as many as 507,000 electric-assist bicycles in America, though how many actually are used the way the Dutch use them is unknown. Like conventional bicycles, many, if not most, could be sitting collecting dust in garages, sheds and basements, their batteries depleted, some broken part having relegated them to uselessness.
Now before you dismiss the notion of replacing electric cars with electric-assist bicycles, I’d like you to think about the benefits they could offer you, personally, your family, your community and the nation, starting with a good conservative value: money. A good e-bike will run around $2,000, about what the average family spends on fuel per car per year.
More significantly, according to Bruno Maier with Bikes Belong, the average cost of a four-lane highway in America is $150 million per mile. Yes, per mile; and the number can be three times that if lots of bridges and overpasses are needed.
By way of contrast, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just opened 33 miles of protected bike lanes in the Windy City at a cost of $140,000 per mile. Granted, the system uses existing streets and pavement, but you get the idea. By one estimate, it costs 1/12th the amount of investment per capita to support cycling infrastructure compared to motor vehicles. In a time of budget cutting, it would seem logical that what you want to cut is new road expansion, which eventually only leads to more congestion, and use those funds to repurpose existing road and street infrastructure for cycling, both conventional bikes and electric-assist.
Next consider the health benefits of cycling. The obesity rate in the Netherlands is one-third that of the United States. Can the difference be attributed to the Dutch’s more active mobility regime, i.e. walking and bicycling? I certainly think it does and so do researchers at Rutger’s University who when analyzing the differences in ‘active mobility’ between several Europe countries, including the Netherlands and the United States concluded...
“The metabolic energy requirements for active transportation in Europe are roughly equivalent to oxidation of 5 to 9 lbs. of fat per person per year, compared with only 2 lbs. in the United States. Considering the substantial effects of daily travel mode choice, and the fact that adequate levels of physical activity are helpful in weight control it is reasonable to conclude that active transportation contributes to the lower rates of obesity seen in Europe.”
Besides ending America’s ‘oil addiction,’ encouraging the wider use of two-wheelers for at least some of the 40 percent of trips we all make under 3 miles, we also reduce traffic congestion and improve our overall health and wellbeing as a nation. Oh, and did I mention that it also turns out that if you encourage more cycling, you actually stimulate local, neighborhood small business?
And speaking of stimulating business, the lithium batteries in a million e-bikes are roughly equivalent to more than 31,000 Chevy Volts. Think what would happen if we reached e-bike parity with the Dutch were one in every 16 of us owned and regularly used an e-bike. That would be equivalent to nearly 19 million e-bikes or the equivalent of 589,000 Volt battery packs. I am sure American battery makers would be happy to fill that size order, not to mention motor makers, electronics firms, steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber manufacturers. Maybe we could bring some of that business back from Asia to small town America.
So, the next time the President heads up Pennsylvania Avenue, I hope he looks out the window of the limo at those bicycle icons and decides to take the lead in actively promoting the greater use of bicycles and the wider repurposing of our streets and roads to the new mobility of the 21st century: the imminently efficient, practical and affordable bicycle, especially those that can immediately put to good use all that wonderful electric vehicle technology Detroit’s developed at taxpayer expense. Confront and confound your critics, Mr. President. Make e-bikes the cornerstone of your second term.
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