PHOTO CAPTION: Opel RAK concept car is a futurist urban electric runabout that seats two. Range up to 100 km on 5kWh battery.

The Role of Electric Cars in Fixing Our Cities

Lloyd Alter believes that there is room for cars in our cities, but that its far better that they be electric than fossil-fuel powered.

Published: 27-Dec-2013

There are many who think that electric cars are a great solution to the problem of petroleum. There are others, including myself, who don't think that they solve the real problems we face. I addressed the issue in my post Are electric cars going to make it harder to fix our cities? Commenter Ruben actually said it better than I did: " The transport system of the future is radically mixed-use, walkable communities."

Zachary Shahan of Clean Technica has been thinking about this issue, and wrote a long and thoughtful response which somehow never made it into comments. He published it on his post titled It’s Not “This Or That” — It’s “This And That” where he concludes:

Transformation of cities and transformation of cultural ideals take time, time that we don’t have in order to address this crisis. Much of the United States (as well as other countries) has been built around the automobile. Automobile ownership is an ideal engrained into the minds of people the world over — the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, Poland, China, India, and pretty much everywhere else. The automobile industry is not going out of business in the coming years, but it definitely needs to get a lot cleaner. And it needs to switch to electricity in order to do so.

There are billions of people who are not going to decide that they hate (or at least don’t want) cars. There are many people who are going to come to the conclusion that bicycling is a much more enjoyable way to transport themselves around a city, and that cities which prioritize bicycling and sustainable development are far nicer than cities which don’t. But there are many who simply aren’t going to travel that route. And we really need those people to get out of gasmobiles. The only way you can deny that is by being extremely idealistic.

The full comment:

I’ll chime in here since I’ve got pretty extensive background working to promote both [electric cars and bikes].

The background: I fell in love with bicycling for transportation and out of love with cars approximately 12 years ago. i’ve been car-less for about 9 years, and absolutely love it. i’ve had a deep passion for helping the world help itself and avoid tremendous climate disaster for about 14 years. I got a master’s degree in city and regional planning and focused my studies on land use and bicycle planning, with my thesis on bicycle planning, for which I went to the Netherlands (lived in Groningen for 5 months, while my study city was Delft). following grad school, I worked as the executive director of a small nonprofit promoting bicycling, mass transit, walking, and sustainable development. following that I moved to Poland (for a lady I met in the NL who is now my wife) and changed careers. I have been a blogger for the past 5 years and have been the director of CleanTechnica.com and Planetsave.com for about 3.5.

I agree that: cars and cities don’t match — cities are by definition places in which a lot of people live and work in a relatively small geographical area; moving people around in large vehicles of their own is a horrible idea that results in numerous ills. US cities need some serious work… Groningen’s quality of life is about 10 times great than the “highest quality of life” cities in the US, several of which I’ve lived in.

But, here’s why I think EVs are a critical piece of the puzzle (if our aim is indeed stopping global warming… as well as perhaps cutting our oil addiction, cutting air and water pollution, and cutting noise pollution):

1. It takes a long time to transform cities, even in the most successful cases. If we don’t at least switch from gasmobiles to EVs while people work to improve our cities, we are completely screwed. think about how long it takes to transform a single street… let alone an entire city or country built around cars. avg car ownership, meanwhile, is just 5 years. we need to cut pollution from cars, and on a large scale, EVs are the most likely solution.

2. As much as I love a car-free life, most people genuinely want to own and drive cars. that’s not changing anytime soon. i wish it would. I wish people would come around to seeing the enjoyment, health, financial, environment, and economic benefits of bicycling, transit, and walking, but the huge majority of the population is not going to get there anytime soon. of course, I think we should be promoting this awareness and lifestyle — that’s what I thought i’d be doing for my entire career — but the world is not going to drop car ownership and use in the coming decade or two… and likely won’t for a very long time. so, we need to at least use clean technology.

3. Even in highly regarded Europe and the NL in particular, we have huge problems with global warming pollution and other pollution from motor vehicles. even the NL needs to cut its transportation emissions. EVs are one super critical solution, and we’re just lucky that we’re about at the point where they’re as practical and “cost effective” as gasmobiles.

In conclusion, we need people pushing for multiple solutions, solutions across the spectrum. we need people saying, ‘you should drop your car altogether!’ but we also need people say, ‘you should go electric now, it’s 100x better than driving a gas car.’

How you decide to frame your story is certainly a personal decision. but i think there’s no denying that EVs are critical to stopping global warming and solving other pollution problems if you really look at the full picture.

That’s my 10 cents.

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