Why electric cars aren’t a silver bullet

“It’s staggering really, how much of a city is set aside for cars, and how unwilling we often are to even share that space with other uses and users,” Brent Toderian writes on his blog at Planetizen. “Electric cars do nothing to address this space issue.”

Another great example of these comparison photos. I love Transport for London.

The world seems to be anxiously awaiting the advent of affordable, viable electric-powered cars as the solution to all the woes caused by overdependence on personal automobiles. While we should continue to research and develop technology that will make cars more energy efficient, the fact is that what comes out of the tailpipe isn’t the only issue. In fact, it’s probably not the most important issue.

Even if all vehicles became electric tomorrow (which they won’t), and even if your local electric energy sources are on the renewable side, like BC’s hydro-electric power (which they’re likely not – it’s just as likely they’re on the especially dirty side, like coal), the truth is there’s no totally “clean” energy source, no energy without impacts.

But what, then, is the solution? Or is all hope lost? As it turns out, the solution has been right in front of us all along:

The only real energy solutions are urban densities, use-mixes and patterns, and personal choices, that depend on much less energy. That means efforts like making walking, biking and public transit truly inviting options in our cities and communities.

Perhaps the best part of this post is the gallery of images, like the one at the top of this page, comparing the space taken up by transit users, bicyclists, and drivers. Though I was also really impressed by the graphs that quantified that space. As Mr. Toderian points out, what pictures of pedestrians, bikes, or cars lined up on a street show is how much space they take up when they’re parked; what they can’t show is the even greater amount of space they take up when they’re actually moving. But these charts include that, too.

Last of all, I’ll point out that the same arguments could be made when it comes to self-driving vehicles. Single passengers in autonomous cars will still need just as much parking, and even if they can drive closer together, they’ll still take up more space while traveling than people using other modes.

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Mobility in Cities is About Space – Proven Powerfully in Pictures!
by Brent Toderian
Planetizen, 29 April 2014

How transit pays for the automobile’s sins

Tip of the hat to Portland-based transit consultant (and, thankfully, prolific blogger) Jarrett Walker for finding this gem.

Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, writing on Streetsblog USA:

We need services like dial-a-ride mainly because our car-oriented transportation system often leaves disabled Americans—not to mention the poor, the elderly and those too young to drive—waiting by the side of the road.

Over and over again, we call on transit to compensate for the failures of cars. Need to get New Year’s Eve revelers home without killing each other on the roadways? Extend transit service hours, put more buses on the road, and make them free. How about getting large crowds of people to a festival or a big game without triggering gridlock? Provide shuttle buses or run extra trains.

These are smart choices. But there is a cost to correcting these failures, and in the crude accounting done by folks such as the Post op-ed writers, all of them wind up on the “transit” side of the ledger.

It’s a nifty trick, really. Design a transportation system that leaves a wide swath of the population unserved and tends to fail when you need it most (including pretty much every weekday morning and evening in most American cities). Call on transit to fill the gap, sometimes at great expense. Then tar transit as being the inefficient user of public funds.

Transit in my hometown, Charlotte.
By David Wilson via Flickr, CC BY 2.0