Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“Smaller, lighter, greener: are micro EVs the future of city transport?”

with 3 comments

“Imagine a city street filled with two-seater electric vehicles (EVs) zipping around. A Swedish startup claims these smaller, lighter EVs could help cut congestion and toxic levels of air pollution.”siemens micro ev

The picture and the somewhat breathless quote comes from a recent Guardian article. Yes a small light EV will take up less road space and produce less air pollution than a hulking great SUV. But it is unlikely to do much if anything to cure traffic congestion – even if it is widely adopted (which seems unlikely) – any more than self driving cars will, or even shared cars. The problem is that they are all cars. The challenges we face are that we need to move more people – not more vehicles. And with the decline of conventional retailing we also need more and better delivery systems – but I will leave that for another occasion.

I know that I have seen another version of this graphic

29187-m4oqnr

which adds a couple more pictures – one of evs, one of self driving cars – which hammers home the point. It is one that needs to be repeated because a lot of people still do not seem to understand that the solutions lie in policy not technology. The changes in technology are already here – and the policy needs to adapt to that – but we still have politicians, in this city as elsewhere, who think that taking road space away from cars to make movement better for people – walking, riding bikes, in wheelchairs, pushing strollers or walkers, taking the bus – is some kind of heresy. George Affleck cannot stand the idea that people who are not in cars have any rights at all. Of course he is not about to actually say that so he turns it into a question of staff versus elected councillors. He opposes wider side walks, protected bike lanes on principle. The principle being that only the undeserving poor ride bikes or buses.

I am a bit reluctant to endorse what seems to be a neo-conservative paeon to pricing but the economics cited in this article are sound.  Self driving cars won’t cure congestion any more than micro EVs will.

In my version of the solution, we have allocated the space available based on people carrying capacity – when looking at roads. But when we look at streets, and places,  we are not trying to build a sewer to flush the waste through as fast as possible. We want people to linger. Loitering should not be an offence – it should be positively encouraged. People who spend time in one place add life, interest (people watching is everyone’s favourite pastime) and (God help me) profit. If you drive through my neighbourhood, you add danger. If you stop, and look around, you might even buy something – or maybe take a picture and post it on social media. You cease to be a traveller and become a visitor – and we need visitors. We welcome visitors, we want them to stay and come back, and tell their friends.

Actually we would rather you don’t bring your own car – it adds cost (demands a ridiculous amount of space for one person, and security).

Actually the comments under the Guardian article are more intelligent: they enthuse about the electric bike and what that is going to achieve. I will have more to say on that in a short while. Once my new powered front wheel arrives.

But city transport isn’t the issue we need to focus on. If it were, the answer is simple. Build more transit. Provide more transit options. Make transit the best way to get around. Physically protect cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic. Nothing to do with how to provide a single occupant vehicle with motive power.

The best transport plan is a land use plan. Make a better place and people won’t want to get through it as fast as possible. Get away from it as quickly as they can. Ignore it as it flashes by their window. If the only way they can get to work, or to get the goods and services they need, or to meet other people is to drive a car you, as a city planner, have failed dismally. But only as dismally as most suburban planners have failed in the last half century. By thinking that the critical feature – the one thing we must not get wrong – is the turning circle of the fire truck.

AFTERWORD

In case you think I am being unfair to George Affleck, he’s at it again in the Sun today (May 15)

Even the smallest changes can damage business interests and greatly impact motorists trying to get to and from work. Indeed these days many motorists, undertaking necessary commutes, feel their needs are being forsaken in the interests of those who pedal to their destinations. And business owners are rightly riled when disruptions stemming from road improvements disrupt the running of their businesses.

Never mind that even Charles Gauthier now acknowledges that protected bike lanes have actually increased business in Downtown. And of course no motorist has ever taken an unnecessary trip, have they.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 5.58.48 PM

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2017 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Transportation

3 Responses

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  1. are you getting a copenhagen wheel ? love to see regardless of what electric tech you pickeD!

    Administrator

    May 15, 2017 at 11:09 am

  2. I am getting a couple of UrbanX wheels through their Kickstarter – one for me and one for my partner. We need help getting up the hill to the Greenway – after that we’re fine! Being able to remove the battery to recharge it (no sockets in the bike storage room) was a big plus. I would have preferred it to incorporate an electric braking/recharge mode, but you can’t have everything.

    Stephen Rees

    May 15, 2017 at 11:15 am

  3. cool, let’s get together once you have a few kilometres with the UrbanX wheels! Coffee or tea or lunch maybe?!?!

    Administrator

    May 15, 2017 at 11:30 am


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