Electric Cars are Still Cars

Eric Reguly of the Globe and Mail comes to the same conclusion.

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More dockless electric cars blocking sidewalk
More dockless electric cars blocking sidewalk.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There are few subjects that arouse more debate and disagreement than my position that electric cars won't save us. There are two main objections: The first is that some people really need cars and that "it requires work to make a car-optional society." The second, and for me, a more interesting one, is that "people reading this will think 'oh so electric vehicles aren’t good enough' and then just keep driving their internal combustion engine cars" – suggesting that Treehugger should be promoting getting off fossil fuels for everyone, including those who want or depend on cars.

But I still see electric cars parked on the sidewalk and in the bike lanes, I still hear about near misses of pedestrians crossing the street, and in defending myself in a recent post, concluded:

"In an urban (and suburban) world – where we are fighting for crumbs of space to make room for people who walk and bike, fighting to keep sidewalks from being used as parking, while watching our children and our parents being maimed and killed – they are just another driver wrapped in a big metal box."

I still drew 131 comments calling me simplistic, naive, and worse. But that's only a third of what Eric Reguly, European Bureau Chief of the Globe and Mail got when he wrote "Forget Electric Vehicles. Post-pandemic Cities Don’t Need Them – They Are Still Cars." The Globe and Mail is considered to be "Canada's National Newspaper" and is not known for taking radical positions. But Reguly gets quite radical here, noting as we have, how electric vehicles (EVs) suck up all the air in the room.

"The hype around EVs and their offspring, self-driving e-cars, is dazzling and relentless, and anyone who thinks they should not be part of the new urban mix is treated as a Luddite dotard with a romantic attachment to a convenient, but clapped-out and highly polluting, technology – the internal combustion engine."

He goes on to note that "it's a car."

"Cars take up public space. They need to be parked. They are a menace to pedestrians and bikers. They require roads and taxpayer funds to build and maintain those roads. The ideal city is not filled with sleek, silent, non-polluting e-cars; it is a city devoid of cars. Yet the tech lobby, the Wall Street machine behind it, and Elon Musk, boss of Tesla, the world’s most successful EV company, would have you think that buying an e-car is the morally correct and patriotic consumer choice."

Reguly does open himself up to attack when he says they are not emission-free because they are charged with electricity that comes from fossil fuels; in many places, this is not true and everywhere, it is becoming less true as the electricity supply gets greener. He also quotes a report that claimed that charging cars all at once could bring down the electric grid; electric car expert Auke Hoekstra has pointed out that this is not the case when cars get smart charging. Furthermore, people drive an average of 20-30 miles a day, so you are never filling an entire battery, it is just topping up. If anything, electric cars might help stabilize the grid by acting as storage.

In the end, Reguly's objections to electric cars are the same as mine: they do not belong in cities. Perhaps the complaining commenters who all insist that they need cars because they live in the suburbs didn't read to the last paragraph, where Reguly concludes:

"Ultimately, no city will ever be car free, because bikes and public transportation are not suitable for everyone and cars will remain essential in the suburbs. But big parts of city centres can be made mostly largely car free, as long as mayors and governors do not buy into the myth that EVs will make their cities more liveable. The propulsion system of a car is irrelevant. What is relevant is that any car of any technology takes up public space that should be devoted to people. For cities, EVs are not the future; they already belong in the past, along with gasoline and diesel cars."

I do not want to declare vindication but often feel people like me who make this argument are dismissed as treehugging bike-riding tofu-eating urbanist dreamers. Here is the Bureau Chief of a major newspaper contributing to its Report on Business section. That is an important step in it being accepted as a serious discussion. Read it all here in the Globe and Mail (although it may be paywalled) and don't read the comments.

The Globe and Mail also came out with an editorial that supported tearing up a major urban artery and turning it into an innovative park so who knows, perhaps they are all turning into treehuggers.

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