Electric Cars Are Sucking Up All the Air in the Room

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©. Dockless electric car carelessly left blocking sidewalk/ Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Or, once again, why electric cars [on their own] won't save us.

After writing "Electric Cars Won't Save Us, Says New UK Parliamentary Report; Get a Bike Instead," an exasperated reader (who doesn't even own a car!) tweeted:

"Do we have to go through this again @lloydalter? You need to add 'on their own' to your title! I worry most people reading this will thing 'oh so EVs aren’t good enough' and then just keep driving their ICE cars (which we know is between a bit worse and a lot worse, depending on the grid mix)."

Another reader agreed:

"Some bicycle/e-bike advocates make the “perfect” the enemy of the good. It would be nice if everyone could super-lightweight their ride right away but not everybody works in a office nearby with ample shopping also nearby. It requires work to make a car-optional society."

Well, yes it does require work, and that is exactly the point. I did revise the title of the post, but still stand by my position that electric cars won't save us, and that focusing on them is problematic. Writing in Curbed, Alissa Walker makes the same complaint about the New Green Deal policies that Bernie Sanders is promoting. There's lots of money for electric cars, and a bit for buses and public transportation.

"But Sanders’s plan is still almost all about cars, even if they are electric. His proposals won’t erase commutes and congestion. And more livable, connected, and vibrant communities certainly won’t be created by offering incentives to buy plug-in vehicles and building more places to plug them in. This plan to comprehensively electrify America’s cars will use up almost one-fifth of the entire Green New Deal budget, more than what’s allotted to build a nationwide renewable energy grid and storage system—and much of that capacity would go toward powering all the EVs."

Walker goes on to list all the problems that come from cars, whether they are gas or electric, and calls for real change in the way we live. She worries about this preoccupation with electric cars, while maintaining the status quo.

"A Green New Deal shouldn’t be offering an endless funnel of cash to automakers to perpetuate a resource-depleting industry; it should declare an end to the institution of car ownership. How can you promise to decimate fossil-fuel billionaires and then exonerate car manufacturers, who are often complicit in perpetuating a fossil-fueled future? Where are the bike superhighways, vehicle-sharing programs, pedestrian-priority streets?"

When I complain about cars, it is as much about their other effects than it is about their fuel supply. Recently, I described how senior citizens are being killed in huge numbers by cars, in cities designed for the benefit of moving cars, not people. I want to live in a city where people can switch from cars to bikes without worrying about getting killed. That has nothing to do with whether the cars are electric.

In the New York Times, Tik Root notes that we could achieve huge carbon savings if only people just drove a little bit less. "It turns out that even driving just 10 percent less — if everyone did it — would have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

"While not easy, that target is realistic for most people, said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, a nonprofit research organization. A low-hanging fruit is shorter rides, Mr. Dutzik said. Over one-third of all car trips are less than two miles, so walking, biking or taking public transport for some of those trips could add up. Planning ahead to combine errands and avoid unnecessary trips could help, too, he said."

Honestly, this is what I think I am trying to do with every post I write. And really, if I ever buy another car it will be electric; soon they will be as cheap to buy as ICE powered cars and will be a no-brainer for everyone. They do not need all this promotion, they will sell themselves, and building inter-city charging facilities will be a fine business opportunity.

Spending billions to promote electric cars while continuing to spend many times more billions pouring concrete to expand highways will not get us to where we have to go in ten years, let alone by 2050. Spending millions right now on paint and bollards to make bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes so that people do not have to drive could make a difference right now.

And the EV drivers will be out there with the ICE car drivers with their lawyers and their picket signs, fighting against every bike and bus lane and defending every parking space, because that's what people who drive cars do.

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

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

That's why I will continue to argue that electric cars won't save us; so many people, from Bernie Sanders on down, think that they will. But 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.