Are electric cars going to make it harder to fix our cities?

© Hadley Rille

Four years ago, a now defunct website showed this photoshop of a now defunct electric car with the headline "Parking Lot of the Future? Here's to Hoping". I responded:

I hope not. Why can't a talented photoshopper show me a world that works well without giant parking lots, where people can walk or use convenient and fast transit, where land is no longer wasted for storage of empty vehicles."

Editor Mike and I have been arguing over this point ever since. He believes that " if someone's going to drive, anywhere, an EV is better than a gas car." Of course he is right. I keep referring to the Livermore Lab Graph That Explains Everything and keep saying that transportation is our single biggest problem, because of the gas that it uses. Obviously if we don't burn gas, we are better off in so many ways. But it is not a panacea. Over at Cycle Space, Steven Fleming provocatively expands on the problem of electric cars in E-cars are circumventing our chance to mend cities.

What use are e-Cars? Because of battery range, e-Cars work best around town. But it is within cities that cars, electric or petrol, have proven to be a real menace. They kill and deter users of active modes like walking and cycling, thus causing obesity across populations. They slow cyclists down by causing congestion—cities didn’t have traffic lights before cars made the problem. Cars of any sort harm the economy by trapping workers in jams. They require the construction of car parking stations that push buildings apart, when the reason we have cities is to bring people together. They will perpetuate sprawl for decades to come, when we know cities need to grow thicker, not bigger, to accommodate growth.

prius parking lot suburb alex steffen bright green city photo

It is true that if there were millions of quiet, non-polluting electric cars all powered by carbon-free sources, humming around suburbia, the biggest problem we have with them would be mitigated. However carbon is not the only issue, and Steven things that electric cars might be detrimental in the long run, wasting a great opportunity. Steven concludes:

Now maybe e-Cars can be ran on green energy (though I suspect nuclear will provide the real grunt). That doesn’t change the fact that cars waste space in the city, don’t have the capacity to deliver large numbers of people, are stressful to use, leave our bodies inactive, and ritually sacrifice more lives than Mayan Priests. Bikes have none of those drawbacks.

Peak oil is an opportunity for cities to reset. The Dutch seized the opportunity presented by the 1973 oil crisis, and have enjoyed many other dividends in addition to lowering energy needs. Advocates of e-Cars will rob us of any chance for the same.

Now I happen to agree with Alex Steffen, that "the answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood". A lot of others are convinced that the car isn't going away, and that the electric car is a great response to the problem of petroleum. Mike and I still don't agree after all these years. Tell us what you think in comments.

Are electric cars going to make it harder to fix our cities?
Alex Steffen once wrote that "the answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood." Is he right?

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