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Thread: Electric cars and the suburban development pattern

  1. #1
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Electric cars and the suburban development pattern

    Currently, there are a number of cars available to American consumers that are pure electric vehicles. They are small, slow and have a short range. Many of them are economically priced-- it wonít break the bank to purchase one. One in particular is very expensive. Link to CNN Article

    However, one major issue currently sticks out: Most of the vehicles can go no faster than 25 mph. Once they exceed that speed, the amount of safety equipment and reinforcement required increases dramatically. This in turn, increases weight, increases costs, and prevents the vehicles from being marketable.

    With gas prices spiking, itís not hard to imagine suburbanites flocking to these vehicles as a way to continue life in the suburbs and improve their cash flow. The problem I immediately realized is that with the superblock development pattern. In Arizona, most suburban (and city) arterials have minimum speed limits of 40mph or more. This can also be said for a multitude of places throughout the country. The high speed limit would prohibit electric vehicles from using the arterial roadways (law prevents these vehicles from being on high speed roads due to their construction/safety features). The electric cars become nothing more than glorified golf carts.

    A complete overhaul of the suburban street pattern allowing increased alternative routes/connections between the superblocks, electric vehicle only lanes, and changes in the traffic laws to allow these vehicles on more roadways is needed. Also, safety laws and/or technology needs to dramatically improve to satisfy the needs of regulators and consumers.

    Is it possible that communities, counties, regions, states, and the country can think ahead and plan rather than react? I feel we are at an incredible transition point in our history planned preventive measures in our transportation network could prevent a significant and extended period of economic malaise.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  2. #2
    I think we are in the "bargaining" phase of this energy shift. As a society, we are trying to see how little we can change to accommodate the spike in energy costs. If these high costs persist, its going to take a profound physical change in how we live. Simply turning to electric cars, as you point out, will not be enough

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    25mph is plenty fast for travel within a municipality. It's about as fast as a vehicle can go in a residential environment without being a hazard to other people.

    The laws will have to change. It'll happen in fits and starts and won't be smooth, but once fuel prices rise high enough and demand destruction kicks in, then the majority of people out there who can no longer afford to fill up will get behind this and we'll see more streets retrofitted to the Complete Streets model. We're not there yet but I see it happening eventually.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    25mph is plenty fast for travel within a municipality.
    I disagree. While 25mph might be a fine average speed for travel, a 25mph limit on speed in insufficient, especially considering that for similar costs you can have an internal combustion vehicle with significantly more range and flexibility. Although a great deal of someone's travel might be within the municipality and off freeways, the marginal cost difference makes it a tough sell (essentially, requiring the ownership of a second vehicle).

    Also, I think there more and more "full speed" vehicles coming on-line and a lowering of cost for plug-in electric hybrids.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    A complete overhaul of the suburban street pattern allowing increased alternative routes/connections between the superblocks....
    I think this will be an important step to encourage walking, biking, and other non-motorized options, too.

    Are purely electric cars the future; are plug-in hybrids? I'm not sure, but it will be interesting to see what types of vehicles survive/emerge from higher energy costs.

    I think we are in the "bargaining" phase of this energy shift
    I think we're going to move into the "anger phase" pretty soon; it looks like that's already happening in some parts of the world.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by kpf View post
    I think we're going to move into the "anger phase" pretty soon; it looks like that's already happening in some parts of the world.
    I agree with that one! Many people of developing countries have already started to protest over high energy prices and commodities...how high will they have to reach before the united states goes insane??

    Anyways, I personally believe a combination hyrbrid technology works best, if everyone plugged in and charged their electric car it could spell disaster to our electrical grid. Hyrdogen power is available but apparently is so expensive, and ethanol...well we know where that's going. But ultimately it takes coordination between the automakers, cities, and the people.

    Hopefully this innovation will recreate the superblocks into something friendlier for peds, cyclists, and slow moving cars.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Are we willing to build the new and upgraded power lines and power plants that will be needed if straight battery-electric cars catch on?



    Mike

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manzell View post
    I disagree. While 25mph might be a fine average speed for travel, a 25mph limit on speed in insufficient...
    The default speed limit within the City of Boston is 25 MPH (except on freeways) and it seems to work fine. Check the city's extremely low crash rate and you'll see how it's worked out.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Are we willing to build the new and upgraded power lines and power plants that will be needed if straight battery-electric cars catch on?



    Mike
    Great question, especially since many parts of the country struggle with power production during peak times. In AZ one of the major power providers is building several "peaking" plants to handle the heavy load during the summer. AZ and CA are currently fighting on whether Edison can build a transmission line to CA so they can purchase more power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. AZ is opposed to it fearing it will drive up local power prices since CA pays double what AZ residence do for power.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Since the American family is often at least a two-car family, I definitely see there could be a trend where families have one purely electric car for town and a gas-powered or hybrid car for out-of-town driving. I could see my family doing that.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    the electric grid is designed to serve peak capacity, there is a lot of time in the day where the grid is not fully utilized (kinda like highways). EV could be powered during those times and we could accommodate a large number of EVs. But if everyone comes home at the same time and plugs in... I am not that swayed by hybrids. Anything with batteries will require a very energy intensive and caustic process to manufacture, and then what do we do with all these batteries? Batteries from laptops and Cel phones are already an environmental hazard! Don't mean to sound so negative, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. Not saying anyone here has made it sound easy, just rambling... Propane/NG power is an easy one to implement I think. Anyhoo...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian lycosidae's avatar
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    I don't think electric cars are really a good option for planning future transportation networks.

    First, lets ask ourselves how electric cars benefit the average consumer. Well, I suppose we should ask ourselves first how cars (in general) benefit consumers. The answer is that they don't. Cars are a terrible and costly investment. They are also very dangerous. I couldn't imagine that an electric car would have a significantly lower cost of ownership. I think that if given good transit options, most Americans living in metropolitan areas wouldn't drive period. And understanding that is the first step toward building a carless future.

    Second, electric cars have to be powered by something... That means we not only need the electric car technology, but the power plants to charge them up. If we use batteries, we'll need to find a safe way to dispose of them. Electric cars could actually increase the price of electricity if they are widely used. Short of converting to sustainable and abundant sources of electricity, I don't see electric car technology helping Americans with energy costs. It simply shifts costs around.

    Third, the speed restrictions are an even better argument in support of mass transit. Sprawl in itself is one reason why energy prices are skyrocketing and I don't see electric cars helping much in this regard. Why not just have an affordable transit system? More mass transit helps everyone, not just people who have the money to afford an expensive electric or hybrid vehicle.

    Forth, cars are terribly inefficient. Our goal should be to do away with them. A billion electric cars on the road is not going to make traffic or congestion any better.

  13. #13
    I do think EVs will play a role. The EV1 had a range of about 100 miles and a top speed of 80 mph so it isn't that electric cars can't be a perfectly suitable solution for those who feel the need to drive. What has been discussed with the top speed of 25 mph and lower ranges are NEVs (I think that is the acronmy). These really are designed for shorter urban oriented commuting and can server a purpose as well.

    The downside is if these EVs ramp up quickly they won't do anything to help curb sprawl.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lycosidae View post
    Forth, cars are terribly inefficient. Our goal should be to do away with them. A billion electric cars on the road is not going to make traffic or congestion any better.
    Cars can be very efficient if you measure effectiveness in personal time or freedom. For example, due to changes in the bus routing it would now take me an hour to get to work and 1.5 hours to get home. With the car I can accomplish this in 15-20 minutes on the way in and 20-25 minutes on the way home. Since my car averages 24 mpg in the city, I burn under a gallon of gas per day at $3.70 a gallon per day to get to work in back. It would cost me $3.50 to take the bus round trip. Even if you want to use the $.54 per mile, this comes out to $9 per day in operating and depreciation costs. Therefore I gain an additional 1.5 + hours for about $5.

    In addition, I am supporting the jobs in my region to a greater extant than I would if I took the bus to work.

    cc: James R Hoffa, Teamsters
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    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #15
    Cyburbian lycosidae's avatar
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    Cars can be very efficient if you measure effectiveness in personal time or freedom. For example, due to changes in the bus routing it would now take me an hour to get to work and 1.5 hours to get home. With the car I can accomplish this in 15-20 minutes on the way in and 20-25 minutes on the way home.
    Well, Detroit has one of the worst transit systems of any rust belt city in the country. I couldn't imagine relying on transit in Detroit. However, living on the east coast we have the benefit of many more transit options. But that's an argument to improve the transit system in Detroit, not an argument against it. I can get to work on a bus in 15-20 minutes. It would probably take 10-20 by car, so that is not much of a trade off in my opinion. Our situations are dramatically different... The closer you are to the center of the city, the better the transit (generally speaking).

    Since my car averages 24 mpg in the city, I burn under a gallon of gas per day at $3.70 a gallon per day to get to work in back. It would cost me $3.50 to take the bus round trip. Even if you want to use the $.54 per mile, this comes out to $9 per day in operating and depreciation costs. Therefore I gain an additional 1.5 + hours for about $5.
    Yes, but living near where you work would make a world of difference in your commute time and transit times. And "personal freedom" means what? Having the stress of driving during rush hour and having your car break down? Having a crappy used car (that was made in America, by the way), I can tell you I get sick of having to maintain it - it seems like there is no end to the problems.

    Living in the city, a car is more of a burden than a source of freedom. I can tell you that my fiancee and I both had our cars totaled and since then we rely on a single car and mostly take transit/bike. I feel more free now than then. Yes, the bus sometimes takes longer, but in the city there is limited parking and that adds to costs. I guess though that Detroit is so empty and cavernous there is plenty of parking...

    In addition, I am supporting the jobs in my region to a greater extant than I would if I took the bus to work.
    I was born and raised in Detroit and my grandfather was a manager at General Motors. My mom would kill me if she heard me talk this way, but I think Michigan is the only state in the country that I know of where people make a lot of irrational economic decisions based on supporting the local economy. Why drive a poorly built American car that gets bad gas millage and only lasts 2 or 3 years when you can get a Honda or Toyota that runs forever and sips fuel? I don't want to open another debate on that though. If Detroit can't make a good product, move over for someone else who can...

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Are we willing to build the new and upgraded power lines and power plants that will be needed if straight battery-electric cars catch on?



    Mike
    I spoke with someone from the local power company and he was the PM for the EV1 project. I asked him this question and he response was that peak demand was between 8 and 5 during the week days but most of the people charge their cars at night when there is excess capacity so new plants would not have to be built until the absorption rate was over 10%.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  17. #17
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    If you were born and raised in Detroit you should know that nearly every house here has a driveway. Regardless of its population loss there would be plenty of parking.

    I know what you're saying, I used to be able to take a bus directly from my corner to infront of my office without any transfers. Then I would always leave my car at home. I am lucky to still have the luxury to drive alone and not have to depend on others schedules. Incidentally, I did not mention the added bonus of saving trips by picking up groceries or making errands through trip chaining. Trip chaining is remarkably efficient in terms of saving time and reducing costs.

    Not all american made cars are poorly built. Most of those Hondas and Toyotas you mentioned are made in america and have very high domestic part contents. Many of those parts are made right here in places like Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland. I found the best bang for the buck cars are Ford products, I buy mine a year old with low miles and use them for a lot longer than two years, I easily quadruple that. Most folks buy cars every couple of years here because they support the local economy and they can afford to, it is a matter of choice, not quality.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  18. #18
    Cyburbian lycosidae's avatar
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    If you were born and raised in Detroit you should know that nearly every house here has a driveway. Regardless of its population loss there would be plenty of parking.
    Haha, yes. I was referring more to parking at work, but yes I know.

    Not all american made cars are poorly built. Most of those Hondas and Toyotas you mentioned are made in america and have very high domestic part contents.
    Perhaps...

    Many of those parts are made right here in places like Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland. I found the best bang for the buck cars are Ford products, I buy mine a year old with low miles and use them for a lot longer than two years, I easily quadruple that.
    My family considers "Ford" a word that could easily be associated with other, more obviously offensive four letter words.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lycosidae View post
    My family considers "Ford" a word that could easily be associated with other, more obviously offensive four letter words.
    The Ford product has the lowest resale value of any car out there that is worth buying. Yes there are cars with lower ones, but those are typically total crap. Ford is only about 50 percent crap. I used to swear by Chrysler products, but they were too easy to steal and you would never know if your car was going to be where you left it. No one wants to steal a Ford , unless you drive a Mustang and I'm not going to drive one in the snow.

    If cars are inefficient, then it would stand to reason that trucks are too. If trucks are inefficient, then why is so much frieght on the road? Companies have a vested interest in getting products to market as soon as possible and trucks are used to do this.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  20. #20
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    If cars are inefficient, then it would stand to reason that trucks are too. If trucks are inefficient, then why is so much frieght on the road? Companies have a vested interest in getting products to market as soon as possible and trucks are used to do this.
    It all depends on how you're measuring efficiency. In terms of economic and time efficiency based on current policies, infrastructure, and fuel costs, sure, trucks are very efficient. If you're talking energy use (BTU per ton of cargo), trucks are incredibly inefficient compared to trains or boats - but both trains and boats require infrastructure that our nation has either let deteriorate, never upgraded, or simply never built in the first place (obviously some areas simply can't have boat transport, and some it wouldn't make sense to have train transport).

    So much freight is moved by road because trucking companies do not pay their fair share for the building of the infrastructure, compared to rail - in other words, a subsidy is in place that allows the price of road transport to be lowered, as well as the speed of road transport to be increased. Since road transport is generally quicker, it becomes a no-brainer for many companies - faster time + not much of a difference in price = we'll use trucks. If the time difference was lowered (by investment in rail infrastructure by the government at the same level as for roads) and/or the price difference expanded (through less of a subsidy to trucks or increased fuel costs) you can bet a large shift would take place.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

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