The smart city’s blueprint for EV infrastructure

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Ben Lambert, a 34-year-old who manages fundraising efforts for a number of nonprofits, lives in one of Denver’s densest residential neighborhoods: Capitol Hill. The area surrounds Colorado’s capitol building and is home to museums, concert venues and restaurants. The housing stock consists mostly of apartment buildings and tightly packed homes.

Lambert’s apartment building has a small off-street parking area in the alley, with four spots for more than 15 units in the building, so most residents park on the street. He doesn’t own a car, but if he needed to buy one, he’d want an electric vehicle (EV). Which raises the question: If Lambert did buy an EV, where could he charge it?

It is a question coming up with increasing frequency as EVs grow in popularity. Research suggests (PDF) that only about half of vehicles in the U.S. have a dedicated off-street parking space, such as a driveway or garage. In dense areas of cities across the country, residents rely on on-street parking to park their vehicles at home.

Studies also have found that most electric vehicle owners prefer to charge at home, with some projections (PDF) assuming nearly 90 percent of EV charging will happen at home. With more electric cars on the road, and many more coming soon, cities will face the challenge of where electric vehicles will charge, particularly in city centers and neighborhoods without off-street residential parking.

A political and technical challenge

Providing EV charging in dense city neighborhoods brings its own set of challenges. A case in point is Philadelphia, which recently put on hold a 10-year old program that allowed residents to apply for, and install, electric vehicle charging stations near their homes.

By 2017, Philadelphia residents had obtained permits for or installed 67 electric vehicle spots, using just a tiny share of the city’s 43,000 permitted or metered on-street parking spaces, more than 46,000 garage or lot parking spaces (PDF) and vast number of free, unmetered spaces.

Despite the program’s limited reach, vocal opponents blamed the program for exacerbating parking shortages in neighborhoods. With large numbers of electric vehicles expected in Philadelphia (and cities around the country) in coming years, closing off opportunities to expand EV charging is heading in exactly the wrong direction.

Innovative leadership

Fortunately, there are many models of how cities around the world are tackling the urban EV charging problem with innovative solutions to expand access to charging infrastructure, including along public streets.

Recently, Frontier Group and PennEnvironment authored a report, “Plugging In: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles,” which highlights some examples, including: (…)

Alana Miller

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