StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

We submitted testimony on Friday to the New York City Council's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure pertaining to their oversight hearing on Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, raising concerns that while the transition to electric vehicles will be generally beneficial, it also presents safety challenges, given the relative weight and acceleration of battery-powered cars and trucks, does nothing to reduce congestion, and could reverse progress in diversifying uses of the curbside. We also put in a plug for putting electric micro-mobility devices on equal footing with other clean-powered vehicles. Our full testimony follows below.

While transitioning from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles to electric vehicles will have significant environmental benefits, especially in reducing harmful emissions that are major contributors to poor air quality and disease, that transition also comes with major challenges and concerns.

From a street-safety perspective, an electric car is still a car, and in many cases, a heavier, faster-accelerating, nearly silent, and potentially more deadly car. Electric cars and SUVs weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds more than their gas-powered equivalents, which can lead to devastating consequences in collisions. As the transition to electric vehicles gathers steam, New York City needs to explore the possibility of regulating the size, shape and speed of vehicles permitted on city streets. Doing so will involve many legal hurdles, but it’s imperative that we explore every means of keeping people safe, especially our most vulnerable street users.

Electric cars and trucks also take up the same amount of space as gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, so the adoption of such vehicles will not have any benefit in reducing congestion.

The transition to electric vehicles also raises important questions about the use of curb space. As a city, we’ve taken positive strides in recent years in democratizing the curb, building plazas and expanding sidewalks, implementing more loading zones, launching the Open Streets and Open Restaurants efforts, launching and expanding a bike-share system, and exploring curbside waste containerization. In developing vehicle-charging infrastructure, New York City must prioritize options that don’t re-privatize the curb for the sole benefit of car owners or devote too-scarce sidewalk space to car chargers.

Today’s hearing has also focused almost exclusively on electric cars, while only tangentially addressing electric micro-mobility choices like e-bikes and e-scooters. The use of, and interest in, e-bikes is booming. Most trips made in the city cover just a few miles, at most, and can often be made easily on e-bikes, which also extend the range for cycling trips and make biking accessible for some people who can’t ride a traditional bike. City government should be exploring ways to support the further adoption of these alternatives to cars (and in some cases, delivery trucks), including expansion of bike lanes and consideration of the creation of adjacent powered-mobility lanes, given the sometimes-significant speed differential between human-powered and electric bikes and scooters.

In addition, the city should mandate that electric scooters have integrated turn signals and rearview mirrors; the limited stability of scooters makes it difficult for operators to turn their heads or use hand signals.

At the same time, the city is facing a major safety challenge from the proliferation of substandard lithium-ion batteries, which have caused many fires, resulting, tragically, in several fatalities. New, secure bike-parking infrastructure solutions exist that integrate charging stations. These facilities provide theft-proof storage for e-bikes that can cost several thousand dollars, while also offering battery charging in outdoor locations that prevent deadly residential fires. The city should be investing in developing a robust network of safe and secure bike parking and charging stations, including the rapid buildout of promised Deliverista hubs.

While the transition to electric cars and trucks will in many ways be beneficial, it’s critical that New York City mitigate the challenges that will accompany that transition.

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published this page in News 2023-06-26 09:09:20 -0400
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