Is the Electric Car the Urban Designer’s Friend?

2 06 2011

By Scott Gibson

Charging Points in Central London

Sustainable transport is synonymous with urban design and in an ongoing move towards low carbon and zero carbon development, electric vehicles are becoming fasionable as an answer to concerns about transport realted carbon emissions,  growing fuel prices and fear that peak oil may be imminent, if not happening already.  So Electric cars it seems appears to be a perfect solution.  Hence, it’s not surprising to see masterplans with images of electric cars plugged into stand-alone charging points.  If electric vehicles do become popular, this will no doubt result in a growing demand for charging point in car parks and on-street parking bays.  Fine if there are a few, but imagine a street scene becoming filled with them at a time when there is growing pressure to improve the streetscene by reducing street clutter?

Personally I have my reservations with electric cars.  Their limited range make them only good for short journeys in towns and cities and these are likely to be the sort of journeys that could well be met by walking, cycling and the current public transport offer.  And with incentives, in terms of free parking, exemption from London’s Congestion Charge, not to mention a huge £5,000 subsidy from government toward the cost of buying one, electric cars are likely to compete more with public transport than conventional cars.  Here it seems that we’ve lost sight of what a car should be used for.  In my view that is for long journeys, ideally with two or more passengers to get to places that are simply impracticable to get to by bus or train.  Unfortunately electric cars cannot meet this role until they deal with issues about range anxiety.  However there are advancements in other fuel technologies that must not be ignored and may be better suited to making personal mobility more sustainable.  These are low carbon synthetic liquid fuels which could be used in existing vehicles, and thus make more of the exisiting vehicle fleet and avoid wasting resources on repacing them prematurely with less practicable vehicles.  They could potentially be derived from non-food sources of biomass (advanced bio-fuels in short), capturing and converting CO2 into hydrocarbons (see for an example), and even finding ways to store hydrogen in a more practicable way (see Cella Energy: ), provided of course we find ways of generating the stuff efficiently.  The point here is that electric cars are not necessarily the answer if they are likely to keep people off public transport, fail to cater for the journeys where the car really does come into its own, and worse still dominate the streetscape with a forest of charging points.




2 responses

2 06 2011

by: Ha mh Thai
I think the electric car has very bright future for both developed and developing countries.
I don’t really think the street scape will be dominated by the charging points as the wireless charging technology will be developed. Therefore, in the near future, your cars can be charged without worrying about cables.
However, the electric cars seem to be more appropriate for public transport system. Particularly in some developing countries where the quality of public buses is so low that they are the main source of pollution on the street.
I imagine about having an electric bus route or tram line that connect Gateshead town center and Newcastle Hay Market. These buses or trams can be charged each stop or at main station. I believe that Gateshead will be very attractive and more people will happy to live there.

3 06 2011

Sharing a similar view about the limits of electric cars, I believe that the main objective should be that of reducing the number of cars. This point is particularly meaningful to me since back home, the level of car dependency is only second to the US; even if it’s one of the smallest countries in the world!

In my opinion, if the benefits of car sharing are better promoted, it could be a better solution.

Although supportive, I still thought car sharing is one of those things which is easier said than done. However, I did become more convinced after being given a lift home by Lowri – a car sharer!

Finally I could ask the dreaded question: what happens when both owners need the car?! The answer was simple but meaningful. Rather than just relying on the car, the sharing parties learn to plan, think ahead and seek alternative modes of transport. Hence the car becomes a last resort rather than a first option! Keep it up Lowri!

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