I’m tired of the electric vehicle conversation

Warning: Grumpy old man mode.

I am really, really growing tired of the electric vehicle boosterism that pervades the environmental community. It is sucking all the air out of organizations and meetings, diverting attention away from solutions that would have a much greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The transportation sector is responsible for 41% of GHGs in California (2020), and that percentage will continue to climb as we work to reduce the other sectors. Except for this pandemic period, GHG emissions from vehicles have continued to climb every year, and they will probably go back to their rise when the pandemic is over, and that is already happening in some places.

Do electric vehicles have a lower emissions impact than fossil fuel vehicles? Yes, but the difference is not enough to justify the boosterism. Until our electricity supply is 100% renewable (with storage of course needed for peak periods), and we are not importing electricity from other states, the impact from electric vehicles will be unacceptably high.

And there is the other impact of vehicles. You’ve all seen the images, a take off on the old one showing the number of and space used by cars, buses, bicycles and walkers, showing congestion from electric vehicles being exactly the same as fossil fuel vehicles. But congestion is actually a friend to walkers and bicyclists, so mostly a concern to transit and drivers.

The biggest problem with cars is that they dominate our cities, and make compact, walkable development and neighborhoods impossible. I live in a place (downtown Sacramento) where nearly all of my needs are within walking distance, and the few that are not are within bicycling distance. I’m car free and have been for ten years (I had written care free instead of car free, but you know, it is much the same thing).

Yet car drivers through downtown, many but not all of them people who don’t live in downtown, challenge me for right-of-way every time a use a crosswalk. Crossing the street should not require either yielding my right of way to drivers, or trying to intimidate them into stopping (which most walkers are too afraid to do, rightly so). When I’m bicycling, drivers running red lights and not coming close to stopping at stop signs are a constant danger, meaning I have to be on high alert rather than enjoying my place and my ride. The nature of the majority of drivers is that they willingly intimidate walkers and bicyclists. People driving electric vehicles are not any better. Tesla drivers are giving BMW drivers a run for their money in competition for the worst drivers on the road.

Because of the space taken up by cars, the roadway, on-street parking, off-street parking, everything is further away. Downtown and midtown, things are still within a reasonable distance, but that is not true anywhere else in the region except downtown Davis, old town Folsom, and old town Roseville. The amount of land devoted to cars is truly amazing, and sad, and criminal. Six lane or more arterials, with parking lanes and turn lanes. Six lane or more freeways, with the ever present threat to widen them. Katy Freeway (26 lanes in Houston area), coming to your community, courtesy of Caltrans!

I suspect a lot of the energy behind electric cars is just people who really don’t want to give up their car, at all, ever. They are the same people who bought Prius cars because they were more environmental, and continued driving the same or more, and then bought Tesla cars because they are even more green, and continued driving the same or more.

Car drivers kill more than 40,000 people every year in the US, and it looks like 2020 is going to be 43,000 when the official data is in. Motor vehicle fatalities are usually a bit above gun-related deaths. Cars are the leading cause of death for children and young people. Many people tolerate this as just part of the way things are, but it is not the way things are. It is the result of our American car addiction, and the design of our roadways (engineers are morally and legally responsible for this), and the choices of drivers.

Here is my suggestion. We remove one-half of all cars from service, by whatever means necessary, with whatever funding it takes. There should be criteria that prioritizes: 1) the most polluting cars; and 2) cars owned by drivers who drive a lot, 3) cars that are not used but still take up space on the street. I realize that there are homeless people living in vehicles, and I’m not talking about those, but the ones just gathering dust and leaves and cobwebs. I am not suggesting that the government pay going prices for these vehicles, but something quite a bit less. If necessary to induce the change, we can simply refuse to renew registration on vehicles in these categories.

Then, and only then, we start subsidizing replacement of the remaining internal combustion cars with electric, starting with the lowest income people. If we devote X amount of dollars to this, and X amount only gets us up to 40% of the median income, that is just fine with me. As many studies have shown, it is high income people that are receiving almost all the benefits from electric vehicle incentives. That is classist and racist, and must stop. We might eventually get to higher income levels, but only after replacement in the lower income levels has been achieved. That means we need to immediately end the programs as they exist and revise them to be equitable. If you are an electric car booster and and not working to achieve equity, you are just being an entitled jerk.

Please, let me not hear anything about electric vehicles the next time I go to a meeting or jump on Twitter. Please.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.