Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
Micromobility – Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
Cut Costs, Congestion, and Carbon Emissions
Susan Engelking, Executive Director, Institute for Community MicroMobility
Imagine that people can go where and when they want to go, using small yet roomy Neighborhood Electric Vehicles that travel at 25 miles per hour or less. Imagine zipping along off-road paths designed especially for low-speed, low-emission vehicles of all kinds—pedicabs, scooters, bicycles, and more—protected from conflicts with conventional vehicles. Residents see their low speed networks as “part of the culture” and “the heart and soul of the city.”
This concept isn’t new. These vehicles exist. From Lincoln, California to Peachtree City, Georgia, cities are spontaneously creating new, low speed mobility alternatives designed around people, not cars.
Everyone benefits. Some of the greatest advocates of Low Emission Alternative Network (LEAN) mobility are drivers of conventional cars and trucks. Why? Because this infrastructure gets cars off the road, onto LEAN LanesTM, expanding capacity while reducing congestion, supporting public transit, and reducing transportation’s impact on the environment.
Innovators and Early Adopters
Some of the most innovative cities began with golf carts. When golf carts began springing up organically, innovative cities didn’t ban them. They embraced them. They interpreted golf cart use as evidence of a market for low cost, low stress, low speed modes.
These cities realized that their challenge was to provide safe routes for these low speed modes. Safety became the imperative.
Ten years ago in Peachtree City Georgia, kids began driving golf carts instead of cars to the high school. The city responded by developing a network of off-road multi-use paths along greenways, parks and rights of way. The city now has one hundred miles of off-road paths for golf carts, NEVs, bicycles, and other low speed modes. Everyone is safer. The City is guided by its Multi-Use Path Master Plan.
Peachtree City NEV Bridge by Tony Bernard
Peachtree City NEV by Tony Bernard
Peachtree City also demonstrates how little protected networks can cost. It recently added twenty-six miles to its network of off-road paths for $10 million. That’s roughly $400,000 per mile. The city spends about $55,000 for wooden bridges. Peachtree City proves that LEAN networks don’t need mega-million-dollar, multi-ton concrete bridges to achieve continuous flow. Its wooden bridges work fine, and they’re charming. The paths also have small tunnels fitted into slopes with vegetation. The network of paths is the city’s hallmark. TripAdvisor lists the paths as the #1 thing to do when visiting the city.
In southern California, Coachella Valley’s Association of Governments is developing a fifty-mile transportation and recreation pathway connecting thirteen small cities and the lands of three tribes. Called CV Link, first two-mile segment opened in 2018. The pathway is a spine that follows the Whitewater River flood channel and parallels Highway 111, the busiest corridor in the valley. CV Link has dual paths with grade separation for pedestrians, bicyclists, golf carts, and NEVs. Cities and tribes along the way see the future. They’re developing low speed networks plans to connect their residents.
Lincoln, California is the first city in the U.S. to develop an NEV plan. It receives visitors from around the world to observe its innovative network. Lincoln is now incorporating the network into new developments and shopping centers. Nothing gets built without discussions on how to safely incorporate NEVs. Lincoln is shifting from golf carts to NEVs, which are safer and street-legal.
Even Los Angeles has Slow Speed Network Strategic Plan for the South Bay, developed by LA Metro, characterizing the transition that must occur in the design of roads and developments.
What these cities have in common is safety as the priority. They do not simply paint a line along the road, call it a multi-use path, and walk away as F-150s create wind shear imperiling bicyclists. Early adopter cities recognize that conventional vehicles and vulnerable modes are incompatible, and that we can’t simply tack on a bike lane and think we’re done.
LEAN mobility design must Vision Zero. The climate crisis demands rapid, broad adoption, and broad adoption won’t happen if LEAN networks put lives at risk, at all.
Low speeds are clearly safer. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 45 mph has a 95 percent chance of being killed. But if the vehicle is going 20 mph, the chance of survival is 95 percent.
Now consider how speed affects peripheral vision. This illustration compares what drivers sees at 15 mph with their field of vision at 30 mph.
Source: Local Government Commission
Driving more slowly not only reduces the impact of collisions, it also reduces the potential risk for collisions. Going slower lets drivers see what is around them.
Why not Austin?
This LEAN mobility alternative addresses some of Austin’s most intractable problems. We are choking on traffic congestion. On some days, our air is increasingly unfit to breathe. Families are spending over 20% of their income on transportation. Many have no choice. Those without cars get left behind in our car-centric city.
Dangerous roads are our society’s version of the Hunger Games. Three hundred “tributes” must be killed or badly injured each year so that the rest of us can drive.
LEAN mobility is a climate-conscious alternative that is safe, low cost, low speed, low emission.
We can make it happen without raising property taxes.
The answer is right in front of us: leverage our existing assets. Build the LEAN infrastructure into every building, development, and roadway that is being designed or underway, before it is built.
Austin is growing at an astonishing rate of speed and investment. New skyscrapers, office towers, condominiums, subdivisions, districts, and “smart” corridors are all being designed or built right now.
We can take immediate action to work with developers to incorporate LEAN infrastructure without delaying or adding to their costs. For example, it makes no sense to build excessive parking when we know people’s driving preferences are rapidly changing. Multi-use off-road paths make developments more desirable and marketable.
Some of the largest developments underway are in the public realm, like the South Waterfront District. Why would we design a new district without incorporating LEAN infrastructure? It’s not too late to fix this. But once the “built environment” is built, LEAN infrastructure can become exponentially more expensive.
The City is spending $420 million on “smart” roadway corridors. Wouldn’t taxpayers be better served by incorporating the LEAN infrastructure into these corridors before they are built? Let’s seize this opportunity to expand road capacities and ensure the safety of these new modes at no cost to taxpayers while we have the chance.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles cost one-quarter as much as conventional vehicles over the life of the vehicles. Developing an LEAN infrastructure will allow financially stressed families to use NEVs and even less expensive modes that can cut their transportation budgets by half or more. Then imagine connecting with public transit. It’s an affordability game-changer.
A LEAN Climate
Let’s look at the climate crisis. The City of Austin’s goal is to become net carbon neutral by 2050—30 years from now. That’s too little, too late. There is no accountability. We need to treat the climate crisis with an urgency to match that of our most ardent residents, our climate-conscious children.
Here is the stark reality. A conventional size vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon each year. In one year, the carbon emissions from that one vehicle will melt 127 square feet of the Polar ice caps.(1) In contrast, a neighborhood electric vehicle, scooter, or any micromobility mode is so efficient that it emits only as much carbon as a kitchen appliance. It emits less or even no carbon if it the grid runs on renewable energy.
It’s simple. If we want to cut carbon emissions, then let’s offer a Vision Zero, viable, low-cost, low-speed, low-emission, proven mobility alternative—owned, shared, or in whatever way people desire.
At No Cost to Taxpayers?
LEAN mobility not only disrupts the transportation paradigm. It also disrupts how we pay for infrastructure.
Traditionally, City government would spend two to three years preparing and laying the groundwork for a bond election to build the LEAN infrastructure. The “starter” cost would be about $500 million, give-or-take. Sometime around 2022, voters would be faced with a costly bond proposition that would most assuredly add to our already heavy property tax burden. If voters approved it, the election would be followed by a series of processes like budgeting, designing, bidding, all taking years more. Even if we begin the bond process today, the first stretches of LEAN infrastructure might be constructed in 2026—seven years from now, at a disappointing scale, all at taxpayer expense.
–Let’s disrupt this by developing a valuable infrastructure with as little public outlay as feasible.
–Let’s challenge ourselves to spend taxpayer money just as we spend our own—very carefully.
–Let’s immediately identify and review every development and building in design and incorporate LEAN infrastructure.
–Let’s revise the City code as we go.
–Let’s engage architects, developers, and city planners to include LEAN infrastructure in their designs without delaying projects or adding to their costs.
–Let’s engage the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to expand on its innovative paths for bicyclists and pedestrians to include Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.
–Let’s engage Capital Metro to pilot first/last mile micromobility solutions and ways to serve low ridership neighborhoods.
–Let’s engage school districts to identify safe off-road routes.
With innovative thinking, we can create hundreds of miles of well-traveled LEAN infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of major transportation projects.
This table compares this disruptive approach with traditional bond financing, side by side. You’ll see that if we use the traditional financial approach, we will miss the opportunities before our eyes. We will spend seven years getting nowhere.
Austin can develop a $1 Billion LEAN infrastructure and eliminate 500,000 metric tons of carbon emissions by being strategic. Nothing stands in the way except “the way we’ve always done it.”
Source: Institute for Community MicroMobility
Or, over the next seven years we can develop a $1 billion LEAN infrastructure by leveraging existing assets and investments. We can cut carbon emissions by 500,000 metric tons a year while simultaneously improving mobility, affordability, public safety, health, equity, access, environment, economic opportunities, and economic resilience—all priorities of our City Council.
Other cities are looking to Austin for innovative action. This is our moment to act.
Don’t let anyone tell you this won’t work. It will.
Low speed, low cost, low emission modes are essential to a multi-modal future. Photo courtesy of Scoot, San Francisco.
Susan Engelking Executive Director, Institute for Community MicroMobility and Founder, Tiny Transit Strategies. Susan is the author of Tiny Transit for Cities: Cut Carbon Emissions In Your City Before It’s Too Late on Amazon http://amzn.com/B07MG7FJ77. For free downloadable pdf: Tiny Transit for Cities Book .
Note 1: Newman, Andy, “I am part of the climate change problem. That’s why I wrote about it,” New York Times, June 18, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/reader-center/travel-climate-change.html?action=click&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer&contentCollection=Reader%20Center