The City of Vancouver has a stated transportation hierarchy.  The hierarchy states that  people using the sidewalks and streets have priority over vehicles in using the city’s road network. That  makes sense in a city that is promoting sustainable travel, and has just amended the zoning by-laws to assist  corner stores to survive in neighbourhoods.

It is part of an overall trend to walkable, accessible places, for citizens to be able to walk to local shops, schools and services. It is also part of encouraging sustainable community that can pass the “ice cream”  or popsicle test~a neighbourhood with shops and  services that are safe, comfortable and so convenient that you can send your ten year old out for ice cream, and have that child arrive back home with the ice cream still not melted.

That is why the City’s latest report to allow the placement of electrical conduits on top of city sidewalks to charge electrical vehicles on the street is so confounding.

Journalist Frances Bula referenced the report on Twitter that is going to Council this week. This report follows a study initiated in 2018 of  “test” locations in neighbourhoods where fifteen residents who had electric vehicles were allowed to trench under existing sidewalks to establish their own personal  electric vehicle (EV) charging station at the boulevard. Some cities like London are providing curbside charging facilities on streets from light poles as I wrote here.

Sadly even in that Vancouver charging demonstration project the goals were stated as “facilitating electric vehicle infrastructure growth” and “promoting green initiatives under the Greenest City Action Plan”. There’s no mention in the goals to not impede the sidewalk in any way.

It is surprising that  in a city that is valuing “sustainability” in transportation to forget about people that might be using the sidewalks in Vancouver, those same people from an equity perspective who walk, roll or use transit because they cannot afford a vehicle, let alone an electric vehicle.

In the report the City of Vancouver is basing their recommendations on the voluntary program run by the City of Seattle that allows  level one charging if a five foot by four foot platform ramp that covers the entire width of the sidewalk is provided to tuck the cord through. (City staff is proposing a 1.2 meter  long platform).

The City wants to make it easier to “remove barriers to EV adoption” for people who cannot charge in their back lane or on their own property. To do that, the City is proposing that moveable conduit platform ramps be placed  on sidewalks by  EV car owning residents. This ensures EV owners can snake an electrical cord to their car to charge it. The ramps are to be picked up once the charging is complete: there is no regulatory body to ensure they do that.

Of course there are lots of people who have EVs that charge at work or various charging stations when using the vehicle. There’s no need to plug in every night, and new EVs with a four hundred kilometer range can charge once a week at a public charging station.

The Level One charge proposed by the City for homeowners using cords over sidewalks  allows an EV to go only about two miles on one hour charging, and is charging at a very slow turtle rate. Level Two can charge from 9 to 52 miles per hour, and Level Three can provide a 170 mile range in thirty minutes of charging. You can read more about that here.

Instead of promoting transit use or enhancing walking and biking, this report wants to make it easier for people to own electric vehicles, while glancing over any challenges the disabled or sight challenged may have on the temporary  ramps plonked on sidewalks for vehicle charging cord covers.

It’s no surprise that the report states there are no “negative environmental impacts” as they kind of forgot what that experience of using sidewalks with many electrical conduit ramps would be for seniors and disabled.  Couple that with Vancouver’s rain and frost on the conduit covers with different surfaces and creating slip hazards.

There’s a  lack of an open public process for residents to see and use the street covered with electrical conduits, and no mention of the impact of snow and rain for pedestrians traversing across the proposed conduit platforms in inclement weather. City staff  did contact the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee of Council and the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Both of these bodies did not support charger cords being placed in conduits across sidewalks.  Comments included “cord covers will become ubiquitous, making sidewalks less accessible for wheelchairs, people with visual impairments”.

The City did respond that charging EV’s from the front curb might be easier for disabled owners. However, there is no mention on how disabled car owners will pick up and move the electrical conduit ramp once charging is completed.

In many ways the concept of allowing electrical cords under raised platform conduits on city sidewalks is answering a problem that can be solved by charging elsewhere.  At an annual charge of  $5.00 per year per permit, it will be a difficult program to police or to establish who has city permission or not.

There is also a big equity issue in that the vehicle can move to any place where it can be charged, while a pedestrian or person rolling on the sidewalk may be relying on a level, consistent sidewalk access as their sole means of safe transport.

Who has more rights to clear access of sidewalks~sidewalk users, or electric vehicle owners?

Images: thisismoney,theguardian,wayfair



  1. Add dog poo, snow, mud, leaves and a bunch of bikes to this and sidewalks will never look the same again once we add charge stations, and thus many many cables, to every meter or lamp post.

    A true cable salad.

  2. Just imagine the increase in battles over street parking rights. Even without erratically self-installed electric infrastructure many Vancouver neighbours already fight over who gets to park where on streets, with some erecting barriers to prevent others from parking in front of their houses when they’re not home. The need to park adjacent to their electrical connections will only make this worse.

    I’m all for EVs as a replacement for carbon-burning vehicles and support the city’s efforts to encourage such evolution, but replacing x million carbon-burning vehicles with an equal number of EVs is not a viable plan. Incentives to EV conversion must include new incentives to move away from private vehicles and disincentives to park on city streets. Toward the latter, I would support the introduction of 24 hour paid parking on all public streets and alleys, administered by app. Too many Vancouver garages are sitting empty or are being used for storage because residential street parking is free or cheap. If you want to park a private car on any city street, you should have to pay a market-influenced price to do so.

    1. Indeed. Free parking is like squatting. See my post here from almost 5 years ago

      Many condo buildings or apartment buildings need to have EV infrastructure too which is quite costly, several hundred 1000s of dollars for a building of say 30 or more units. Unclear even if BC Hydro can support that on every block if there are 6-8 buildings with 1000+ residents ! As such, the price per kwh will rise dramatically rendering one main advantage of EVs, namely lower “fuel” op costs, mute !

      Here is a UK firm offering city wide charge infrastructure by converting light posts to charge points One should follow those early pilots to see how they deal with the cable salad and conflict if multiple EV owners want to charge the vehicle from the same lamp post.

      1. Seems to me a better infrastructure would be wireless charging of some kind, like Translinks’s electric buses (“The buses can be charged in approximately five minutes at charging stations while picking up passengers”) though I don’t know what the technical requirements or costs would be to do it for cars. You raise a good point about power capacity in neighbourhoods. The cables-from-lamp-standards sounds interesting until you note how far apart lamp standards are on a typical street.

        1. Wireless works at high voltage? On res streets with kids and dogs running around? I don’t think so. It may work in a fenced compound like a bus depot but on public roads?

          Many things are a good idea in small amounts or pilot projects but not at scale like wind energy replacing a while coal plant, for example. As such we shall see what the EV enthusiasm looks like when charge stations are broken or clogged, cables dirty or lying in the mud (or dog poo), busy travel spots have 2 to 3h waits and a kWh is 50 cents !

        2. They aren’t wireless. They’re just an overhead conductor. Instead of a plug, the bus has something quite similar to a pantograph (like on a train) to pick up the power without having to be plugged in. The bus just has to park in roughly the correct spot.

          Induction chargers like for you phone just waste about 30% of the power. Less of an issue for a phone. A huge issue for something moving 10s of kilowatts.

  3. Cables over the sidewalk is a terrible idea but I wonder if this is being overblown. This post couldn’t even find a picture of the offending problem. In most of the city there is a grass strip between the sidewalk and the curb. In other areas it’s quite a clearly defined utility strip housing everything from fire hydrants to bike racks to garbage cans. It seems to me there is a business opportunity to do some lightweight horizontal drilling to quickly and easily install cabling under the sidewalk. All the plug-ins would be curbside. Rather than a money-losing $5.00/year permit make it a $200-$500 one-time cost. A lawn to lawn bore could be done super cheaply by enterprising individuals.

    Editor’s Note: There’s no “official” photos of electric cable conduits over sidewalk because no other Canadian municipality would approve something like that.

  4. I’d also be concerned about electrocution (in snow, rain and puddles), unless they’re talking about a steel conduit.

    This is just one of the factors that people need to consider when they either buy their house (is there off-street parking).

    Agreed with the comments about residents laying claim to the spaces in front of their homes, and now, with the citywide parking permits, you’ll have more demand from residents to remove “visitor” spaces from in front of their homes if they prevent them from having a charging station.

  5. Welcome to an issue that will be made worse by the city’s relaxation of parking requirements for new developments. If you think it is bad now, wait until all the owners of those $1.5 million two-bed condos start looking for places to park and plug-in their cars! Did nobody see the coincidence of the city removing a cost to developers (providing parking) at the same time as suggesting charging for all street parking in the city?

    1. Vancouver wants less cars, not more. EVs or ICE vehicles – it matters not. I am still surprised how many cars there are in the west-end which could be car free today except for handicapped or emergency vehicles.

      See my link above from London how to deal with charge stations. We will see many MANY more of these pilots going in before clear standards or policies emerge as every city grapples with the same issue ! It’s still the wild west out there, for now. Or shall I see e-west? Many trial and errors will happen over the next decade.

  6. In Vancouver the covers and cords will be stolen before they can even charge a car. I agree with the horizontal drilling idea. They will still steal the cord. welcome to the reality

    1. @Mark – It’s harder to steal the cord if you can lock the EV charger box into the car. I’ve been periodically doing this for a a few years in Strathcona, and haven’t so much as had someone unplug the cord once. The car alarm also goes off it the cord is unplugged, which is a pretty good deterrent. If it can work here, then I don’t think it would be worse elsewhere in the city.

      The backstory is I bought an PHEV (Chevy Volt) and then had my workplace charging fall through. I tried to make an alternate arrangement with a cord suspended well (~4m) above the sidewalk, but I misjudged where the property line was, and had to remove it. The cord was contained within a lamp post, and had a fold out telescoping arm on the street side. The tube would telescope out over top of the car and hold the charge cable up over the hood. While it was installed, it worked great. A protected cord has basically been a kludge I’ve used for a couple years until I can afford a place with proper parking.

      It’s going to be a big problem for Vancouver in the future though. Laneway housing has cannibalized a lot of the spots where you park an EV to charge, pushing the problem on to the street. If ICE cars are banned in 14 years, the clock is ticking on solving this. Retail EVs have been available for 10 years now, and nothing has been done to solve this problem. DC fast chargers being used like gas stations is another option, but it’s got all sorts of downsides.

      My suggestion to the city has always been to work with BC Hydro to convert the city to LED street lights, and use that opportunity to place AC chargers on the light standards. They already have curbside power, will have some extra capacity available with lower power lights, and they are ubiquitous. A couple chargers per block would go a long ways, and would likely cover it’s costs.

      There are a few problems with the protected cord situation in general. Most EV cords are 25′ max (SAE specs determine this), so it’s hard to reach anything without an extension cord. That means you’re limited to 120V, or about 1 kW of power. This is pretty much useless for any car with a big battery unless you leave the cord out all the time (which I don’t). As is, my Chevy with only 40-70km range takes 10 hours to charge. I typically at night to minimize the number of peds exposed.

      120V is also the least efficient setup for charging. You need the most amps per kW of output, so big fat cables, extra heat, etc. Pretty much every car is optimized for 220V, so this is a pretty big downside.

      1. The ICE ban in 14 is an aspirational not a practical goal. Plug-in hybrids a very good alternative and most new cars by late 2020s will be hybrid as it makes so much more sense to the avg Joe Sixpack than a pure EV.

        1. You say that now, but it was less than 2 years ago that you were vastly underestimating the ramping speed of EV technology.

          That adoption curve is going to prove you wrong Thomas. The ironic part of owning a PHEV is that most of the time you wish it was a BEV. It’s a better product. The only thing that needs to continue happening for 14 years to be achievable is scaling.

          The battery costs are plummeting. They’re down from over $1K USD/kWh when I bought my 2012 car, to about $100USD/kWh now. As soon as another 50-60 kWh of cells are cheaper than a gas motor, PHEVs will be done as a concept. The market will flip, and services will orient towards making EVs fill all the gaps instead of serving ICE.

        2. The 14 years you refer to Thomas are in relation to the sale of new vehicles. It isn’t currently envisioned as being a ban on vehicle resale, or use.

          Manufacturers are moving faster than this, though.

  7. It wouldn’t work in residential area but perhaps a portion of the onstreet parking meters could offer fast charge capabilities?

    1. Fast chargers are big things that need a rather large amount of power available. The transformers are typically big bulky units. It’s unlikely they would be easily deployed at curbside in a widespread deployment.

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