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?