Responding to criticism that they are not nimble, Vancouver City Council fast tracked an incomplete report with missing input from Council Committees and the public and unanimously approved the placement of Electric Vehicle (EV) Cord Conduits on city sidewalks in front of residences. You can watch the whole thing here on Council’s video recording.
I previously have written about the importance and the right to clear access of sidewalks and how in this rush to be “environmentally responsible” we seem to be promoting private vehicle ownership as long as it is electric vehicles. The fact that any Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) should probably always address the most vulnerable sidewalk user is lost in the haste to make the electric vehicle car owner happy. Those EV owner folks already have had up to $8,000 in grants given because they could afford to buy that kind of car, and research is already showing that men are the predominate owners of these vehicles, as they are still too expensive for most women, who have lower incomes. But that’s not part of this equitable dialogue.
Despite the fact that everyone can charge these vehicles at faster electric stations located elsewhere, the City of Vancouver has decided that residents can now legally charge their vehicles in front of their homes, dangling cords across front lawn areas, tucking them under plastic conduits on the sidewalk, and into their vehicle. The charge allowed is only the Level 1 trickle, which takes forever, and which means that vehicles will be charging overnight and weekends. A one hour charge at Level 1 allows you to drive three to six kilometers. Turtle time.
Sounds fine right?
It is surprising that in a city that is valuing “sustainability” in transportation to forget that the most vulnerable road users need unfettered access to the sidewalks. In Vancouver many of those same people from an equity perspective 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). There’s no report on how the Seattle program is going, and the City of Vancouver staff has no records on charging cord complaints here because they don’t collect data that way.
There were no visual presentations or samples from city staff to show how the cord conduits would look on city sidewalks. There were no photos of current EV cord installations. Staff did not know how many streets had sidewalks, and how many had curbs in the areas that would be allowed to have electrical cord access on city sidewalks. There was some confusion from staff whether the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee had considered the report. It turned out they had seen it, but not really given an official response.
In questioning the Seniors Advisory Committee had not seen the report at all.
The report was also not signed off by the Planning Department who definitely would have had community feedback on electrical conduits placed upon neighbourhood sidewalks.
We need to be grateful to the two speakers who registered to speak to this item, Leonard Schein and Richard Campbell . They pretty much identified the research and data that should have been done before this item went to Council.
Mr. Schein pointed out that he had been walking across the city during the pandemic and wondered why the City was not looking at the installation of a cord conduit under the sidewalk, which was done as a test pilot by the city. While city staff pooh poohed this approach due to high cost, Mr Schein (who as a prominent business owner knows a lot about this kind of thing) explained that the cost would be a few hundred dollars, and had even worked out all the metrics which he presented to Council.
He drew upon his experience in Europe and living in Saskatoon with snaking block heater cord across city sidewalks. Mr. Schein pointed out that keeping sidewalks unfettered by cords was probably pretty desirable, and asked what had happened to the City’s pilot on trenching the cords under sidewalks. That pilot with up to fifteen “test” participants was never reported back to Council or results mentioned .
Richard Campbell quite correctly noted that the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee of Council were volunteers on a committee, not the disability experts with specific training to evaluate the impacts of cord conduits on public sidewalks. He pointed out that it was time for the City to hire the experts needed to do these assessments, and passing that responsibility off to a volunteer committee “was not helpful”. The Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) had clearly indicated that the placement of this infrastructure on sidewalks was not acceptable; why was Council helping out vehicle owners privileged enough to own still expensive electric vehicles? Where was the equity in not considering use of sidewalks by people who don’t own electric vehicles?
Despite all the holes in this report this Council was not to be deterred and even entertained a motion to allow electric vehicles to charge across sidewalks without a $5.00 permit fee. That idea failed, but the entire Council (minus Pete Fry who was absent on City business) unanimously approved the report. Council saw this as a golden opportunity to cut red tape, calling electric vehicle owners “beleaguered” and that putting encumbrances on sidewalks were “part of a mix of approaches”.
It appears this endeavour is one for mostly single family neighbourhoods to enjoy. Council congratulated itself on fast tracking the initiative and noted that it was low-cost, and had no implications to staffing levels at the City of Vancouver. And now Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being one of the first cities in Canada to openly allow the placement of electrical cords in plastic conduits over city owned sidewalks.
If you own an electric vehicle it was a very good day. If you use sidewalks and are older, disabled, or sight impaired, not so much.