Site icon BikePortland

Electric vehicles, ‘The Portland Way’

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

To say there’s momentum in our region for electric vehicles would be a major understatement. Last week, the Portland City Council voted to accept the recommendations in Electric Vehicles: The Portland Way, a report (PDF) on EVs that lays out a strategy for integrating more battery-powered cars into our city.

Report cover image.

This council action is the culmination of Mayor Sam Adams’ aggressive pursuit of an EV agenda. He’s lured a large battery maker from Switzerland to set up shop in Portland, he’s started a friendly, ‘I’m-more-committed-to-EVs-than-you-are’ competition with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, and late last year he traveled to Japan to meet with EV officials from Nissan and Mitsubishi.

According to the Mayor’s office, promoting EVs is way to accomplish the goals of job creation and meeting carbon emission reduction levels set out in the 2009 Climate Action Plan.

The new EV strategy report includes recommendations to:

Similar to how streetcars and light rail are aggressively promoted in our region more for their impact on development rather than their transportation value, the economic argument is central to Adams’ EV push. In a blog post after the EV report was passed, Mayor Adams’ office wrote:

“…electric vehicle adoption and deployment is as much about meeting Portland’s sustainability goals and addressing anticipated transportation issues as it is about economic development.”

Building up our economy is important, but transportation is first and foremost about moving people through our city. On that note, the report acknowledges that EVs aren’t immune to the gridlock made famous by their gas-guzzling cousins.

“To ensure EVs do not further create congestion,” the report states, one of the strategies is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through the “continued education about using transit, walking or biking for trips of 3 miles or less.” Bikes also appear in a section of the report dealing with carshare companies and transit agencies. The report states that PBOT and TriMet are “actively engaged in conversations” about creating “mobility centers” at major transit stations. These centers would include EV infrastructure, carshare vehicles and “bike-sharing bikes or other tools.” (City Hall has all but shelved the bike-sharing idea, so it’d be interesting if it ended up happening through this initiative.)

The political feasibility and environmental benefits of electric cars (over gas-powered ones) are obvious, but let’s remember that EVs won’t solve many of the transportation problems we face. The problem with our transportation system is that there are simply too many cars and trucks on the road, especially in the downtown core.

Or, in the words of writer Chris Baskind, “The problem is not how cars are powered, but that people feel they’re powerless to live without them.”

— Learn more about the strategy to make Portland “America’s electric vehicle hub at Mayor Adams’ website.