Parsing the ‘electric cars won’t save us’ debate

Posted by on February 8th, 2022 at 11:53 am

An e-car and an e-bike parked at Adidas corporate headquarters in north Portland.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Electric cars are having a moment. Ford just announced a $20 billion investment to make the shift to electric, and more big auto names like General Motors, Volvo and Jaguar are all lining up behind star player Tesla to announce they’ll go fully electric in the next 20 years.

But as e-cars (also known as EVs) have been heralded as the key – or at least a key – to a future habitable planet, there’s also been rising skepticism and concern in some corners that we’re overly focused on e-cars at the expense of non-car EVs like bicycles and other vehicles.

All transportation reform and climate activists can agree that in order to combat the climate emergency, we need to stop burning fossil fuel in gas-guzzling cars – stat.

There is a fissure, however, in how that should be done. Should we electrify the American car fleet, or work towards ending car culture by encouraging bicycling, walking and mass transit? Are these two plans of action mutually exclusive? Are we spending too much political capital on the former at the expense of the latter?

Many people involved in transportation activism think our society’s reliance on cars, regardless of what makes cars go, is entirely antithetical to a thriving and successful city.

Meanwhile, some electric vehicle proponents see themselves as critics of what that reliance has led to so far, but doubtful that an entire status quo can change in time.

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“It’s important to fight the dominance of the car. But we can’t wait 50 years to hopefully win that battle.”
— Jeff Allen, Forth

“I’m not anti-electrification, but we have to do so much more than that.”
— Sarah Iannarone, The Street Trust

Here in Portland, Sarah Iannarone, executive director of The Street Trust, an organization that advocates for non-car transportation, has has spoken up about her skepticism of the warm EV embrace.

In an article Iannarone wrote for ‘The Oregon Way’ blog in November, she discussed the harm of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s controversial Interstate Bridge Replacement Project (IBRP), and proposed alternatives like building out the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and increasing local and regional transit and active transportation infrastructure.

In the article, Iannarone also makes the remark that “EVs won’t save us,” contextually meaning that the existence of electric cars isn’t a justification for large-scale freeway expansions like the IBRP.

In an interview with BikePortland, Iannarone expanded on that idea.

“Policymakers around the world are all seeking quick fixes [to the climate crisis],” she said. “I’m not anti-electrification, but we have to do so much more than that.”

[E-bikes not represented in statewide ‘transportation electrification’ project]

“EVs won’t save us” has become a common refrain from people asking for more attention on transportation reform that’s not related to cars. To people involved in electric vehicle advocacy, however, the remark is reductive.

Jeff Allen is the executive director of Forth, a Portland-based nonprofit that’s stated goal is to “electrify transportation by bringing people together to create solutions that reduce pollution and barriers to access.”

Forth has mostly done work related to electric cars (its name used to be Drive Oregon), advocating for more EV charging stations and rebates as well as EV carshare programs. But Allen says he is a proponent for other modes of sustainable transportation too, and Forth has participated in campaigns to popularize shared micromobility devices like the Biketown e-bikes.

In a public response to Iannarone’s claim that “EVs won’t save us,” Allen pushed back on that mantra by providing statistics on the environmental benefits of electric vehicles and he expressed concern with what he sees as animosity toward EVs from other clean transportation activists, saying everyone involved in the transportation reform movement needs to “learn to work together” and “stop forming circular firing squads.”

Allen cites the statistic that EVs reduce carbon pollution by 60% to 80%, completely eliminating toxic diesel exhaust and polluting tailpipe emissions. This number is hard to pin down because electricity is sourced differently in different parts of the country, but yes, EVs certainly pollute less than gas cars, and have the potential to be even more efficient.

In the Oregon Way article, Allen cites a Bike Portland article that he claims says we’re “paying ‘too much attention’ to electric cars.” Taken in context, our statement in the article only indicates the state and federal governments are paying too much attention to electric cars when comparing that attention to the focus on electric bikes – an important distinction to make when having this dialogue.

Given the dominance of the car in American society, it’s hard to imagine that bike and public transit advocates saying “EVs won’t save us” will do much damage to a national embrace of electric cars. If we aren’t electrifying cars fast enough – and we’re not – it’s because of the chokehold greenhouse gas companies still have on the private and public sector, not radical bike activists.

We’ve written about why the difference in perception between electric cars and electric bikes matters. While EV-car rebates offers continue to rise in many states, EV-bikes are getting a lot less attention.

Data suggests that the majority of car trips are less than six miles long. Many people who are driving those short distances could very feasibly switch their mode of transportation to an e-bike. But it’s not seen as a viable alternative.

“We’ve been advocates for electric bikes from day one. And we talked to legislators about including an incentive for electric bikes. They literally laughed us out of the room,” Allen said in an interview with BikePortland. “Most elected officials don’t see bikes as transportation in this country. And it’s not a trade-off. We couldn’t have said ‘Oh, instead of this electric car rebate, we’d really like you to give us an electric bike rebate.’ We would not have gotten that.”

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Though he’s aware of the problems cars create beyond pollution – they take up a ton of space, encourage social isolation, require expensive infrastructure, have no physical or mental health benefits and kill tens of thousands of people every year – Allen thinks it’s a more realistic use of our (limited) time to move the car-dependent American public over to electric cars than attempt a complete paradigm shift.

“Many folks are making heroic assumptions about electric vehicles, and are using that as an excuse to do little or nothing to try to reduce driving vehicle miles traveled.”
— Joe Cortright, City Observatory

“The fact that it’s relatively easier to switch from a gas car to an electric car than it is to switch people from a gas car to a bike is part of why we need to be doing it,” Allen explained. “It’s also important to fight the dominance of the car. But we can’t wait 50 years to hopefully win that battle.”

But is it really easier to switch from gas cars to electric cars? Here in the United States, our cities and our brains have adapted to cars, yes. But in Oregon, e-car-dependent climate plans have floundered. Perhaps it’s time for a change?

Urban economist and No More Freeways co-founder Joe Cortright has spoken up about how our local governments in the Portland Metro area have failed to deliver on e-car promises.

“Many folks are making heroic assumptions about electric vehicles, and are using that as an excuse to do little or nothing to try to reduce driving vehicle miles traveled [VMT],” Cortright wrote to BikePortland in an email.

In an article he wrote last year for City Observatory, Cortright states that Metro’s “Climate Smart Strategy” has been overly reliant on and optimistic about EV-car usage and is nowhere near a solution for lowering regional VMT.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has been lagging as well. An article in The Oregonian outlines how the state is falling way behind in its electric car-based climate goals.

Bike activists say that not only are e-bike sales outpacing e-car sales, people would be much more likely to try them out if officials would take them seriously and provide serious incentives to encourage the car-to-bike switch. That appears to be what Oregon House Representative Karin Power is doing. Far from laughing at the idea, Power announced yesterday she plans to sponsor an e-bike purchase subsidy bill in the 2023 session.

For his part, Allen admits EV advocates could do more to openly embrace other forms of transportation.

“There are surely people who see electrification and think, ‘Oh, great, we don’t have to do anything else. We’ll just switch to electric. And then we don’t have to have transit, we don’t have to worry about bike lanes, we don’t have to do [congestion] pricing,” he says. “There’s a role for advocates to make sure that we are being clear that’s not enough and that there are still other problems with the car.”

Keeping a local focus can help, too.

“In a capitalist society, dismantling a lot of these structures is going to be very difficult,” Iannarone says. “This is one reason why I tend to operate very municipally… working in local communities who know their needs best and then fighting to secure the resources for those communities.”

Both Iannarone and Allen say they want to continue having the conversation. If people are operating in good faith, it may be possible to work together, even if there’s some badgering involved.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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jason walker
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jason walker

Nobody can accuse me of not being able to hold contrary thoughts at the same time, as follows: I have a Tesla. It’s a wonderful car. Yet electric cars are not the answer to climate change. Finally, Elon Musk is an anti-vax jerk, and for that reason, I’ll never buy another Tesla.

Kat Puszt
Guest
Kat Puszt

Same here. I won’t buy a Tesla because they don’t sell parts – we maintain our own vehicles because we have the ability. So we purchased an Oregon made Arcimoto, which also has no parts or a service manual. :/

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

sure, EV Cars have lower carbon emissions overall – but the sheer volume of just new Lithium and Cobalt that will need to be mined to meet demand is an environmental can of worms that I don’t think EV Car evangelists are willing to address. Not to mention – EV Cars (and trucks) are largely heavier than their ICE counterparts – this will cause infrastructure to decay even faster. And then factoring in the loss of revenue from gas taxes… EV Cars will not be able to exist without even higher government subsidization of road infrastructure. This is on top of the subsidies the government is already providing consumers (and car companies) for producing the EV Cars themselves.

Smart infrastructure investments are needed now to provide a better future. Anything involving cars, electric or not, is simply not a smart investment relative to active transit, public transit and passenger rail

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Kind of like the chicken vs. the egg, who came first.
If governments/transit agencies don’t step up their game and improve public transit/rail 110% then commuters will stay in their cars. Portland has been trying for what, 50? years to get people out of their cars and into transit and it’s what <10% of the commuters? Hey, I'm a transit user. I don't like it. It really sucks. If parking wasn't astronomical downtown I'd drive in an instant.

Until transit doesn't suck, people are just going to bypass that option and go with something else, which usually means cars.

As for bikes, good luck with that one too. Until all businesses have showers and safe places to park your bike then for most people that's not even on the radar. My work, at one time, offered both, and we had <5% bike riders.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Absolutely, which is why infrastructure investments also have to be paired with actually good service. The MAX is a perfect example of how to spend a lot of money and get a pretty bad service.

Portland needs some kind of actual grade separated rapid transit to have any chance of meaningfully competing with cars for commuting folks.

I think bikes are honestly better served for non-commuting trips (grocery trips, seeing friends, etc.), but I think showers are a bit overrated to entice people to commute by bike. Infrastructure and bike parking are much more important

Watts
Guest
Watts

Transit currently works on a 19th century model: fixed routes on a fixed schedule. The future will be point-to-point and on-demand.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

Right, so the future you envision is present day America, where everyone relies on SOVs… The Uber/Lyft model is not a solution. And slightly higher capacity private for hire vehicles are not a solution, either. That path leads to more VMT, more pollution, more problems.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

if the cars are electric, how does it lead to pollution? And how can more VMT be a bad thing, unless you don’t like people being able to travel.

boyd
Guest
boyd

Tailpipe emossions are the tip of the iceberg

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Tell that to Los Angelenos

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Most of them won’t be electric, at least in our lifetimes.

Watts
Guest
Watts

The Uber/Lyft model is not a solution

It might be if vehicles are automated.

I think the future will be fleets of automated taxis/small vans dynamically scheduled and routed. That would provide service that is such a significant improvement over the current TriMet transit model that if costs can be kept low (by removing the driver, for example), I don’t see how the traditional model could compete.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

That’s literally what a car does

Ciclo Wealth
Member

So the future is cycling point-to-point and on-demand. Add electricity for bikes and proper infrastructure then perhaps we’ll have a future that is desirable. Otherwise, we are just putting lipstick on a pig.

Clarity
Guest

There very well might not be enough lithium in the whole world to produce an electric car for every american family. And supposing there is, we’ll have to mine that much again a second time in 10-20 years when those batteries need replacing. I can’t imagine the proxy wars fought over resource-rich land will be particularly climate-friendly.

George Dorn
Guest
George Dorn

I was looking up recycling technologies and processes and accidentally discovered that 87% of lithium comes from lithium brine pools, evaporated via solar energy. Some does come from mining, and those pools are a limited resources, but I found it interesting that the cheapest method for lithium extraction is also the least energy-intensive.

Meanwhile, on the subject of recycling, there’s some progress there. Given that the price of freshly-mined lithium has more than tripled in the last decade, EV packs should be a lot closer; there are a bunch of startups in that space already, and the size of the battery makes it more likely they’ll be collected by whoever does the replacement in older cars.

As the price of mined lithium goes up and the cheaper lithium brine pools dry up, recycling batteries is likely to prove more profitable than mining.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

We have billions of years worth of lithium in our oceans. And lithium is recyclable. This is a red herring.

Hibla
Guest
Hibla

You can also say that we have billions of years worth of oil under the ocean floor too. The process is easier and more efficient too.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

How do you get lithium out of the ocean? How much does it cost per pound?

soren
Guest
soren

How do you get lithium out of the ocean?

By using applying voltage across a LLTO membrane with desalinated water as a byproduct:

https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/Can-seawater-give-us-lithium-to-meet-our-battery-needs/99/i36

How much does it cost per pound?

~$2 a lb

Watts
Guest
Watts

For an interesting and slightly related tangent, Google the Saltan Sea [Editor: Salton Sea, gotta spell it right to Google, :-)] lithium extraction project. Environmental cleanup and Li mining combined.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Although multiple groups of researchers have devised ways to harvest lithium from the ocean, none of the methods are currently practical. “It’s technically possible to extract lithium from seawater,” Cui says. “But it’s all about cost. And currently it’s too high.” All these groups are working to improve their electrochemical systems by designing electrodes that withstand thousands of Li uptake-and-release cycles and require less electric current to run. But to be adopted on a large scale, extracting lithium from seawater also needs to become economically attractive. And that depends on the metal’s market price, which has gone up and down in recent years in response to increased demand and successful geological exploration for the element, respectively.

Still, the biggest challenge in devising a practical system for extracting lithium from the ocean is the metal’s ultralow concentration in seawater. There are many sources of salt-enriched water with high lithium concentrations, including salty lakes, brine used in geothermal power plants, and brackish water generated from oil and gas production. Some researchers have started to look at those sources as a more practical starting point than ocean water. “If the lithium concentration starts out 10–100 times higher, then electrochemical systems could be economically feasible,” Cui says.

soren
Guest
soren

FWIW, they used red sea water for the above study which has a salinity in the 33-36% range. The generation of desalinated water and…gulp…H2 from these approaches is very promising given the abundance of cheap energy in many water-poor regions.

soren
Guest
soren

There very well might not be enough lithium in the whole world to produce an electric car for every american family.

With all due respect, this is pro-fossil-fuel disinformation.
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Owing to continuing exploration, identified lithium resources have increased substantially worldwide and total about 80 million tons. Lithium resources in the United States—from continental brines, geothermal brines, hectorite, oilfield brines, and pegmatites are 6.8 million tons.

…we’ll have to mine that much again a second time in 10-20 years when those batteries need replacing

Recycling:

Recycled Lithium-Ion Batteries Can Perform Better Than New Ones

LITHIUM-ION BATTERY RECYCLING FINALLY TAKES OFF IN NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE

Full disclosure I own a used 1st generation Leaf that I bought when there were thousands of formerly leased Leafs languishing on auction lots. I personally have absolutely no need for any kind of cage and almost every mile driven replaces the fossil fuel use of friends/family.

soren
Guest
soren

The average curb weight of an EV is lower than that of ICE automobiles and the weight of batteries is expected to fall sharply as battery energy density continues to increase.

comment image

There is also no reason that the curb weight of EVs cannot plummet once governments stop subsidizing monster SUVs/trucks and the use of metals for frame and component construction.

And then factoring in the loss of revenue from gas taxes

The absolute horror of less gas consumption!!! I’ve always viewed much of this anti-EV rhetoric as rooted in internalized pro-fossil fuel bias. Thanks for illustrating this so clearly.

Lithium and Cobalt that will need to be mined to meet demand is an environmental can of worms

Use of cobalt for lithium battery cathodes is being rapidly phased out. (And about @#$%ing time.)

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/17/samsung-panasonic-and-tesla-embracing-cobalt-free-batteries-.html

Secondly, mining lithium is less of a can of worms than the massive amounts of mining necessary to support manufacture and use of internal combustion engines. Moreover, the idea that we are incapable of further reducing impacts of mining by recycling is a nihilistic position. It should also be noted that anti-lithium rhetoric is being used to oppose battery storage which is essential for decarbonization of our energy grid in the medium-term. I understand why one would be opposed to “cages” but anyone repeating shallow and uninformed anti-battery rhetoric is carrying water for the fossil fuel industry.

Reducing new mining for electric vehicle battery metals: responsible sourcing through demand reduction strategies and recycling

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Do you have any specific stats to cite that EVs weigh less than equivalent ICE cars? A current Tesla Model S has a 100kWH battery, and weights roughly 2,200 kg. Which I guess is roughly equivalent to an Audi A7. (1,910 kg). That is a smaller difference than I would have thought – fair enough.

There also is no reason curb weight of vehicles won’t continue to climb, I mean a lot of that is more consumer driven than anything. Americans love huge stupid cars, not sure how to solve that unfortunately

The lack of revenue from gas taxes is not an “internalized pro-fossil fuel bias”. It is a financial reality. Realistically the government should probably be setting up charging stations and charging and equivalent tax on their use to make up that loss, but some straightforward government owned solution like that would be “communist” and then we would lose the cold war or something.

An actual internal combustion engine is primarily made from cast iron or aluminum, both of which are much more naturally abundant than Cobalt and Lithium and also are the two most recycled metals in the world already. Also, the materials used in an internal combustion engine are used for countless other things – EVs pretty much are the sole driver of both Lithium and Cobalt production worldwide right now

Lithium IS ABSOLUTELY NOT essential for the de-carbonization of the energy grid in any term. Lithium Ion batteries have a ton of issues for longer term storage (like cycle degradation, flammability, etc.), and aren’t even remotely competitive with something like pumped hydro (which already accounts for 95% of energy storage capacity today).

Yes – I am generally skeptical of lithium ion batteries as a solution to climate change. They have real drawbacks, and pointing them out does not mean I am “carrying water for the fossil fuel industry”. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels matters a lot to me – I just don’t think EVs are the best way to do it. I think active transport and public transit are much smarter investments on both the macro and micro scale for reduction of emissions.

soren
Guest
soren

I hope that at some point you will be more receptive to essential mitigation pathways described in the UN IPCC scientific consensus (SR 1.5 and AR6).

comment image

comment image

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46756

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https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2021/grid-scale-storage-us-storage-capacity-could-grow-five-fold-by-2050.html

Driven by technological advances, facilities are being built with storage systems that can hold enough renewable energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes. The advent of “big battery” technology addresses a key challenge for green energy — the intermittency of wind and solar.

https://e360.yale.edu/features/in-boost-for-renewables-grid-scale-battery-storage-is-on-the-rise

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

> “It’s also important to fight the dominance of the car. But we can’t wait 50 years to hopefully win that battle.”

This argument is wrong is because all it would take to significantly increase mode share in any US city is a mayor who is laser-focused on creating a more robust active transportation network. Everyone knows how quickly and cheaply it could be done, which means any mayor could make significant progress in their four-year term (and given how popular this stuff has shown to be for politicians in European cities, they would likely be reelected for a second term).

Therefore, the paradigm could completely shift as soon as a new mayor is elected in any given city, which means that putting up a good fight against the car could easily happen in the next few years…which is why the “50 years” thing is total bullshit.

Let's Active
Guest
Let's Active

He’s talking about reality with the 50 years. You are talking fantasy as in, you are never going to get a mayor who plows all the city’s funds into active transportation and a state agency that stops all road improvements and a county that stops all bridge and road improvements etc etc. The only thing that will stop people driving is astronomical gas prices and auto prices, and high congestion pricing toll rates. Plus probably a whole lot more. This is America, Zach.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

He’s talking about his perception of reality, which is influenced by things like cynicism (often called “being realistic” by cynical people) and the car companies that are funding his company.

Sarah Iannarone seemed poised to do exactly what you say will never happen—invest as much of the city’s funds as possible into active transpo—and she barely lost! Even if she never becomes mayor herself, there will be an increasing amount of mayoral candidates like her in the coming years, and some of them will even win.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

She lost by 5 percent, that’s not “barely”, that’s about the same margin by which Trump lost to Biden.

boyd
Guest
boyd

She didn’t lose because of her transportation policies.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Seattle voters kicked out an anti-car mayor several years ago. And his successor, the current mayor backed off proposals to pedestrianize downtown after a considerable backlash.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Why did she lose? Yes, Raiford helped split the vote, but no one actually liked Wheeler, and I interpret 99% of his votes as being “not Iannarone”.

I have no doubt that if he’d had a stronger challenger, Wheeler would have been given the boot.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

The Netherlands were just as car centric as the United States in the 1960s. Then all of a sudden, they invested a ton of money into active transportation. Voila, the Dutch are no longer nearly as car dependent is Americans are.

This whole, “We’re Americans, and we will never change” attitude is a self fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t have to be this way.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

That’s the opposite of the truth. The number of cars in the Netherlands has tripled in the last 50 years. They recently passed the milestone of having 1 car for every 2 people. Dutchmen are getting used to their freeways having 10 or 12 lanes, and they’re considering 14 lanes on the A27 near Utrecht.

The Dutch have always been avid cyclists. And back in the 60s, they travelled more miles by bike than by car. Today they travel far more by car.

Bryan Morris
Guest
Bryan Morris

***Comment deleted because it was mean and sarcastic. Please try harder and be more productive. Thank you. – Jonathan ***

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Portland has tried harder than any other American city to get people onto bikes. How’s that worked out?

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Our City leaders haven’t really tried hard at all. If they did we’d have safe options for cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians. They’ve done a lot of talk, but little to no action. Typical for politicians.
20 mph zones? Yeah, good in theory, but without enforcement useless.
Plastic wands to protect bikes? Yeah, takes only a few vehicles to run them over and they are gone.
On and on and on.

Steven
Guest
Steven

This might be cynical, but most of Forth’s funding comes from car manufacturers. The organization seems almost built to ensure that people don’t switch to bikes and e-bikes and that we continue to expand car infrastructure.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I think you are very right to be cynical. I am.

Joe Wachunas
Guest
Joe Wachunas

Hey all, I work for Forth and lead an ebikes for all working group. Less than 5 percent of our revenue comes from our members who hail from across the spectrum of electric mobility including micro mobility. Most of our revenue comes from grant funding like other nonprofits. We really do want to promote all forms of electric transportation

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

Got a breakdown of those grants?

The 2019 990 lists 5 contributions totaling $1.5M, but the sources aren’t listed.

Watts
Guest
Watts

EVs are simple for me to understand in the context of climate change: necessary but not sufficient.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Yeah they are.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’ve been an avid cyclist for decades including delivering papers by bike and commuting to school by bike (grade school through college). I commuted by bike to my first and second professional jobs almost every day for more than a decade. I did some of my grocery shopping by bike; I went to dentist appointments by bike more than 15 miles away. I was a confirmed and outspoken advocate for using a bicycle for transportation.

But, life changes. My work place was relocated from 5 miles away to 13. I rode less often. Children came into my life, which introduced a whole range of complications – school and extra curricular activities (sport, music, debate, etc.). Those things required transport and took time. Then there’s the aging parent who required help and transportation. Time became more precious. An hour commute by bike became occasional rather than frequent. Errands needed to be optimized for time.

I work from home so commuting is a short walk. I walk to the grocery store some times and to the library, bank and post office regularly. I do occasional errands by bicycle, but most of my riding is for recreation.

I used to have little sympathy for those who didn’t use a bicycle for transportation regularly. I realize now that there is a period in our lives when we are more capable (physically and in terms of time constraints) when we can do lots more active transportation. Because of my experiences, I’ve become more accepting over the years of the limitations and constraints that cause people to make choices that I used to think were illogical and lazy.

Helping to get more people into electric cars seems like an improvement – maybe not the ideal, but it’s an improvement.

Fred
Guest
Fred

That’s a nice story, but the bottom line – for you and for all of us – is that if we HAD to use a bike to get places, we all would. We would adapt to meet the constraints of our situation, as people always have.

The fact is that humans are inherently lazy and if given a choice will always take the easier option. Driving has become so darned easy that most people just prefer it, and their preference has become baked into a “need” that every pandering legislator hears loud and clear.

soren
Guest
soren

…working in local communities who know their needs best.

Fordist capitalism cannot be addressed municipally because its infrastructure is largely based outside of affluent cities. This localist “plastic straw” approach does nothing to address a rapidly worsening systemic crisis and ignores the major role that affluent urban areas played in causing the climate crisis. Coal plants in India, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia etc were and are being disproportionately funded by the obscene, wasteful, and unnecessary overconsumption of affluent urban residents.
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The negative externalities of our Fordist overconsumption are exported to low-income nations where they not only contribute to ecocide but are linked to millions of unnecessary deaths (NOx and SOx from industrial sources).
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A venn diagram showing the GHG emissions profile of C40 cities (Portland is a signing member):comment image

Consumption emissions from goods, food, and services are huge — and politically explosive.

The majority of Portland’s GHG emissions are consumption-based emissions but this climate-science denying city has refused to even inventory these emissions since 2011. The unwillingness of city staff and associated non-profit staff to even address this issue infuriates me. If consumption emissions are not a central part of your orgs climate advocacy, I want nothing to do with it.

PS: The OR DEQ infrequently reports consumption-based emissions and they are, of course, rocketing upwards:
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Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

As an avid cyclist and EV owner, I will give my two cents on what I feel is the real issue not being talked about with EVs. They are really only an option for the privileged. Thats right the real issue is simply what it is with about everything, classism.

If you are poor you will likely not think an EV is even an option to you. The main issue is simply the ability to charge your own EV while at home at night. Most who live in an apartment are not going to be ok with only using fast chargers or remote charge station. This represents the true issue with the stagnate growth of EV.

You will likely not invent into a solution that does offer you infrastructure for your current living situation. In other words until all these “landlords” install charges for every person in these buildings and or there are chargers on the streets for all to use these debates make little sense in the big picture.

Another aspect not really talked about is that now as a EV owner I guess I don’t pay the “gas tax”. I think I get to pay something like $400 for my tag renewal this year. As if I have not been victim of this issue already as a cyclist. But now I must pay that much more than any gas car or truck owner to compensate for the lack of gas I buy. Just think about that logic for a second.

I hate everything about this debate. Bikes vs EVs, WTF really?

Have we really lost focus this badly? My children needed EV’s on the road yesterday. We need safer streets the year before that. And before that we needed to hold these oil companies accountable, along with our leaders to keep putting money into local roads for us not highways for large logistic corporations. The EV shaming from any cyclist is so hypocritical its aggravating to see it here. Listening to a cyclist complain about EVs makes about as much sense as voting for trump and about as just as arrogant. Do what you can and stop telling other people they are not doing enough. The people trying to do what they can are not the problem here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Josh,

From my view, I don’t think this is about “EV shaming.” I think the important discussion is about how much political capital/urgency/focus we give each of these things. If the entire “EV” conversation is dominated solely by e-cars, I think that’s a big problem so I am motivated to shine some light on this issue. I think we need a better balance that incorporates not just e-bikes into the EV conversation, but the full spectrum of EVs including one-wheels, scooters, and so on.

Boyd
Guest
Boyd

EV shaming? I think the argument is that EVs aren’t really a solution (and bicycles aren’t, either, in isolation). EVs are clearly better than internal combustion engine vehicles. But even if we could wave a magic wand to convert the entire American vehicle fleet to EVs overnight without reducing VMT and keeping all other things equal, we would not reduce our carbon emissions enough to ensure that your children will avoid the worst effects of climate change.

So yeah, good on you for choosing to drive an EV instead of a lifted, coal rolling truck. You are one of the good ones. But unbridled car culture, whether it is EV culture, diesel culture, hybrid culture, or whatever, is a problem. Americans drive too much, and we continue to build our communities in ways that will only make us more reliant on driving even more.

And you’re complaining about paying a $400 registration fee? Really? Come on. The average internal combustion engine owner is paying way, way, way more than that in gas taxes annually. How much money did the state and federal rebates knock off the price of you EV purchase? It’s around $10,000, isn’t it? Please don’t complain about a $400 annual registration fee until you’ve owned the car for 25 years and paid back the rebate on your purchase price.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

> Americans drive too much, and we continue to build our communities in ways that will only make us more reliant on driving even more.

We like driving

soren
Guest
soren

EVs aren’t really a solution

EVs are umambiguously essential to transportation decarbonization. People who downplay or dispute this are carrying water for the fossil fuel industry.

and bicycles aren’t, either, in isolation

A large increase in cycling mode share is not essential for decarbonization and is extremely unlikely in this dysfunctional empire in decline.

boyd
Guest
boyd

EVs are part of a much broader solution that includes reductions in overall consumption and a conversion to renewable energy sources that are more difficult to achieve. The EV conversion is the lowest hanging fruit, but it is not an end in and of itself.

soren
Guest
soren

EVs are umambiguously essential to transportation decarbonization.

boyd
Guest
boyd

Right. And conversion of power generation to renewable sources is unambiguously essential to transportation decarbonization (as is reducing vmt). People who downplay this are just carrying water for the fossil fuel industry. It cuts both ways.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Who here has downplayed decarbonizing energy sources? Of course that’s critical. I think that understanding is nearly universal, especially amongst folks here.

That said, electrifying the fleet before the energy system is fully decarbonized makes perfect sense. You get some gains right away, and then instant upgrades as the energy system improves.

Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

And you’re complaining about paying a $400 registration fee?

Yes I am, I already drive way less than any other gas car, and why not, All these massive truck and logistic companies put far more ware on these roads and they even get subsidies for their corporate profiting from our public domain. So maybe before you hold people who are like cyclist or EV users accountable for the costs, try asking the corps who profit from our roads and use our roads far more than us causing most of the expense of these highways to pay their fair share first.

IE if we can add a sales tax to a bicycle to offset their lack of “gas tax” then we can ask these super wealthy logistic corps that make their profits from our roads to pay more too.

Josh Chernoff
Guest
Josh Chernoff

Honestly re reading what you said, its hard to not be offended by your comment when ODOT blew how ever many Millions and I think a decade on a 10 miles by pass of a costal highway, and yet I should have to pay more for my tag than the next person because I’m not doing my part. FML!

jyl
Guest
jyl

E-bikes are becoming the new “magic bullet” but I think their impact will be more limited than many hope. E’ing a bike doesn’t address most of the reasons why people drive.

The last time you drove instead of riding, was it really because you didn’t want to pedal? Or was it because it was pouring rain, cold and dark, you had stuff to carry that can’t be stuffed into a pannier, kids to pick up/drop off, had a bad feeling about the drunk-drugged-unlicensed-stolen-car-driving nutcases out there, or are simply tired of coming out of the store or movie and finding your bike gone?

Chat with your neighbor, ask why they don’t ride a bike instead of driving. They are more likely to point to one of the reasons I just listed, than to say it’s because they get tired pushing pedals.

E-bikes are one piece of a solution, but a small piece.

Granted, they are way more helpful than Iannarone’s recommendation to ban cars from Portland’s major roads.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Also, e-bikes can’t go on freeways.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

They can in some places, such as South Dakota, for example.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Also, If I hit a tree at 30 mph, I’d much rather be in a car than on a bike.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

It seems a lot of people are showing their true colors here. It’s not about protecting the environment. It’s about restricting mobility.

boyd
Guest
boyd

False. EVs are only slightly less bad from a climate prospective. You don’t care though. This is just concern trolling.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

An electric car powered by renewable energy has no climate impact.

boyd
Guest
boyd

The climate impact of building driving surfaces out of asphalt and concrete is massive. And you just love to ramble on about how great it is to build more and more roads, ever expanding the footprint of our communities. Give me a break.

And the climate impact of converting open space and vegetated areas into hardscape… And the climate impact of the materials the vehicle is made out of… And the climate impact of the vehicles that are used to extract and transport those materials… And the energy mix in the United States is still overwhelmingly fossil fuel based and we are decades away from tipping anywhere close to majority renewable, with one political party actively trying to prevent progress in that direction.

Come on. Your emissions accounting is myopic and it smacks of willful ignorance or disingenuous intent. Either way, I find it frustrating and irritating that the operators of this blog continue to allow you to spout disinformation.

soren
Guest
soren

False. EVs are only slightly less bad from a climate prospective.

This is pro-fossil-fuel disinformation:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change

The UN IPCC climate consensus focuses on electrification of vehicles as a primary mitigation pathway for transportation decarbonization. People who claim that EV buses, EV micro-transit, and, yes, even EV low-occupancy automobiles don’t have an essential role in transportation decarbonization are literally denying the climate science consensus.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Back in Summer, my parents went to DC to visit them. One day, they decided to see Mount Vernon. By car, that would be a 35 minute trek down the Beltway. By public transit, biking, and walking, which they did, it took 2 hours.

Now you explain to me how they could make that journey without a car in half an hour.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

You couldn’t.
Here’s irony, I’m a heavy MAX user commuting to work downtown. It takes me 1 hour, by MAX, to get home. On the days I drove, it took me 30 minutes, even at rush hour on I-84.
For me, I read on the train, so not a huge loss of my time. But I could see others with families and other obligations seeing that they can’t lose that 30 minutes of their life to the piss poor transit option we have in Portland.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

And no matter how much money is thrown at transit, it will be inferior for any trips that don’t end in Downtown

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

TriMet quit being a transit agency when it’s focus became “transit oriented development.”
Maybe TriMet should become a transit only agency again and get back to basics?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

And if you lived in a “transit oriented development”, your commute downtown on MAX wouldn’t be an hour. Do you not see the connection?

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

The nearest TriMet “transit oriented development” to me puts me even further out away from downtown, and thus my Max ride would increase even more.

Like I said TriMet needs to get out of the real estate business and become just a transit agency. If it would focus on just one thing maybe, just maybe they might get better at it.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Downtown to the very end of the blue line in either direction is less than an hour. TOD by definition would be adjacent to a MAX station, so it couldn’t be over an hour from Pioneer Square.

You might be surprised to learn that 0.3% of Trimet’s budget goes to TOD, in the form of sub-group within their legal team.

https://trimet.org/tod/
https://trimet.org/budget/pdf/2021-adopted-budget.pdf

We are not developers, but we work with public, private and community partners to facilitate new developments. These projects maximize density on third-party owned properties or properties that are no longer needed for TriMet construction or operations. TOD reduces the dependency on owning a vehicle and increase access to transit. When combined with mixed-income development, TOD can increase the supply of affordable housing units, promote density and relieve gentrification pressures.

Metro and the cities within it are often involved in the planning of new transit lines, ensuring that land within the walkshed of new stations can be developed in a way that supports increased ridership.

You will be hard pressed to find a city with a successful transit system that doesn’t do anything to develop dense housing next to high-capacity transit, especially for new lines.

BB
Guest
BB

I wonder how pleased the automotive industry would be to see us arguing about cars citing how poor public transit is in this country. It’s not like they had a primary role in literally destroying it or anything…

At least I can still dream about holding them accountable.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

General Morors was the world’s largest manufacturer of buses and locomotives for most of the 20th century. Why would they have wanted to kill transit?

BB
Guest
BB

Based on your existing comments, you seem pretty firm in your viewpoint. Given that all of this history can’t possibly be covered in the comments section of a forum, I’d encourage you to do some learning on your own.

Watts
Guest
kernals12
Guest
kernals12

GM replaced streetcars with buses. How is that destroying public transit?

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Not all on the automotive industry.
We did it to ourselves too by electing leaders that made poor choices on what public transportation should look like. We’ll continue doing it to ourselves by continuing to elect folks that won’t make changes that need to be made.
Making large transportation projects about injecting money into construction compananies, no matter what, in the excuse to create jobs is not a good way to plan transportation for a whole city. Not just for a privelaged few.
There are so many good ideas from all over the world, but our American egos refuse to learn from them. We always have to do it all from scratch. And typically it involves making the rich richer from our tax money, not serving communities with useful transportation options.

Watts
Guest
Watts

And typically it involves making the rich richer from our tax money

And in which enlightened part of the world is this not a major feature of almost any significant public works project?

Jeff Allen
Guest

Taylor, I enjoyed our conversation and appreciate your work to elevate this important conversation. I encourage folks who really want to learn more and engage constructively to check out our website (https://forthmobility.org/) and engage with the Clean and Just Transportation Network (https://www.cjtnetwork.org/) we cofounded, which was created just for this purpose.

Meanwhile, though, I wanted to share some consolidated responses to the comments on a few key points.

Red herrings. Lots of questions about ‘real’ climate benefits of EVs here, but the most credible and clear analysis by Union of Concerned Scientists is easy to find and regularly updated as the grid gets cleaner each year: https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/plug-in-or-gas-up-why-driving-on-electricity-is-better-than-gasoline/ Yes, making electric cars takes raw materials, lithium, etc. and that has impacts – so does making and disposing of million of e-bikes in China. Both have some bad labor conditions. We all have lots of work to do. There is no single, simple, solution to our transportation needs.

Either/or thinking. Many folks here seem to have missed the key point: WE NEED IT ALL. I’ve been to Amsterdam multiple times to talk with them about e-bikes and e-cars. Their bike mode split, in the city proper, is about 35% vs 25% private car. That’s amazing! No US city is close! And guess what – not remotely good enough, by itself, to address climate. And the rest of the country is much lower. That’s why the Netherlands has been a leader in Europe in pushing for EVs, and has invested a lot more (proportionately) than the US in charging and electric vehicle incentives. We need the folks here on bikeportland to push for more bike lanes, incentives, etc. We need our friends at Oregon Environmental Council (which I led for 10 years btw) to push for congestion pricing and better transit statewide. We need 1000 Friends of Oregon to push for land use reform. AND, we need to electrify everything that moves.

Equity. A couple folks raise really good points about electric cars not being seen as solutions for low-income communities of color. This is absolutely a concern and a core focus for Forth. Our website has a lot of information on our work in this area, including a major national electric carshare program we just launched building on work we started in Cully several years ago. By the way – these folks also don’t see electric bikes, or regular bikes, or scooters, as good solutions either – we’re also working on that. However, the presumption that historically underserved populations are all riding transit is elitist, offensive, and untrue – about 90% of all Americans rely on cars for about 90% of trips. Communities of color that have been redlined and gentrified out of transit-friendly areas often rely on old, polluting, crappy cars because they have no viable transit or bike facilities. While bike and transit advocates push for those things, we ALSO need to help reduce barriers to these populations to swap out those crappy cars for clean affordable electric ones.

Personal attacks. The attacks on me and on Forth are also predictable, and lazy. A quick look at our website would show we are actually incubating the nonprofit operating Eugene’s PeaceHealth Rides, have done a lot of work on e-bikes and other modes, and just announced a major national carsharing program. Also: we’re a nonprofit, our financials are publicly available on our website every year, and we get less than 5% of our budget from car companies or their foundations. Frankly, I’m most disappointed in you Jonathan. We’ve talked on various bike rides and in interviews many times. If you were cynical enough to think “most of our money” was coming from car companies, you could have just asked, not slipped it in the comments section here as innuendo.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I hear you Jeff. I shouldn’t have slipped that in here. But to be clear, I see these comment sections as a public agora and sounding post, so I don’t feel like they are sneaky in the same way you might. And I remain concerned about the issues I’ve raised and hope to continue talking about it in the future. I appreciate your engagement here and with Taylor. Be in touch.

soren
Guest
soren

However, the presumption that historically underserved populations are all riding transit is elitist, offensive, and untrue – about 90% of all Americans rely on cars for about 90% of trips. Communities of color that have been redlined and gentrified out of transit-friendly areas often rely on old, polluting, crappy cars because they have no viable transit or bike facilities.

Even worse is the dog whistle that poor people who are forced into car-dependency by our housing crisis should just get around like those who “are not living like the average North American or Western European”. Apparently, poor people should just give up any hope of living like the urbanist elite who can flit around on e-bikes* in their oh-so-exclusionary 5 minute neighborhoods.

*In reality the majority of the urban elite use SUVs/trucks

boyd
Guest
boyd

What’s that dog whistle comment supposed to mean? I was pointing out that most people in the world don’t regularly drive or own cars (which is true) to refute the absolutely ridiculous assertion that humans are ‘designed’ to be dependent on cars for transportation.

Nowhere in the comment from which you took that phrase, out of context, I might add, did I say that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to drive if they need to, nor did I advocate to keep poor people from living in urban areas. We should be redesigning our communities to make them more accessible by modes other than cars, and we should be building more affordable housing faster in places that have ready access to nearby services (I.e. five minute or fifteen minutes neighborhoods).

Car dependency is a symptom of a larger problem of sprawling land use and the glacial pace of housing development.

soren
Guest
soren

Nowhere … did I say that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to drive if they need to

Boyd, I did take you out of context and I apologize.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Excellent reporting! I think the fact that no one knows the future, and both sides seem to be genuinely interested in making climate progress, means that landing too strongly on one side or the other of this debate would be unwarranted, and the coverage reflects that ambiguity, while not shying away from pointing out weaknesses in either argument.

That said…
1. Climate Change:
Replacing gas cars with electric cars has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions dramatically in this country, and very quickly. The “cool” factor is a major driver of purchasing habits, and the fact that EV’s are somehow now edgy and cool means that lots of individual Americans who don’t really care about the environment could end up significantly reducing their personal CO2 pollution.

We could end up building and innovating our way out of climate risk, which is great, because the plan of taxing or de-growing our way out of climate risk has been failing for decades. Maybe de-growth would be more “optimal”, but if it never happens (because it is politically unpopular), it’s worth nothing.

2. Urban Quality of Life:
Electric cars can still kill people on the roads, and still use up more urban resources (traffic lanes, parking, concrete, etc) than alternative transportation choices. We must continue to lobby cities to build safer, healthier, less wasteful options.

Optimizing for Climate Change is not unrelated to optimizing for Urban Quality of Life, but it doesn’t mean they are the same.

Mike Owens
Guest
Mike Owens

This entire debate is wrong and dumb.

There is only one over-arching goal to changing transportation. (there are other co-benefits, but none supersede)

We must cut our emissions.

We must also cut VMT.

Let’s think about what would be possible and when. Policy experts who focused on the Pacific NW have done this study, and it ISN’T EVEN REFERENCED HERE. That says a lot.

Climate Solutions conducted the study, but it also parallels a number of others which are referenced in this explanation. https://www.climatesolutions.org/article/2021-12/transforming-our-transportation-pathways-cut-pollution

If you want an honest discussion, it clearly isn’t going to happen here without recognizing the fundamental goal of changing transportation, nor without reference to expertise…only 2 outspoken opinions…

Yet:
TST does NOT push only car alternatives and realize that many REQUIRE a car.
FORTH is not an industry lobby.

Portland proper, the 10mi diameter central core, has it’s work cut out to meet the goals in the climate solutions approach of 50% reductions, modeled after realistic consideration of what other metros have achieved over what time. But those reductions must occur for the entire METRO. No amount of hopium will convert all of the PDX metro to the utopia we might build in our central core. What’s the stat, 75% of the metro does not live in that 10 mi radius? We need larger solutions even when just focusing on the metro area. These exist. They are awesome. It’s layers upon layers of 15 min cities. Metro knows this, and has planned “town centers” to try such an approach. These will need to be connected…by electric vehicles, principally cars/trucks/buses. https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2021/02/08/defining-15-minute-city

Electric vehicles also are not what you are debating in your heads today. Ebikes get bigger, add a third or fourth wheel so they can function for cargo/kids. Prices cross $5-6000. Electric scooters and motorcycles are becoming more like expensive eBikes. Some have pedals. Electric buses are incoming with autonomy, and occupancies like little buses. Electric cars that are “mini” are almost the top selling versions, and take up about the space of a cargo bike. These all require infrastructure that defines use. The debate about which is better is RIDICULOUS and to see it promoted here again and again debases the value of the bike lobby. Just as the EV lobby advocating against bike/walk/transit devalues it as well.

Before you all get too wrapped up in debating the above, there are a few key points to consider.
1. private/personal mobility is a minority of all VMT. Most is freight, fleet and workers. Theses people do not have the same options that are espoused in bike/walk/transit. There are interesting ideas, but the solutions need to be fundamentally different.
2. The emissions required to convert cars and trucks to EV need to be weighed against the emissions to rebuild the large spread out cities of the US. If we suggest that all in the metro move downtown to some new dense utopia, with new bike lanes, transit lanes, tearing things down redoing them…we must calculate those emissions too. Instead, consider that retrofitting built infrastructure has material advantages in larger metro areas.
3. The goals of reducing VMT do not only hinge on changing the type of vehicle, and the infrastructure required to do so. Nowhere in this discussion are significant social and policy driven changes such as cutting travel for work, kids and entertainment. Remote work has pros/cons but should be institutionalized in policy. Parents schlep kids all over every day for activities that provide little added benefit over play in the neighborhood. Travel is currently inappropriately subsidized (tax revenues for oil subsidies, highways) and could be redistributed to electric transit especially in the PNW.

This is much, much larger and important issue than “EVs won’t save us”, no matter how couched. Stop this framing and work on the solutions others have put forth.

soren
Guest
soren

We must cut our emissions.

We must also cut VMT.

I very strongly support cuts in VMT but your own link (climate solutions’ white paper) suggests that we don’t have to cut VMT to achieve decarbonization consistent with <2 C:

"Scenario 2: Near-100% electrification
This scenario combines the deep electrification of scenario 1 with no changes to per capita VMT. It achieves our emissions reduction goal, with carbon pollution dropping to 96% below 2020 levels by 2050. This averts 435 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which translates to saving $38 billion in the social cost of carbon compared to business as usual.”

The benefits of a reduction in VMT are more about social justice, equity, and a reduction in traffic violence than necessary decarbonization. None of this should be a surprise to anyone who has payed attention to climate modeling.

Just as the EV lobby advocating against bike/walk/transit devalues it as well.

False equivalence. This never happens but the converse happens constantly.

MO
Guest
MO

Thank you for confirming the near universal need for electric vehicles to address our climate emergency.

soren
Guest
soren

The fact that so-called “climate champions” are throwing major shade on electrification at this point of time is the very darkest of tragicomedies.

Anyone who believes that it’s impossible to process lithium in a manner compatible with climate justice while also dramatically decreasing “cage” VMT* is a nihilistic doomer, according to my opinion.

*also critical for climate justice

J J
Guest
J J

Why is it when “Man” creates a problem his only solution is to “Solve” it by creating a new problem?

When I read all the comments they say the only solution is to create a new problem, that just pushes the issue down the road!

Climate Change is caused by progress, not Fossil Fuel emissions. EVs, eBikes, and Mass Transit, don’t Solve the problem. Solar doesn’t solve the problem. Geothermal doesn’t solve the problem. If the solution was that easy it would have been solved by now!

Don’t think that I am picking on everyone, because I don’t have a solution either. Talking about it is just the start, now we need to think out of the box. The real solution is out there, it is still waiting to be accepted.

People that write stories like this really have nothing new to offer. Their goal is admirable, their resolution is nonsense as they fail to look at the BIG picture. However they do get the masses worked up and rev up the conversation so that is good!

I wish humanity the best and hope they come to their senses!