As electric cars become more and more popular, you may have the experience of walking along a Portland sidewalk and stumbling upon (maybe literally) a cord running from someone’s Tesla or Chevy Bolt to an outlet on their porch.
This situation might strike some walkers as irritating: isn’t there enough to worry about tripping over on Portland’s sidewalks, what with the pavement cracks and those little toy ponies some people tie to the metal rings outside their homes? (Hey, I’m just kidding. I love those horses.) And let’s not forget that for many people, bicycling on the sidewalk is the safest option.
Irritating as it may be, city policy does allow electric vehicle (EV) charging cords in the sidewalk right-of-way in certain circumstances. In 2021, Portland City Council approved an amendment to the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Encroachment Manual to allow people who meet some requirements to charge their cars curbside, as long as the cords have an ADA compliant cord cover and “do not become nuisances.”
We’ve seen these cords popping up more often lately so let’s learn a bit more about the rules that govern them…
Prior to this amendment, the Encroachment Manual only allowed for landscaping and planter boxes to enter into the right-of-way, and people were required to seek a permit from the city in order to utilize this area. Curbside charging with a cord cover is now allowed by right (no permit is required) if residents meet all the following requirements:
- The residence must be located in a Single-Dwelling Residential Zone. Information and maps on zoning designations can be found at Portland Zoning.
- The residence must be located on a street classified a a Local Service Traffic Street. Information and maps on street classifications and the Portland Transportation System Plan can be found at PBOT TSP Classifications.
- The sidewalk area adjacent to the residence must have a running grade of ten percent (10%) or less. Information about Portland topography may be referenced to determine compliance with running grade requirement and is available online at ArcGIS.
- The residence must not have any off-street parking, such as a driveway or garage.
People who don’t have garages or other off-street parking facilities on their property would have a difficult time charging their electric cars if this policy weren’t in place. Still, the obstruction may be unpleasant for sidewalk users — especially people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to get around.
Earlier this month, Portland City Council directed PBOT to create rules to allow installation of electric car chargers in the public right-of-way to make it easier for people to use electric vehicles if they don’t have charging capacity at home. This is particularly meant to assist people who live in multi-unit dwellings by creating a reliable affordable public charging network. According to the rules of this ordinance, the EV charging stations in the right of way must not “present impediments to safe and efficient pedestrian passage, nor hinder ADA access.” The ordinance requires a minimum of a three-foot pedestrian through zone to be maintained, but a six-foot through zone is preferred.
“The installation of EV chargers shall minimize impacts and not conflict with other right-of-way users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders, and others,” the ordinance states.
This is different from the encroachment rules, which enable EV cords to run across the pedestrian through zone without providing a passage.
In my opinion, it’s good to allow more people to charge their electric vehicles — if city and state policies are going full speed ahead with the EV embrace, at least they shouldn’t be restricted to people who have garages to charge them in.
On the other hand, Portland dedicates so much space to car storage, and this rule just allows them to cut in even more. I am excited about local programs hoping to take back curb zone space from cars and plant trees there instead, and if the city would do more of this — a la Amsterdam, where thousands of street car parking spaces have been overhauled and replaced with bike parking and playgrounds — EV cords in the pedestrian right-of-ways wouldn’t be such a big deal.
What do you think of this policy? Have you ever been bothered by an EV cord on the sidewalk? Let us know.