Greater City Providence

News & Notes

Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

The Boston Globe: Worcester’s downtown vision

The city needs sizable apartment and condominium complexes to deliver the number of bodies that will anchor the rest of the neighborhood. Sizeable residential buildings are also very difficult to build in Worcester, because they cost more to build than they’d generate in rent. Cheaper wood-frame apartments could have gone up a year or two ago, but these low-slung buildings wouldn’t generate anywhere close to the kind of residential density the CitySquare vision hinges on. It’s a sign that the city gets it, that it’s avoiding shortcuts and holding out for the kind of density it needs to create a downtown that isn’t just full of buildings, but actually feels alive.

Planetizen: Virginia Gas Tax Could be Model for Federal Transportation Tax

The per-gallon tax of 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel hasn’t been increased since 1993, so the trust fund’s buying power has steadily eroded with rising prices. Taxing a percentage of wholesale motor fuels costs would boost revenue as prices rise without forcing lawmakers to revisit the question with politically painful votes to raise taxes.

In fact, Virginia did away with its statewide 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax at the gas pump entirely, in favor of a new wholesale tax of 3.5 percent on gasoline and 6 percent on diesel, along with an increase in the state’s general sales tax. In the heavily populated Washington suburbs and Tidewater area, motorists pay an extra 2.1 percent sales tax on gas purchases. Drivers of electric [and hybrid] vehicles pay a $64 annual fee.

DC Streetsblog: Distracted Driving Is Claiming the Lives of More Pedestrians and Cyclists

Total traffic deaths have declined nationwide in recent years, but the same has not held true for the most vulnerable people on the streets: cyclists and pedestrians. In 2011, 130 more pedestrians were killed in traffic than the year before, a 3 percent increase, while 54 more people lost their lives while biking, an increase of 8 percent. The same year, overall traffic deaths declined 2 percent.

As for the reasons why, good data has been scarce, but that hasn’t stopped major media from blaming victims for “drunk walking” or “distracted walking.” Now a new study published in Public Health Reports, the journal of the U.S. Public Health Service and the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, reveals that distracted driving — particularly driving while texting — partially explains the rising death toll.

The Kansas City Star: Streetcar prompts plan for Crossroads apartments

In what may be the first new downtown project directly attributed to the planned streetcar line, a Colorado developer is proposing to replace a parking lot with a five-story apartment building in the Crossroads Arts District.

“The streetcar is the big thing that drew us, absolutely,” [developer Scott Richardson] said. “We like the demographics and the economic trends. I walked the area and liked the site.”

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Regarding the environmental impact of cars:

    We could being to a lot more to encourage people to not even own cars at all.

  • IEEE’s Spectrum magazine ran an article on electric vehicles fairly recently, and I’d like to direct everyone to go and read it if I may.

    It’s a well-researched piece that makes a pretty solid case for electric vehicles not being “green” at all – as Jef pointed out, electric automobile dependence is still automobile dependence and a shift to alternative fuel sources does nothing to address the biggest environmental impacts of an automobile-dependent society. Furthermore, there’s sizable evidence to suggest that actually transitioning to an alternative fuel source doesn’t have nearly as large of an impact on your carbon footprint than you might think.

  • I agree pretty wholeheartedly with you on this one. And would add that I’m pretty nauseated by the attention “driverless” cars are getting too.

  • Speaking to the issue of distracted drivers, could I say that there needs to be way more press around using map functions on phones while driving and not just texting while driving? I rarely get in a car, not being someone who has a license, but on the occasions I’ve done so, almost all of the trips have involved me nervously wrenching a phone from the hand of the driver, who was trying to navigate google maps while cruising down the street. It seems like people don’t recognize this as being as deeply unsafe (and selfish) as texting.

    It’s like, seriously, pull over, look at your map, establish where you are, and get back on the road.

  • Those who criticize electric cars as an imperfect solution to gasoline cars are letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

    The reality as concluded by a myriad of other studies (not just the single biased and flawed one linked by Ryan) is that in most cases electric cars life cycle emissions are significantly less than gasoline cars (and will continue to get cleaner as the grid does). In most states where electrics are adopted, emissions are equivalent to a 60-70+ mpg gasoline car (a gasoline car that does not exist). In a state using 100% natural gas (such as RI), this is in excess of 50 mpg, better than the best hybrid vehicles. In a state that uses 100% coal, 30 mpg equivalent, which is still better than the new gas vehicle average of 24 mpg. And contrary to propaganda to the contrary, the lithium batteries in today’s electric cars are 100% non-toxic, and both re-usable in a second application and very recyclable.

    The “good/better but not perfect” environmental aspect of electric cars also does not consider all the other personal and societal benefits they inherently have over gasoline cars: 100% domestic energy usage, which supports local economies and jobs, and contributes to our overall energy security. And as a personal benefit, the average electric car’s 5 year cost of ownership is already thousands of dollars less than equivalent gasoline cars, and will continue to increase personal savings as technology costs drop and oil based fuel price rise.

  • It’s one thing to encourage people who have the choice to get out of cars. It’s another to say to people who live in states like Vermont (on that list) to ditch the car. So states like Vermont moving to a cleaner fuel is not a bad thing.

    Also, Copenhagen has a population density of 19000/sq mi, Providence is 9900. Huge difference.

    I’m not saying trying to get people out of their cars is a bad thing, but we gotta consider locations. Not everyone has that luxury, just like not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford a car.

    On the subject of distracted driving, we need to adopt the full “no handheld use of phone” policy of other states… and enforce it. Though, somewhat related to that, the police have been setting up near the stop sign on Whitford Ave at Sharon St and pulling over people who don’t stop. Granted, it’s probably because the neighborhood is on the more affluent side, but it’s something.

  • Jef Nickerson: My response about electric cars was primarily related to comments by Ryan, not your original post. But since you brought it up, you criticism of electric car initiatives incentives is logically flawed, because it falsely implies that those things, as you stated, “encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic”, when in fact all they would do is encourage a gasoline car driver to switch to be an electric car driver; there would not be somehow more cars as a result, there would be the same number of cars it’s just that fewer would be gas cars, fewer spewing local emissions that pedestrians and cyclists would have to breathe. Also, the locations of various charging points would in fact encourage greener transportation choices, such at the 10 at the train station at Wickford Junction in North Kingston. And several Chargepoints recently installed in RI are at cycling paths, meaning people can choose to do a combination of driving and cycling with their electric car for a commuting or recreational purpose. Of course alternatives to driving should be encouraged where feasible, but I don’t think you’ve really though this one through with regards to electric car incentives – and how they are actually not only provide an alternative to gasoline driving, they can actually reduce overall driving. Anecdotal aside, I drive less and plan more strategically since switching to an electric car, not because I have to (my Volt will switch over to gas if needed) but because I want to (not burn gas),

  • I think any disagreement is about priority. It seems if its climate and carbon reduction you are after, the EV is on the whole a really good thing, and will get better as the grid does.

    But if you are after better land use, quality of urban life, improving transit and bicycling, EVs are of little help if any. Indeed, as I understand it, there is a $7500 Federal tax credit for purchasing an EV. If so, it sops up a lot of $$ that could go for other things, and at least for now, tends to benefit the very affluent. If the idea is to promote low carbon life-styles, why not have a tax credit for the cost of buyng a bicycle?

    Even the Sierra Club’s national trnsport e-list has been somewhat divided on this issue!

    RI’s legislature is also considering direct subidies to EVs, see bill S2197, S2274.

  • Barry: Correct, there is a $7500 federal tax credit for purchasing (or even leasing) an electric car. This is not a handout, it is a reduction of the purchaser’s annual tax rate, and is non-refundable, which means in order to benefit from the credit fully, one must owe/pay at least $7500 in federal taxes the year of purchase, so that they can get essentially their own money back as a tax refund. Can’t get back any $ if you don’t pay it.

    This equates to a needing taxable income of greater than just $37,000 for a single person, and $49,000 married; hardly what I would call only a “benefit the very affluent” as you claim, in fact it allows decidedly middle class people such as myself to be able to afford their first electric car just as easily as a typical new gasoline car (example, a base Nissan Leaf for $21,480/$199 a month lease, or base Chevy Volt for $26,685/$259).

    And then the new owner starts saving on gasoline and maintenance, while reducing their local transportation emissions and perhaps net eliminating them altogether (I bought 100% renewable power, so my Volt essentially runs 100% clean when charged at home and in the battery mode)

    None of this takes away from or “sops up alot of $$$” that could be used for encourage other low carbon lifestyle choices; if folks want such tax credits for bicycles, they should lobby for them on the federal or state level. In fact, there is already a federal bicycle commuter tax provision, where by employers can reimburse/pay employees up to $20 a month ($240 a year) tax free to bike to work, to cover supplies, repairs, even purchase or replacement. see

  • Barry: PS thank you for sharing the info about the two electric car related bill before the RI legislature! As CEO of Drive Electric Rhode Island, I should know about this! 🙂 I hope they both pass. I believe the first (S2197) means electric car owners will be exempt from motor vehicle taxes. The second (S2274) means that an electric car manufacturer or parts maker could get an up to 6% tax credit (tax rate reduction) if it employees people in RI.

    These are both excellent, but in my opinion, a more important and missing piece of legislation is one that creates incentives for car DEALERS in Rhode Island to stock and actually TRY to sell electric cars…right now they do a dismal job of this. There are ample, eager buyers, but the dealer suck because they don’t understand the product and aren’t motivated to sell it. Often just one car, or none in stock, and uneducated sales staff who essentially say “you don’t want this car, it’s got such-and-such problem, you want another gasoline car…”

    Good legislation could offer a modest sales incentive to be split by the actual salesperson and the dealer management (say $300 per sale/lease, split $150 each?) and as a secondary incentive, and annual payout to the top selling dealers in the state, a kind of “chicken farmer” model to encourage healthy competition and PR. This could be a very low cost and effective program that would result in real consumer choice and education.

  • Quite frankly, Mark, I don’t think you have a leg to stand on accusing IEEE, Jef, myself or anyone else of holding undue “biases” against electric vehicles when it’s you who directly benefits from their sales at the expense of the urban form and at the expense of reasonable efforts to curb automobile dependency.

    I’ll give you points for being upfront and honest about your status as the head of a lobbying group, but it’s still exceptionally bad form to be heading up a “coalition” and accusing your detractors of being, at worst, exactly as biased as you.

    Barry nailed it when he pointed out that our disagreement is a matter of priorities. The fact of the matter is we don’t have infinite money to spend and spending it on ways to reduce vehicle ownership has far more substantial positive impacts than making the average 5% of a vehicle’s lifetime where it isn’t occupying “dead” space in the form of a parking spot better for the environment.

    I’m not opposed to electric vehicles, as much as I’m sure it’d be easier for you to rail against me if I was – which is probably why you bypassed the entire point of my comment (that point, by the way, is that electric vehicles are no more the silver bullet for solving our problems than driverless cars or anything else and suggesting otherwise is disingenuous) in your rush to accuse me of seeking perfection and letting an anti-automobile bias (that I don’t actually hold) cloud my judgment.

    One-way vehicle rentals do more for the environment and the urban form than electric vehicles ever could. So does ride-sharing. I’m willing to bet though, that no matter what you say in your reply to me, you’re actually opposed to electric vehicle rentals because it benefits you far more to have people signing on for buying them and being stuck with a weighty investment that might be “greener” for their surroundings but drains an awful lot of green from their bank accounts, as all vehicle ownership does.

    I want to curb automobile dependency. I want people to have a choice. I want to live in a city and a nation where everyone has the freedom to get around without ever having to own a vehicle of any kind. Transit can get us 80%~90% of the way there; ride-sharing/vehicle rentals, advanced pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and better land use policy gets us the rest of the way to 100%.

    Electric vehicles are a part of the solution, but they aren’t The Solution. Suggesting that they are is disingenuous.

  • Ryan: You really need to get a grip on reality, re-read what I wrote in response to your first comment, and re-read what you just wrote. First of all, I never claimed nor even implied that electric vehicles were “The Solution” to our environmental or any other societal problems, I was simply refuting dubious claims and conclusions made about them. What you have done is create a Straw Argument for yourself to tear down easily (are you familiar with that term?) So we are actually complete agreement that they are simply a *part* of the solution – let’s be crystal clear that is a belief that we actually share.

    So you call me some sort of “lobbyist” because I head an organization (a non-profit 501 (C) (3), getting registered as such in the next few weeks) whose mission is to educate the public about the benefits of electric cars so they can make a reasoned choice? What a load of nonsense. I am no more a lobbyist than you are, and trying to paint me as some sort of for-profit hired gun such is a really lame attempt to appeal to people’s anti-corporate angst and nullify my points. By the way, that’s another fallacy, called “Ad hominem” – ie don’t listen to Mark’s data because he’s “in bed” with the electric vehicle industry (didn’t know there was one? lol)

    My original response to your post was to refute with facts (as I did) the claim that there is some sort of “pretty solid case” that electric cars are not environmentally better than gasoline cars; in fact the pretty solid case is quite the opposite, as I showed with facts including mpg numbers, they will reduce automobile life cycle carbon emissions from at least 25% to as high as 300%, and on average well over 50% based on the current electrical grid mix and the locations they are currently being adopted in largest numbers. Your comment and the flawed study linked implies that a shift to electric cars is no better than gasoline cars we have now (which can be used to make a case that we “do nothing now”), while other study after study plus real world data shows this is quite opposite from the truth. Get out on the web and do some research on this, rather than basing your conclusions on one controversial study that has been highly criticized on an intellectual level by experts across a variety of disciplines.

    And your other original comment “sizable evidence to suggest that actually transitioning to an alternative fuel source doesn’t have nearly as large of an impact on your carbon footprint than you might think.” Is also actually the opposite, and shown in study after study. Think about this: 40% of the nation’s energy goes towards transportation, 96% of this is currently from fossil fuels (93% from petroleum) which is much higher than where electricity currently comes from, and 64% of transportation energy used is from light duty vehicles (mostly individually owned cars) which currently are virtually all running on gasoline, so switching to cleaner transportation will have a big impact. Actually bigger than many people think. Combining those numbers: 40% times 96% times 64% equals 25%. So a full one-quarter of the ENTIRE nation’s energy usage is from personal (and fleet) vehicles running on gasoline…I don’t think you have case that electrifying a chunk of that wouldn’t have quite an impact. Especially if the cleaner transportation is married with clean generation, as I have personally done, and at a very reasonable personal economic cost.

    You wrote, “I’m willing to bet though, that no matter what you say in your reply to me, you’re actually opposed to electric vehicle rentals…”

    Nope, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact is was an original idea of mine to combine the existing car share programs with the 50 electric charging stations project just completed in Rhode Island, as many of the locations are the same (examples are a half dozen Universities, parking garage down town, etc) Unfortunately, that was turned down for now by ZipCar and Hertz for their own business reasons, though both are now using plug-ins in other New England locations – Chevy Volt at the charging points at Uconn in Storrs, CT, and Honda Accord PHEV in a Boston location. So before you assume you’ve got my “big money lobbyist motives” all figured out, you might want to ask me what I think about a topic? 🙂

    I never accused you of being biased, I accused the *study* you linked as being biased…but I do accuse you of putting forth straw man argument and cherry-picking your data to draw conclusions, and like many people, just having a general ignorance about electric cars and their actually costs and benefits. So again, another straw man, I don’t think you or others posting are necessarily against electric cars, just that you have a significant level of ignorance about them – and that just shows that my coalition has still a lot of work to do! 🙂

    And I don’t think we HAVE to disagree on priorities, I don’t believe it’s an “either/or” proposition when it comes to alternative, carbon and/or . And it’s not about forcing anyone to Drive Electric or ride public transit (can we agree?:) it’s about fostering the public choices to do so, and countering the ignorance and misinformation that is particularly so pervasive when it comes to electric cars.

    You wrote “…letting an anti-automobile bias (that I don’t actually hold) cloud my judgment.” and later in the same post wrote “I want to curb automobile dependency.”. Really? No bias??! Could have fooled me… 🙂

    As for everything you wrote about initiatives to give people the choice and “freedom to get around without ever having to own a vehicle of any kind”, I agree 100%. I lived in Japan for 4 years and know what it’s like to live like that. I live another 2 years in the States the same way. But as Runaway Jim and myself realize, a no-car lifestyle is not feasible for everyone – they can’t structure their entire life – job, family. interests, etc, around that as a top priority, no more than currently a traveling sales person nor a truck driver can (currently) choose a 100% electric as their primary vehicle. But with more choices being supported, the choices can at least be made by those whom they do fit.

    A recent survey shows that over 40% of Americans currently have commutes and lifestyles making them suitable to an electric car. I’m sure there are also double digit suitability numbers for other alternative transportation choices.

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