City Light decides against car charger in path of Broadway Bikeway

Base image: SDOT’s Broadway bikeway and streetcar extension plans. As noted, the proposed car charger would be directly in the path of the bikeway.

After public pushback, including by many of you, Seattle City Light has dropped their plans for an electric car charging station on Broadway near Denny Way that would have been located in the path of a planned-but-delayed extension of the existing bike lane.

In an email to people who submitted feedback on the plan, the agency cited public concerns about the bike lane (and increased costs related to relocation) as primary reasons for the change. As Seattle Bike Blog and many others noted, the presence of a car charger would likely serve as an additional barrier to a sorely-needed bike lane extension on Broadway. Moving the charger if/when a bike lane is completed would also cost City Light unnecessary expenses.

Currently, the Broadway bikeway starts at Yesler Way and ends abruptly at Denny Way, spitting people biking into mixed traffic if they want to continue to the major business district at the north end of the street. The bike lane extension is still in the most recent implementation plans for near-term installation, but it has been delayed because an accompanying streetcar extension is also on hold. We have argued that the bike lane should be completed with or without the streetcar because it is noted as a major bike route in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

City Light’s car charger program already takes planned bus lanes into account, but not planned bike lanes. The agency has clearly listened to public feedback about this, which is great. Hopefully a policy update will include the Bicycle Master Plan for future siting decisions.

But the debate also raised more philosophical questions about the role of electric car chargers in the public right of way, the role of public entities in funding them, and whether locations with quality transit access is a smart place to locate them. And the answers are not exactly cut-and-dry. For example, the city wants encourage people, especially those without private garages, to use electric cars instead of gas-burning ones. But if you rely on street parking, how are you supposed to keep your car charged? So the city wants to jumpstart a solution. Obviously, the best option is, “Don’t have a car at all,” but that might not work for everyone. Electric cars are definitely not the solution, but they could be part of one. If nothing else, the local tailpipe pollution is better.

So if transit-oriented development includes many new homes without car parking, wouldn’t that be a good place for a public car charger? That makes sense in a way. But major transit hubs are also place where we should be prioritizing limited curb space for walking, biking and transit. A private car sitting for stretches of time simply charging up electrons isn’t really a transit-oriented activity.

This points to one major reason electric cars won’t save us: They still take up as much space as a gas-powered car. In dense neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, it would be impossible to serve a significant number of electric cars at the same time because there just isn’t that much space, nor should there be.

There are also serious equity questions to answer here. Should the public invest money in and reserve public curb space for something available only to people who can afford pricey electric cars?

But if the city can learn from experimenting, like this bike lane conflict lesson they are learning now, then perhaps they will be able to create a charger permit scheme that works better for everyone.

From a City Light email:

As a result of the feedback we received, City Light has decided to withdraw its Electric Vehicle Charging in the Public Right-of-Way (EVCROW) permit for the utility’s proposed DC fast charger site on Broadway.

City Light heard from community members and stakeholders in the Capitol Hill neighborhood that:

  • There is a preference for the City of Seattle to focus on transit, pedestrian, and biking options for this intersection.
  • Installing the EV chargers in a location where the community desires a protected bike lane extension would create a hurdle for the community’s continued appeal for the protected bike lane extension.
  • Installing the EV chargers in a location where future uses possibly include a protected bike lane or a loading/unloading zone could result in unnecessary expenses for City Light.

Seattle City Light appreciates the feedback we have received from the community about this pilot program and the proposed site in Capitol Hill. City Light will continue to explore sites for EV charging throughout the utility’s service area. If we find a feasible site in the Capitol Hill area, we will engage the community and stakeholders again.

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8 Responses to City Light decides against car charger in path of Broadway Bikeway

  1. Mike B says:

    To me, building infrastructure for electric cars is critical for a variety of reasons not entirely relevant to this post, but the problem I had which lead me to submit comments is how this very specific location is a poor choice. There are thousands of linear feet of public curbspace available in Capitol Hill for such charging stations, so why must 50′-100′ here have to be taken right here, infront of a subway station, public park, pedestrian street, ample transit, and future bike facility? Any side street, or even just the west side of Broadway across the street, would have been perfect. Seriously, why right here and why not literally across the street in the parking area or somewhere else very close by which is equally as publicly visible.

    • Breadbaker says:

      I pretty much agree.

      I also think that the OP point that City Light’s priorities in locating these places should automatically include meshing with the Bike Master Plan (without the need for public comment to get to this point) is great.

  2. Pingback: With city nixing plan for car charging station on Broadway, extended bikeway still no closer to reality | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  3. Tim F says:

    While the location of this specific charger was a problem, I hope City Light also takes the opportunity to rethink how the electric “vehicle” charging program can move beyond simply electric *cars*.

    My feedback encouraged them to also work with SDOT’s commute trip reduction program to help companies design their secure bike storage with electric bike charging in mind.

  4. Peri Hartman says:

    So glad to see City Light has “become aware” of bicycle infrastructure.

    The question of where charging infrastructure should go is complicated. Personally, I think it should be subcontracted to existing automotive service facilities and other private businesses with some sort of loan program to help finance the installation. It doesn’t belong in the public right of way. We need the right of way for things, like, bike lanes. Maybe traffic, transit, and parking, too :)

    One of the misconceptions about EV charging is that the car needs to sit there for several hours. That’s current technology. However, when we start installing 200kW chargers, the charge time will be around 15 minutes for most cases. For comparison, Tesla’s superchargers are now at 135kW.

    For example, at 100kW, the Chevy Bolt, which has a 60kWh battery, would charge to 80-90% in 30 minutes (the last 10-20% takes much longer so as not to damage the battery). That’s more time than pumping gas but certainly not hours. 100kW is available technology.

    I don’t mind the government helping build out the charging network – in fact, I support it – but I generally think it should be on private property.

  5. Rich says:

    Another reason electric cars won’t save us: where does all the electricity come from?

  6. There are myriad private charging stations already available on private property. I don’t understand the problem that requires public investment.

    “But if you rely on street parking, how are you supposed to keep your car charged?”

    If you can afford a car, a new electric one, then rent an off street space like everyone else. Local resident cars parked on Broadway for long stretches of time is moronic.

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