The C is for Crank

Frockt: Why Electric Cars Are a Bipartisan Issue

By Erica C. Barnett December 1, 2011

State Sen. David Frockt (D-46), who proposed the electric-car legislation we wrote about  in Fizz this morning, got back to us today about the reasoning behind the legislation, which would allow electric-vehicle drivers to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes even if they had only one occupant.

While electric cars are a greener option than conventional automobiles, they aren't a solution for the bigger environmental problem: Unsustainable land use and sprawl.

Explaining the bill's bipartisan support (sponsors of the bill, introduced last session when Frockt was a member of the House, include liberal Democrats like Marko Liias as well as conservative Republicans like Hans Zeiger), Frockt wrote,
I think the bipartisan support that you noted indicates that there is definite interest in finding ways to stimulate demand for these vehicles some of which are completely emission free, and to do so without additional financial incentives given the budget crisis. I think over time the battery technology is going to get better and better and the range for them will get better making them a more viable cleaner alternative. [...]

There are a lot of details still to be worked out on the bill, a key one being how to structure the access in ways that do not overburden HOV lanes that are at or near capacity. I am very cognizant of that issue. It is also only currently drafted as a two year proposal, the idea being that we would want to see how this would work in practice.  We have to work on the definition of electric vehicles.  Additionally, the DOT is given wide latitude in the numbers of permits that could be issued.

In addition to the concern about using up HOV lane capacity that Frockt notes (HOV lanes clogged with electric vehicles could lead to fewer people carpooling, which isn't a good "green" outcome), there's another concern his legislation does not address: The fact that electric cars are still cars, and cars enable and promote sprawl. The central problem, in other words, isn't what type of cars we drive---it's the consequences of our car-centric culture.

To quote myself:

Those consequences include, but aren’t limited to: Sprawling development patterns (which are massively energy-inefficient, destroy farmland and rural lifestyles, contribute to the concentration of the food system, and require massive amounts of infrastructure—electrical, sewer, and roadway—to exist), impervious surfaces that increase roadway runoff into streams and soil, car crashes (which kill 40,000 people a year and create a huge cost to public health institutions) the consequences of sedentary, car-based lifestyles (obesity, shorter life spans), and the weakening of ties to friends, family, and community, and communities that require people to drive to get basic goods and services, including people who don't drive electric cars.
Land use, ultimately, is the environmental issue we'll have to deal with in the 21st Century. Electric cars, at best, improve things at the margins. At worst, they promote some of the very environmental problems they were supposed to fix.
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