People who live in dense, walkable neighborhoods park on the street

Tuesday, October 26th, 2021

Megan McArdle and her husband are nearly the ideal case for an electric car: urbanites who drive fairly frequently, but not very far, so they don’t need to worry much about range — but they didn’t get an electric car:

Yet with all the other benefits, we might have been willing to pay extra, except for one major problem: Like many people who live in dense, walkable neighborhoods, we park our car on the street, leaving us nowhere to charge it.

Okay, not literally nowhere; we could have paid to get an outlet installed in front of our rowhouse, and hoped we’d be able to find a spot out front often enough to keep the car powered. Or we could have planned our weeks around finding public charging stations where we could regularly top up. But both seemed rather speculative for such a major investment, and in the case of public chargers, quite inconvenient. Road trips also posed a quandary — if we did want to go more than a couple hundred miles, how long would we have to stop just to recharge the battery? (Answer: It varies by model and charger, but can run from 30 minutes, in the best case, to hours.)

We’re not alone in having this problem, says Loren McDonald, a consultant working on EVs and EV-charging projects. He told me that 35 to 40 percent of households lack access to easy charging, and ironically the problem is greatest among the people who otherwise should be the natural market for electric vehicles: urbanite apartment-dwellers.

As for road-trips, McDonald calls them the “noose around the neck of electric vehicles.”

Neither problem is insoluble. There are still plenty of garage owners able to install a relatively inexpensive charging station that can power up their vehicle overnight. As those folks shift toward electric vehicles, it will become more economical for stores and other public places to install charging stations where you can pay by the kilowatt while you’re inside. Apartment managers will also presumably face pressure to install chargers in their garages or risk losing tenants.

But that still leaves the street parkers with a problem that local governments and utilities will probably need to solve for us. And there’s no guarantee that any of it will happen on the ambitious timetables suggested by automakers and the president, unless all levels of government work to provide a push.


  1. Peter Whitaker says:

    The solution is to embed electric rails into city streets. Sweden has tested multiple types of electric road systems. None have yet been implemented on a large scale, but the technology is proven.

  2. JAW3 says:

    So the greenies are driving us over the cliff because there are significant problems with EV’s while they destroy the ICE system of vehicles that works quite well.

  3. Bruce Purcell says:

    If I was Tesla I might stick with all-electric for the cachet and to see how far they can take the tech.

    But if I was Tesla’s competition I’d grab some of the money they are leaving on the table for hybrids. If Harley sold a hybrid bike you could trust to get to the shop on its own when the engine fails again, bikers would line up to give money.

  4. Joe Smith says:

    Public charging is much more expensive than charging at home during off-peak hours. I would not recommend an electric car to anyone who cannot charge overnight at home. The use-case for electric is daily commuting. Long distance driving will never be practical until you can swap out batteries. The only Tesla fan boys driving long distances are the ones making TikTok videos.

  5. McChuck says:

    In an era of rolling brownouts and blackouts, why buy an electric car? That’s just planning for failure.

    Of course, that may be the whole point why EVs are being pushed by our Leftist overlords.

  6. Albion says:

    As we go ‘green’ and return to a pre-industrial revolution era, can we generate enough electricity to fuel all the vehicles on the road?

    Will be interesting finding out. Currently in the UK all the ‘renewables’ aren’t producing anywhere near enough juice (blasted wind doesn’t blow when you want it, with living under the cloud band, making solar a dodgy prospect) and as these ugly devices are not very efficient and hugely expensive (with a shorter shelf life than hoped for) it is necessary for them all to be heavily subsided by the taxpayer through inflated energy bills.

    Still, we are constantly told it is the future, and thus electric vehicles will save us. Happily, non-Chinese politicians are banking on China’s politicians being pleased to go on making key components for all our electric devices. Mind you, when the new sailing ships get becalmed and there are no trucks to move the components when they finally arrive, then the good news will be that pollution will be way down.

    We will all be so happy, we could cry.

  7. Scott Jutte says:

    McChuck, if you think that the rolling black and brown outs are bad now, wait until everyone on the block plugs in their 75-kW electric vehicle into the existing grid.

    I’d guess that the vast majority of suburban houses are marginal, at best, for even having the excess available amperage to accomodate that additional load. Forget about the grid, itself, just the specifc houses might be underserved.

  8. Gavin Longmuir says:

    There have been estimates that the US would have to double its electric generation capacity to be able to replace all gasoline-fueled vehicles with electric battery vehicles.

    That is a lot of added nuclear power plants — or coal-fired electric generating stations. And a lot of high voltage transmission lines.

    Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is not supported by the data. And replacing fossil-fuel electric generation with unpredictably intermittent imported Chinese bird-whackers and solar panels is not supported by any rational technical or economic assessment. The Political Class is giving us the wrong solution to a non-existent problem — and yet so many of us are going along with it.

  9. Wang Wei Lin says:

    This push for EVs is driven by the East and West coast populations. I heard that from a GM plant manager. The rest of us in flyover country don’t matter to the auto corporations as they chase the tax subsidies for a technology that will in the whole prove to be a failure.

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    The fallacy here is that battery-powered vehicles are the ideal solution for urbanites (except for the problem of recharging the batteries).

    In reality, the ideal solution for those urbanites is good quality taxi service. Some of the cities in the Arabian Gulf can manage this — Abu Dhabi, for example. Lots of taxis circulating through the city at all hours of the day and night. Even people with their own cars find it easier to take taxis around town — no problems trying to find a place to park, and no restrictions on having an after-dinner drink.

    Organizing a good quality taxi service seems to be beyond the capabilities of many Western city governments — but it can be done. Whether those taxis should be fueled by gasoline or propane or coal-generated electricity is a separate economic question.

  11. Sam J. says:

    Gavin Longmuir says, “…the ideal solution for those urbanites is good quality taxi service.”

    This is Teslas game plan. Several hedge funds are all in on Tesla investing billions on them doing this with self driving. Hertz is buying 100,000 cars to do this.

    Self driving is coming very fast. It’s mostly here now with some problematical edge cases but in most cases a self driving car is safer than humans driving.

    Large capital funds will buy a lot of electric cars and run them driving themselves. I’m not too happy about this but maybe the tech will trickle down to the individual.

    Unfortunately I expect the government to somehow make it impossible for regular people to own their own cars or drive around in the next 7 years or so.

  12. TRX says:

    > But that still leaves the street parkers with a problem that local governments and utilities will probably need to solve for us.

    Easy. Pass an ordinance prohibiting street parking. Poof! No more problem.

  13. Allen says:

    Who in their right mind would park an electric car in the garage?

  14. Bill says:

    Tesla has plenty of range; the new Model S has a 400 mile range, which I’ll bet is plenty for your usual commute. Even their less expensive Model 3s have 250 miles or more.

    Their network of 1150 charging stations across the US, mostly along highway routes, each with eight or more fast chargers that get you on your way quickly, will satisfy your road trip requirements.

    The car gets better as it ages, with wifi over-the-air updates every couple of months as it sits in your garage charging every night.

    The quicker Model S cars are so fast they shouldn’t be street-legal. 0-60 in 2 seconds flat? And in a car that is simply glued to the road.

    However, as for SamJ’s assertion that “Self driving is coming very fast”, I’m afraid that’s just not true. Teslas can’t drive themselves except under certain circumstances under very close supervision.

    I bought my Model S in 2017, and it can no more drive itself now than it could then, and Musk swore up and down that Full Self Driving would be a reality in 2018. Then 2019. Then 2020. Then 2021. It’s just a _much_ harder problem than even sending a supersonic SpaceX booster most of the way to orbit and then bringing it back and landing it on its tail.

    As for Allen’s question about parking (and charging) in the garage, Tesla had that problem solved in 2012. You’re thinking GM. Tesla’s battery tech leads the world.

    Just so you know, I’d say we need lots more nuclear power quick, if not we’d better keep those coal and gas plants going (the Chinese are firing theirs up, you’d better believe it) just to get through the next winter, and no I’m not an EV fanatic. I’mm just telling you my experience.

  15. Senexada says:

    Agree that commuting is fine, roadtrip is the noose.

    My personal experience, contra Bill, is that usable range on long trip is less than half the EPA range (*). Charging is slow, chargers are sometimes full, and if your final destination is anywhere non-suburban and non-interstate (say, camping in a national forest or visiting a small town), you lose a ton of flexibility.

    (*) My battery has lost 21% of its orig capacity (car is 5 years old), actual miles/kwh is 14-20% lower than epa estimate when driving interstate speeds, and it’s only practical to use 70% of the battery on a multi leg trip (because really slow to charge above 80%, and risky to drain below 10%). Taken together, my practical max range on a recent 1500 mile trip was 48% of advertised range. Drive for 75 minutes, charge for 40 minutes, repeat. It gets old fast.

  16. Sam J. says:

    Bill says, “I bought my Model S in 2017, and it can no more drive itself now than it could then, and Musk swore up and down that Full Self Driving would be a reality in 2018. Then 2019. Then 2020. Then 2021…”

    I stand corrected. If you have one you should know. My info on this comes from watching videos of people letting their cars drive them around. Looked good to me.

    I want to say that my test for “good” is standard commuting from a suburb to work on highways.

    I was also influenced a great deal by the Jim Keller interview with Lex Fridman. He worked on the team that developed hardware for this.

    Jim Keller is no dummy and he seems to think it is no problem: “…it’s simple…it’s a data problem…”, and Tesla as more data than anyone. Now I’m not saying it’s perfect now but I have no doubt that it can be done. I expect within 3 years Tesla self driving will be a 30% or better performance than a human.

    Jim Keller on self driving progress: “Progress disappoints in the short run surprises in the long run.”

    I think they could do much better if they used more wave links. Now they are using just visual cameras. I think if they had thermal, ultra-violet and infrared they could much more easily keep from hitting stuff and most importantly people.

    So while I do stand corrected I do not believe that this is insurmountable and in a fairly short period of time.

  17. Sam J. says:

    “…usable range on long trip…”

    Someone needs to make a low cost trailer generator for electric cars that will charge them as they drive. The actual power needed on the highway is not that much. Something like a Volkswagen TDI Diesel would do nicely.

    Maybe rent them.

    I can see city centers building parking garages with chargers.

    In a very short time, I believe, you will have self driving electric taxis and it will be no problem at all as they will charge themselves during slack time.

  18. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Sam, stop joking around! Yes, the idea is fun — a self-satisfied Greenie driving her “Zero Emissions” imported electric vehicle while towing a CO2-spewing diesel generator! It made me laugh.

  19. Isegoria says:

    Diesel locomotives are already Diesel-electric — a Diesel generator powers electric motors on the wheels — and Diesel-electric trucks could work the same way.

  20. Isegoria says:

    Electric vehicles may or may not make solid economic sense for many consumers, but they have their advantages in commercial delivery fleets.

  21. Sam J. says:

    Gavin Longmuir says, “Greenie driving her ‘Zero Emissions’ imported electric vehicle while towing a CO2-spewing diesel generator!”

    Duh, I missed the irony in what I said. :) My favoritism for electric cars is totally different from the “greenies”. I see them as something that can be powered by solar and to decouple from the monopolies.

    Look at gas prices. Totally dependent on who is in office. Get the wrong guy and they rocket up and screw you good.

    Having a generator for longer travel tips I see as just a practical thing that covers you in the times when you need it. 99% of time electric alone will serve most people most of the time.

    Isegoria says, “Diesel-electric trucks could work the same way.”

    The difference in power needed, peak, accelerating, going up hills and just driving down the road from air friction and tire loses is immense. You need way less power to keep a truck going. That’s where electric could really make a difference. A Volkswagen TDI 4 cylinder diesel could run a 18 wheeler if you had flywheels or some sort of peak power batteries to handle the short acceleration times. It could also make driving trucks much more comfortable because you could have very powerful motors for the peak times. Right now they have mostly 500hp or so engines that weigh a massive amount. A Tesla Model S has 691 hp. You could add several engines and have a super-fast powerful truck that also got good fuel mileage on the road.

  22. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Sam: “I see them as something that can be powered by solar and to decouple from the monopolies.”

    I will take solar seriously when politicians start talking about taxing Big Sun, instead of subsidizing it and mandating it. That’s when we will know solar is genuinely economic.

    Of course, that will still leave us subject to China’s nearly-monopoly control over Big Sun, as the source of most of those solar panels and critical minerals dug out of Mother Earth by diesel-fueled equipment and processed in coal-fired equipment.

    If we are not pushing nuclear fission power, then we are not serious.

  23. ETat says:

    “a problem that local governments [...]will probably need to solve for us.” …”unless all levels of government work to provide a push.”

    Interesting choice of aspirational entity – for someone who I used to know under her blog’s avatar Jane Galt and who self-identified as “right-leaning libertarian.”

    On the other hand, the trajectory from Asymmetrical Info to Washington Post couldn’t end any other way

  24. Bill says:

    Senexada says:

    “My battery has lost 21% of its orig capacity (car is 5 years old)… my practical max range on a recent 1500 mile trip was 48% of advertised range. Drive for 75 minutes, charge for 40 minutes, repeat. It gets old fast.”

    Yikes. Based on all of the battery degradation data out there, your Model S (I assume that’s what you have) is an outlier. Typical results for a Tesla Model S is 90% of range at 100,000 miles.

  25. VXXC says:

    “If we are not pushing nuclear fission power, then we are not serious.”

    Nuclear is getting pushed only in word as a screen to cover the killing of coal and the slower death of shale and oil. It’s pathetic and sad how trusting Americans are. Fatal as well.

    The only thing getting pushed is us into the literal cold. We deserve it for being so weak.

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