Resurrecting the Electric Car: One Step Forward?

Or two steps back? Since Henry Ford rolled out his first Model T more than a century ago, cars have not only influenced the economic and social fabric of America but have influenced the way we build our neighborhoods and cities. In recent years, however, concerns about climate change, energy independence, and peak oil have given us pause. We’ve begun to amend urban transportation systems with public transit and alternative transit infrastructure (including hybrid car priority parking, designated bike lanes, and pedestrian corridors) and it looks like those trends will continue. But in most cities throughout the nation, the car still reigns supreme.

Many of us were horrified by the conspiracy we saw in the film, Who Killed the Electric Car? That’s probably because electric cars are a step in the right direction. The technology fits the prevailing infrastructure while reducing reliance on fossil fuels and supporting renewable energy alternatives—but what impact will it have on efforts to move away from auto-oriented patterns of land use? The question must be asked. Will the electric car, in fact, hold us back? With that said, in his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama noted that he plans to put a million new electric cars on the road by 2015. With gasoline prices projected to rise to more than $5 per gallon by 2030 (and very likely sooner), not to mention numerous federal incentives, more and more car companies are jumping to produce new electric models. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt have already hit the market (or will soon) and more than five other car companies are developing their all-electric models to be released no later than 2012. Electric vehicles can be a good thing, as long as we don’t lose our focus on the bigger goal of making our cities more walkable and bikeable!