Today’s Headlines

  • More on the SFMTA Board Approval of Sunday Metering, Free Youth Passes (SFGateSF Examiner)
  • SFMTA Lowers Rates at City Parking Garages (CBS 5)
  • DUI Driver Who Hit Napa Cyclist Was Also Stopped for DUI Last Week (KTVU)
  • More Scenes From Last Weekend’s Sunday Streets (Bay Bikers Blog)
  • CAHSR Could Make More Room at Airports for Longer Flights (SF Examiner)
  • Report Urges Delaying CAHSR Due to “Highly Speculative” Funding (LA TimesMercury News)
  • Tri Delta Transit Aims to Lure Riders With Free Introductory Bus Passes (CoCo Times)
  • Study Shows Bike Infrastructure Brings More Bike Traffic (Good CitiesWashington Post)
  • Report Finds Electric Car Efficiency Varies Widely by State (SFGateCBS 5)
  • Why Don’t Conservative Cities Walk? (Slate)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Just a note:  electric car efficiency does not vary by state.  In every state electric engines are more efficient than internal combustion engines–generally for electric 80% of available power in its fuel source is turned into motion vs 20% for internal combustion. What varies state to state is how much CO2 is added to the atmosphere due to the operation of the electric vehicle. This varies based on the sources of electricity for that state. California relies very little on coal, making our electricity less CO2-emitting than many other states.

    Oil is amazing stuff. Each gallon of gasoline represents three weeks of human labor. Inefficient internal combustion engines that propel 5000 lbs of steel around needlessly are a terrible use of oil.

  • Peapod mom

    Hey, while we’re on the subject of electric cars I’ll interject a totally OT comment in the style of anti-bike trolls on SFGate, SFist, and (unfortunately) this blog, occasionally….

    Two days ago my husband almost got run over on his bike by a Nissan Leaf who soundlessly blasted through a stop sign in the Mission Dolores neighborhood. Memo to car drivers: Stop at every stop sign, and then maybe we’ll listen when you whine about others not following rules of the road.

    Be careful out there, folks.

  • mikesonn

    Electric cars hurt/kill just as much as gas powered ones. They also require all the same space/resource wasting infrastructure. Anything to avoid real and seriously needed change to the American lifestyle.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the clarification, as I decided on the headline wording just for the sake of brevity. Like you said there are plenty of other factors in play, including the fact that most electric cars are being charged at night during non-peak hours when power plants have excess capacity, so that electricity could even be considered to have zero environmental impact and 100% efficiency as it was just going to waste anyway.

    Hopefully someday we can start talking about miles per joule or some other more relevant measure instead of miles per gallon, since different fuels and even gasoline formulas vary widely in energy by volume.

  • Anonymous

    @mikesonn:disqus I agree that electric cars are not a solution for most of the real problems with cars. They do little to nothing to address the horrible accidents they cause (because you still have huge hunks of mass traveling at high speeds … though electric cars usually weigh less so there is a slight improvement here) especially when it comes to injuring pedestrians and cyclists, their continued (and completely underrated) contribution to the obesity epidemic by making us lazy, the fact that they still require enormous amounts of raw materials to manufacture (and the batteries, and associated hi-tech electronics, you could argue make this issue even worse compared to traditional cars), and their contribution to unlivable, dehumanized, non-pedestrian/cyclist-friendly urban design and development.

    However, they are a slight improvement because they are more efficient (so even if they get their electric power from the burning of fossil fuels, they use less than a gas-powered car per mile), they are quieter (though some argue this is a problem … I disagree: I think we can find a way to make sure they are not hitting people without turning them into the horrid sources of noises that traditional cars are … noise is another hugely underrated problem with cars which massively detracts from people living in cities), and they are lighter and hence stop quicker and cause less damage in collisions.

    BUT, what I don’t like is that these improvements are still no excuse for continued car-centric urban design. To me, there are three main issues with cars — environmental destruction, contribution to obesity, and the incompatibility of their usage in urban areas — and electric cars only address one of these (environmental destruction) and even then only partially. So what really bugs me is people who think electric cars are a solution to our “car problem”. That conclusion can only be made if you have an extremely narrow view of the problems cars cause. I don’t car how you make the car, it by its very definition will never be an efficient way to move people. So electric cars are only good if we keep working towards the goal of making cars have the least priority in urban design; if they are some sort of end goal, then we have major problems.

  • mikesonn

    I’m in the middle of something or else I’d dig up the articles (maybe later, probably not), but there is pretty strong evidence that increased efficiency leads to increased usage and therefore has a net negative impact.

  • I entirely agree that electric cars have just as much ability to hurt and maim as gas-powered cars, that they cause just as much congestion and require expensive infrastructure.  They also require a heck of a lot of electricity to operate and, like any car, many resources to manufacture them in the first place. There is no way our current strained electric grid could support even replacing a third of our private vehicle VMT with travel by electric car. Transit, bicycles, people living much closer to where they work and shop are by far better solutions.

    However, it is probable that some private cars will still exist in the future. We have already put so much CO2 and methane in the atmosphere our climate is showing clear signs of destabilizing. This will result in drought and famine, billions of climate refugees, billions of deaths through disease and starvation. (Not to mention in San Francisco we will lose Treasure Island, SFO, Crissy Field, the zoo, etc.) We are like children who have set a corner of our house on fire and don’t even understand that the smoke filling the room is a sign something’s wrong.

    From the Yale Climate Forum, it looks pretty inescapable that the extreme weather of the last eighteen months is not just a matter of normal variability but the result of additional heat in the atmosphere. These two new videos from that group are worth watching:

    Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-1iBHAivmw
    Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTAZue6ylZ8

    There are so many things we should do very quickly to reduce the amount of CO2 and methane we so blithely spew into the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s already too late, and the frozen methane in the permafrost is on its way to melting no matter what we do. Electric cars are only a little piece of the answer (I truly believe the livable streets movement is a big piece of the answer). However, cancer-wise, I would rather bicycle beside an electric car (one that obeys the law, of course, and looks out for pedestrians and bicyclists) rather than a noisy, pollution-spewing SUV.

    Electric cars actually do make noise, (more than bicycles) but in our world full of highly noisy internal combustion engines they are pretty much drowned out.

    Again, I entirely agree that cars of any type disproportionately hog up important communal space and pose a serious threat to anyone not encased in steel.

    Peapod mom, I’m glad your husband is okay.

  • peternatural

    Still, you gotta love the zero emissions aspect. (Even if the power plant off in the distance has nonzero emissions — you don’t get a lungfull of exhaust when an electric car passes you on the street.) That’s also why I appreciate electric MUNI buses. When they’re not trying to sneak up behind me to run me over 😉

  • mikesonn

    This is what I was thinking of:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox 

  • Anonymous

    @mikesonn:disqus Yes, I’m a huge believer in Jevon’s Paradox (and almost mentioned it myself, but didn’t want to get into this topic since it is always controversial). So I agree that improving the efficiency of cars via making them electric will, all other things held constant, lead to more driving. And that is bad. This is just another reason why I’m tired of electric cars being offered up as some sort of panacea to the mess we got ourselves in.

    I like to rephrase Jevon’s Paradox as the simple manifestation of the idea that you can’t solve our behavioral/societal problems with technological fixes. Instead, behavioral/societal problems require behavioral/societal solutions. Any use of technology to sidestep the issue just delays the problems until later when they are, of course, much more severe.

    That being said, if you introduce improved efficiency and *accompany* it with policy changes that prevent increased usage, that is a huge net gain. So there is room for that, but it requires talking about technological solutions (like hi-tech electric cars) in the context of how we will change government/regulations etc to make sure we don’t abuse the new technology. And being a culture that worships at the altar of technology and all things material, we have been completely unable to do that thus far.

  • mikesonn

    Well put @jd_x:disqus 

  • mikesonn

    Domino’s adding sound to their electric delivery scooters in the Netherlands.

    http://laughingsquid.com/dominos-safe-sound-a-human-made-engine-noise-installed-on-electric-delivery-scooters/ 

  • Ah, yes, Jevon’s Paradox. Jevon made his observations during a period of expanding energy supply.  So yes, people are very clever about coming up with new uses for whatever amount of additional cheap energy is available. During a time of contracting energy supply (due to Peak Oil), or because we consciously decide to increase the cost of burning fossil fuels (so as not to destroy the planet) efficiency gains will not increase fuel use. Europe has significantly more energy-efficient cars and houses than we do. The result is they use half the energy per person that we do. Taxes creating higher costs of energy drove the efficiency. A very clear example where increased efficiency did not create additional energy consumption.

  • mikesonn

    “Taxes creating higher costs of energy drove the efficiency. A very clear example where increased efficiency did not create additional energy consumption.”

    Increased efficiency didn’t lower the cost though because taxes offset the gains. Different scenario unless the US can step up – see: gas tax the same since mid-90’s – I won’t hold my breath.

  •  Prinzrob,

    There are many potential ways to store nighttime energy if utilities got creative, but yes, there might be some situations where the energy might otherwise go wasted.

    Good point about the energy per volume of fuel. Ethanol and natural gas liquids have 60% and 70% of the energy content that gasoline does and yet they are counted as equivalent when people are tallying up total barrels of US and world oil supply. This distorts people’s understanding of our energy situation in a very significant way. Of the “oil” the US produces, only 63% is actually crude oil. The rest is other liquids with significantly lower energy content.

  • Anonymous

    @KarenLynnAllen:disqus wrote: “Taxes creating higher costs of energy drove the efficiency.”

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about: new technology (improved efficiency) being accompanied by new behavioral/policy/societal change (taxes). That is the only increased efficiency will not lead to higher consumption. And it is something Americans seem, unlike the Europeans, unable to accept. We want everything cheap (so we can buy more crap) and most costs completely externalized.

    @mikesonn:disqus wrote: “That being said, decreasing energy supplies will lead to rising
    costs, but also to more asinine ways of extracting energy (see:
    fracking, tar sands, etc) which will have huge environmental impacts.”

    Exactly. Add to that extracting resources in places that were previously off-limits, like National Parks, and we have utter decimation of our planet. This is what I’m very worried about: I actually don’t think we’ll stop until there is literally nothing left. We will absolutely wipe our planet clean before we deal with the issue of finite resources being consumed at a greater rate than they are being replaced. That’s what scares me about peak oil, peak water, peak everything. I used to believe that I couldn’t wait for the day for peak oil to get here so we could move on with living sustainably; it couldn’t happen fast enough in my book. But I’m starting to realize that we won’t stop until there is absolutely nothing left to extract anywhere, and by that point are planet will be irreparably destroyed. Just look at recent news stories:

    House Bill Would Gut Wilderness Acthttp://sierraclub.typepad.com/layoftheland/2012/04/house-bill-would-gut-wilderness-act.html

    Destruction of the Amazon’s Xingu River begins for Belo Monte Dam
    http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0418-hance_belomonte_photos.html

    Amazon road spells disaster for Indians
    http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8178

    etc., etc., etc.

  • While we’re worried about quiet electric cars, we should probably ban anyone that’s at least moderately hearing impaired from using or crossing the roads–they can’t hear the cars coming!

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