August 29, 2022

A Tale of Two Cities: Seattle now Providing Electric Vehicle Charging Stations on Residential Streets

In  “Green” Vancouver which has adopted a transportation hierarchy which supposedly favours the lowest  level of micromobility, walking and rolling,  the current City Council has implemented a policy which will impact their most vulnerable road user, and is highly inequitable.

This Council put the rights and time of electric vehicle owners over the more unprivileged that rely on sidewalks for walking and rolling. Despite the fact that charging a vehicle from a private house or apartment can take hours, Vancouver City Council allowed for the placement of electrical cords (supposedly in conduits) to be placed over the city sidewalks. Few observers have seen an electrical conduit in use, but there have been a  lot of cords over sidewalks.

What is the biggest fear of someone who is classified as a “vulnerable” sidewalk user?  It is falling on the sidewalk. And for those vulnerable people using sidewalks, be they seniors or people with any type of mobility impairment or vision disability a fall can lead to death within months.

Despite clear international evidence that keeping sidewalks clear of impediments is a universal standard, the Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to allow for electrical charging cords to be placed on vinyl conduits over city sidewalks. Every present  member of council cited the importance of their Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) and with no acknowledgement of the irony of placing the rights of vehicles over sidewalk users, voted to allow cords with covers to be placed on the sidewalk.

The City of Vancouver is the only city in Canada that allows for charging an electric vehicle using an electrical cord and conduit that is placed on top of city sidewalk.

The City of Vancouver based their recommendations on the voluntary program run by the City of Seattle that allows  level one charging if a five foot by four foot platform ramp that covers the entire width of the sidewalk is provided.  There’s no report on how the Seattle  program is going, and the City of Vancouver staff  has no records on charging cord complaints before adopting their policy because they don’t collect data that way.

But Seattle is becoming more sophisticated, and is now  championing a more proactive approach for residents requiring on street charging. Seattle’s electrical utility is Seattle City Light, which is a community operated, not for profit  company.  Seattle City Light is installing Level 2 curbside stations on residential streets at no cost to residents or property owners. The utility will also operate and maintain the charging stations.

Residents can request a charging station and stations are located throughout the neighbourhoods by the utility. To create demand for the chargers and to see what the uptake would be, Seattle City Light planned a limited release of on street chargers on a first come, first served basis.

There are some provisos: you must own the residence to make the request, and you must own or lease a battery electric vehicle or declare you are purchasing/leasing one in the next year.

The chargers will offer power levels of up to 9.6 kw, and residents will pay a flat fee for use, according to Seattle City Light. Fees for Seattle City Light-operated stations in 2021 were $0.20 per kwh, but 2022 fees will be released at a later date.

Street sites will be evaluate for installation this winter.

While Seattle has done the right thing by offering  proper charging infrastructure on city streets that do not fetter pedestrians, a survey done in Britain showed that up to 75 percent of electric vehicle owners had used a common  extension cord to charge for their vehicle, despite the overheating risks. A similar study in the United States found that 61 percent of those surveyed admitted to doing the same thing, despite auto manufacturers’ warnings never to use an extension cord to charge an electric vehicle.

Here’s a YouTube video about the Seattle neighbourhood curbside charging program.


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