Several councils have gleefully tried to show their ‘green credentials’ by allowing commercial companies to install ‘on-street’ chargers for electric vehicles, without supervision. In Islington, London, this resulted in bulky units appearing outside people’s houses, blocking much of the pavement width and providing bright green lights that shine in through windows at night. At least one has already been removed.
If we’re to encourage the use of electric vehicles, we need to make charging as easy as refuelling with petrol. But browse around a few forums online and you’ll see people asking things like: “Is it OK to run a cable from my third-floor flat window out to my car on the street?” In another conversation, I saw people discussing whether it was advisable to cover the cable running across the pavement with electrical tape.
Is it me, or is this crazy?
Local authorities such as our own City Council are already installing charging points in public car parks. That’s great. Petrol station operators are rapidly providing facilities too. But for many electric car owners, charging their vehicles at home overnight is more practical (and stresses the grid less). So there’ll be a demand for putting chargers on the streets, both from car owners and the companies who want to provide public chargers.
Virtually no electric vehicle infrastructure placement advice has been written. Even Transport for London, which usually leads the way on urban transport innovation in this country, has none. Every local authority may need to create its own.
The first thing is to acknowledge who the charging points are for, and to insist they’re ‘built out’ on to the road, not installed on the pavements. Examples of this can be seen in Paris. There’s some potential in using streetlamps, but in many cases, this would still result in cables strung across pavements.
Secondly, it should be made clear that running cables over pavements is a hazard. If it’s not an offence, it should become one before people get into the habit.
Thirdly, the cables on the charging points should be strictly limited in length. I’ve seen photos of them stretched out 10m to a car, forming a barrier to crossing the road.
Setting rules around here is hard, because there are several local authorities and responsibilities can overlap. But more people walking means less vehicle congestion, and providing decent, unobstructed pavements is a simple way to encourage this.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 28 November 2018.