e-Cars are circumventing our chance to mend cities

Alan Finkel was on the radio yesterday, telling us how e-Cars will save the planet, and that his own e-Car can go from 0 to 100kph in 7 seconds. I’m not qualified to unpick his argument that providing lots of electricity is better than lowering energy needs. Any humanist though is qualified to reject his appeal to the base instincts of hoons. Cars with that kind of acceleration aught be seized by police and put into crushers.


What use are e-Cars? Because of battery range, e-Cars work best around town. But it is within cities that cars, electric or petrol, have proven to be a real menace. They kill and deter users of active modes like walking and cycling, thus causing obesity across populations. They slow cyclists down by causing congestion—cities didn’t have traffic lights before cars created the problem. Cars of any sort harm the economy by trapping workers in jams. They require the construction of car parking stations that push buildings apart, when the reason we have cities is to bring people together. They will perpetuate sprawl for decades to come, when we know cities need to grow thicker, not bigger, to accommodate growth.


For travel between cities, a network of fast trains would be more convenient, and statistically much safer than highways and cars. Every dollar we spend individually on cars, and jointly on highways, is a dollar we have not spent on a network of intercity fast trains, like the one that serves Europe. The only place cars excel is in gratuitous journeys to beaches and mountains. But for these types of trips e-Cars require auxiliary power, whereupon they cease to be e-Cars.

Advocates of e-Cars aren’t so concerned with the transport needs of cities and regions, as the joys of owning and using transport machines. Me too. The difference is my passion is for a kind of transport machine that does more good than bad, and theirs is for a kind that mostly does bad.


Now maybe e-Cars can be ran on green energy (though I suspect nuclear will provide the real grunt). That doesn’t change the fact that cars waste space in the city, don’t have the capacity to deliver large numbers of people, are stressful to use, leave our bodies inactive, and ritually sacrifice more lives than Mayan Priests. Bikes have none of those drawbacks. Fast trains have very few.


Peak oil is an opportunity for cities to reset. The Dutch seized the opportunity presented by the 1973 oil crisis, and have enjoyed many other dividends in addition to lowering energy needs. Advocates of e-Cars will rob us of any chance for the same.

p.s. In addition to the comments below, there was some discussion of this post on Treehugger.