Magazine

Point of View

‘Baghdad by the Bay,’ EVs and Charging Stations

By John Van Horn

I just got back from a couple of days in that city by the bay. Let’s face it, San Francisco is beautiful — it’s clean, crisp and artsy. Great restaurants, super food, wonderful shopping, absolutely perfect venues for vacations and relaxing. What’s not to like?
San Francisco is like that crazy uncle who comes to visit. He has great stories, he brings super gifts for the kids, he knows just the right thing to say. But he can wear out his welcome. You are silently relieved when he goes home.
San Francisco is like that. For every wonderful view or great restaurant, something is lurking, just behind the scenes.
I was told, for instance, about “critical mass.” Don’t know what that is? Think it has to do with nuclear fission? Guess again.
In “Baghdad by the Bay” – and many other cities worldwide – “Critical Mass” happens the last Friday of every month when cyclists decide to take over the downtown area and block traffic.
The person telling me about it said that she had been trapped for two hours in what became a melee, with cyclists hammering on her car and riding their bikes over it. “I’m from LA,” she said. “Nobody touches my car.” She was outnumbered.
This happened about five years ago. Although Critical Mass in San Francisco is a tad smaller now and a bit more civilized, it still exists. Its goal — removal of all private vehicles from the city, by any means possible.
Members of the cycling coalition are deeply involved in all aspects of city planning. They, it appears, are willing to do anything to get their way.
A luncheon meeting participant told me about a San Francisco ordinance that was attempted – and later stopped – to force parking operators to set monthly rates in their garages at a level relative to daily rates. In other words, if your daily rate was, say, $40, then your monthly rate had to be $1,200.
The goal — make it economically impossible for people to drive into the city and force them onto buses, trains and bicycles.
A second issue regarded zoning. San Francisco supervisors attempted to pass a zoning change making all surface lots illegal. Ninety days notice and you close down your lot. Their goal was to tell a private business owner how much to charge for his product, and then to take away a person’s business.
When the regulations were stopped earlier this year, the changes were slipped into a 300-page omnibus bill and discovered by accident. They will be stopped again. But what about next time?
The “crazy uncle” on the Golden Gate is being taken over by “my way or the highway” folks who aren’t in the business of compromise or of understanding that most people like to be left well enough alone.
If you drive a car, get rid of it. If you stub your toe, get a handicapped parking permit (there are three times the number of handicapped permits in SF than there are on-street spaces). If you want to live on the street, so be it – until you end up in front of someone’s house who doesn’t like it and has some pull, then you will be tossed in jail.
The city is populated by activists that decry any damming of rivers in the Sierra, but bathe in water that comes from the very dams they oppose. This is the place where low-flow toilets and shower heads have reduced the sewage flow so much that the pipes are backing up since there isn’t enough water to “flush” them out and into the treatment plants. Solution? Put bleach down them to clean them out …
San Francisco, it appears, like that crazy uncle, believes the law of unintended consequences doesn’t apply.
It’s a city where “South of Market” is booming, because start-up software nerds don’t want to be in buildings with the “suits” – those high-rises in the financial district – and will pay more to occupy loft spaces. I’m sure they feel the suits have sold out, but are more than willing to meet with them when venture capital time rolls around.
San Francisco is a city where $250-a-night hotel rooms are “average” – “but they have a great view of the bay.” I must live on another planet, because I think that when I pay $150 a night I’m being shafted.
Like that crazy uncle, San Francisco is attractive, fun and full of really neat people. However, it’s nice to come home. I’m not sure I could take it, or him, full time. However, I will be back.
***
A friend from the Bank of America garage in LA said that his EV charging stations are in use 90% of the time handling seven EV’s. One wag queried: “Does 90% utilization mean 10% driving time?” I have a different take on my friend’s comment.
If the charging stations are in use 90% of the time, and he has four stations and only seven electric vehicles in the garage, does this mean that if he gets even one more EV, he will have to add another charging station, and then another, and then another?
There are two types of commercial chargers. One will fully charge an EV in four to five hours, and the other will give an 80% charge in sort of half an hour.
If the B of A garage’s machines are the four-to-five-hour type (assuming that 90% usage by seven vehicles), each vehicle is hooked up five hours — 35 hours charging total per day. Each charger is in use about 90% of the time.
If EVs “take off” and become 10% of the driving public, that 1,000-car garage will need charging for 100 cars, or about 15 stations, and someone to jockey the cars around when the four to five hours are up.
So this “free” service to EV owners suddenly is costing, what, $50,000 per year to the garage owner for the “e-valet,” plus increased costs in insurance and the like.
Do I see another example of that law of unintended consequences kicking in in a few years?
I know, I know – can’t I give electric vehicles a break? But it’s such a target-rich environment.
***
I recently read about the donation of a couple of EV chargers to be placed in parking lots at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Fair enough.
The only problem is that they aren’t selling electric vehicles in Louisiana.
And when they do, will those expensive cars be the vehicle of choice for poor students? Or will they continue to drive clunkers, like we all did in school?
I know they want to be “ahead of the curve,” but this all goes to “looking green, appearing green and feeling good about green.” In this case, it also allowed the local utility, which donated the chargers, to get some good ink in the local press.
Why can’t they do something that actually helps — like raising prices on parking and thus enticing students to carpool and not drive?
As has been pointed out before in Parking Today, removing three cars off the road with a four-person carpool, even if the remaining car is an SUV, does much more than enticing the four people to drive EVs.
Think about it — the 20-mpg car is now getting the equivalent of 80 mpg; traffic and congestion are reduced 75%; only one space is taken in the parking lot, rather than four; and three vehicles don’t have to be manufactured.
The university and the local utility are doing something that will make little or no difference in traffic, congestion, parking and emissions, certainly for many years. Yeah, but they will feel good about it. Sigh …

Article Abstract from October, 2011




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