New Cars Create New Problems For Infrastructure


As Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts and other all-electric cars start populating the streets, a whole host of new infrastructure issues come to for. These issues also affect others who have started converting their standard internal combustion engine cars with electric motors. And the problems continue to pop up leading to a greater change of the motorized landscape of the future.

One such community is the campus of Portland State University. The first step was renaming a whole street block to Electric Avenue to study the real problems that arise with the change of the motorized landscape. The street is a one-way thoroughfare with six chargers with exclusive parking for electric vehicles.

The university further sponsored a two-day workshop on the issues that would beset the electric car and the required infrastructure. One of the sponsors, Portland General Electric, through its Director of Economic Development Charlie Allcock, assisted in creating Electric Avenue. One of their observations is the need for more direct lighting to be able to assist electric car users in plugging ports during recharging. This is due to the lack of foresight on the part of the designers, because they failed to see that owners would be plugging in at night and the rain and fog.

Another issue is the problem regarding the security and safety of the chargers on the street. They discounted the fact that the chargers would become targets for graffiti artists or pigeon poop. Because of the accumulated dirt and grime, the group failed to realize that there was no specific person that looked after these machines. Since then, a worker has been deputized to keep the machines clean.

According to George Beard, one of the organizer’s of the workshop, “It was obvious we missed it. No one had operational responsibility for this so we had to keep an eye on it.”

While there is an acknowledged industry standard for electric chargers, each company interpreted it differently. Each charger had a different interface, thus the need for the electric car owner to know how to use the different kinds of interfaces. There is also the problem of synching these chargers to the different vehicles as well as rebooting the chargers once they go on sleep mode. The Electric Avenue chargers were specifically designed to be, as one participant calls it, “dumber than how the companies wanted them to be”.

As for government, the city of Portland has also started to track parking violations to see how often the reserved spots for electric vehicles are used by gasoline powered car users. While the whole project is still in its infancy, the issues found in this experiment would go a long way to smoothen out the growing pains of electric cars in society for the future.