By Dave Reed
Electric vehicles are coming to save the day, hooray! Well, yes and no. As with any technology, the transition to EVs comes with complications, challenges and opportunities.
It pays to be proactive and try to ensure that the process plays out in a way that’s best for our communities. That’s the thinking behind a couple of different policy discussions that are currently underway in Garfield County.
Regardless of how you feel about them, electric vehicles are the way of the future. It should surprise no one to hear that their numbers have increased significantly the past few years, along with the steady expansion of public charging stations. The growth will only accelerate.
Consumers are embracing EVs as a superior technology with a lot of advantages – better performance, lower fuel costs, fewer moving parts needing maintenance and repair. Meanwhile, auto manufacturers are investing hundreds of billions to retool their product lines and plants, and a boatload of federal and state funding is adding to the momentum.
True, it will take decades for electric vehicles to completely replace gas and diesel ones. After all, the average vehicle purchased this year won’t be scrapped for nearly 20 years. But year by year, EVs (and e-bikes) will transform the way we get around.
This is a good thing. Transportation accounts for nearly a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions, so replacing fossil-fueled vehicles with electric ones is an essential part of the strategy to zero out emissions by 2050. And even putting aside climate change, it’s worth switching to EVs for a host of other reasons: doing so will reduce local air pollution, alleviate health problems, avoid tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, reduce reliance on imported oil, save consumers billions a year on car expenses and boost the economy in the bargain.
OK, but how do we build out the local charging network that will be needed to serve all those EVs? That’s part of the focus of a working group convened this summer by Garfield Clean Energy and Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy to develop an EV-readiness plan for Garfield County.
We can’t assume the transition will just manage itself. The working group is looking at ways to incorporate EV-readiness into local building codes, incentivize developers and large employers to add EV charging, and encourage businesses to electrify their fleets. Part of the planning process will be to send out a survey to county residents, so be on the lookout for that in the next few weeks.
But let’s face it, EVs alone won’t solve all our transportation problems. For example, they won’t do much to address growing traffic volumes. Does it seem like the congestion on Grand Avenue has gotten steadily worse? It’s not your imagination: CDOT vehicle counts indicate a 24 percent average increase in traffic in the past 10 years, and a nearly 30 percent increase in peak volumes.
This is a wake-up call for a more comprehensive approach to mobility. Civic leaders and transportation experts will be answering the call when they gather in Glenwood Springs on Sept. 21 for an all-day summit hosted by CLEER, Garfield Clean Energy and Drive Clean Colorado.
Fortunately, this is an ideal moment to rethink our infrastructure for getting around. Along with the vast quantities of federal and state money now flowing for EVs and charging infrastructure, there is a growing array of new funding opportunities for mass transit and other alternatives to driving.
We’re not Amsterdam or New York here. Our region has its own set of challenges: narrow valleys and limited travel corridors, large numbers of residents commuting between communities, and a patchwork of different jurisdictions..
But we have a common interest in reducing traffic. And as with transitioning to electric vehicles, reducing traffic has numerous co-benefits: improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists, shorter and more pleasant commutes, lower household transportation costs. Moreover, according to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, EVs will only get Colorado about three-quarters of the way to its emissions-reduction goals; the other quarter will have to come from reducing vehicle miles traveled.
Our region is already doing many of the right things. RFTA and ECO Transit are exemplary rural bus systems. We have excellent bike paths that are suitable for commuting. In-town shuttles, dial-a-ride services and bikeshare services are starting to fill in the demand for “last mile” mobility. Remote work is also helping keep cars off the road.
Integrated clean mobility should be the goal. If we can plan with that paradigm in mind, we’ll have a transportation system that’s better for the local economy, the environment and our quality of life.
This column was originally published in the Sept. 13, 2023 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.