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Curb Your Enthusiasm for Curbside EV Charging, Officials Say

In a sign of yet another demand placed on already busy curbs, officials at the recent CoMotion Miami conference weighed in on the placement of urban EV chargers. Spoiler alert: they don’t like the idea of a single-use curbside.

Electric vehicles using curbside charging in Phoenix, Ariz.
Electric vehicles using curbside charging in Phoenix, Ariz.
Parking officials seem to have little interest in putting electric vehicle charging stations at the curbside — an increasingly busy and sought after space in urban areas.

This is the kind of conversation parking, transportation and planning officials will be having in the coming years, as cities adapt to serve more electric vehicles.

“I find it really challenging to talk about putting EV chargers at the curb when all four of us, we just spent 20 minutes talking about the demand at the curb ... but once you put an EV charger there, it can be nothing but EV charging at that particular location on the curb. It becomes really challenging,” said Maria Irshad, a deputy director in the Houston parking department, overseeing on-street parking.

Irshad was joined by parking officials from the public and private sector on a panel discussion May 11 at the CoMotion Miami conference. A prevailing attitude among the speakers was the need for street curbs to become more dynamic spaces, shifting from zones for parking to zones for deliveries, to zones for passenger drop-off and other uses.

“The impact of the demands we’re seeing are only going to continue to increase,” said Roamy Valera, president of Automotus, a curb management software company.

The issue around EV charging, say curb-watchers, is that placing a charger at the curbside all but eliminates the possible flexibility of using that space for other uses other than parking.

Houston is a city with ample off-street parking, said Irshad, making these areas better locations for chargers.

“Wouldn’t it make sense that the EV chargers be in those locations, and the curb retain its flexibility so that we can properly manage it?” she offered. “Because once you put that EV charger down, all this ‘need to be agile’ kind of goes away. Now it’s an EV charger space, 24/7.”

Bicycles are another competing user for the curb. Houston is building out some 1,500 miles of dedicated bike lanes at the curb, which Irshad was quick to note was another loss of city parking.

“We support EV charging,” she added. “But keep it off-street. Keep it in a parking lot or garage.”

Jason Sutton, senior vice president and general manager of curbside solutions at Passport Labs, advised his fellow panelists to not forget that on the ground, cities can be varied and nuanced.

“You will have places that are very much maybe business-driven, maybe nightlife-driven, maybe hospital-driven, maybe residential-driven, and within that I think you’ll find nuance of where curb-charging could be appropriate,” he said.

In Miami, public policy is already nudging EV charging toward garages and parking lots, said Alejandra Argudin, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, pointing out that 20 percent of spaces in a new parking garage need to be “EV ready.”

“I think that’s good planning for the future,” she said.

In March, the U.S. Department of Transportation began accepting applications for funding community charging initiatives. The federal government will provide $2.5 billion over five years as part of the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program, established by the infrastructure law.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.