Healthy Streets: Street Charging

Chapman Taylor’s Transport & Infrastructure team provides support on many of our mixed-use urban development projects, which require a progressive, joined up, multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach.

COVID-19 has triggered a step change in how we design the urban public realm and how that interfaces with transport infrastructure and functions. In a new series of Insight papers by Chapman Taylor UK Transportation Director Peter Farmer, we explore five interlinked aspects influencing our approach:

  • Rebalancing the street: a shift in street priorities
  • The “Elastic Street”: the need to reconnect with our environment and transport options
  • The new wave cycling boom and its impacts
  • The street and buildings: new demands of the interface with the public realm
  • Street charging: accommodating e-cars and bikes in urban residential streets

In the fifth and final paper in this series, we explore some of the challenges of accommodating home charging of electric vehicles.

In 1950, 79% of the UK population lived in cities but that’s set to rise to 92.2% by 2030. With growing numbers of people living, and creating carbon emissions, in cities, it’s crucial that our urban environments embrace a low-carbon future. A key component of this will be accommodating the rising proportion of electric cars and micro-mobility vehicles.

Accommodating electric vehicles in our urban streets presents some challenges. These include meeting the projected power demand and safety issues such as near-silent cars and speeding scooters. More importantly, how do we plan charging-dense urban street patterns.

As battery technology improves, the need for charging will reduce. However, in the interim, we need to regularly charge these vehicles. It is currently assumed that as much as 60% of car charging will be done at home.

We must first hold in mind the issue of coverage. We can disregard those with driveways and/or a garage. Roughly six out of ten homes have off-street parking and PWC[i] recently estimated that as many as 84% of UK drivers have access to off-street parking at home. In addition, homeowners make up the largest share of vehicle drivers and 78% of them have access to off-street parking. Therefore, we are addressing a relatively small proportion of cars, mostly in our dense urban areas.

These areas should become more pedestrian- and cycling-orientated, as well as being served by reasonable levels of public, hail and share-scheme transport provision. However, for a substantial minority, street charging will be a significant issue.

We need to consider how much charging capability we provide and how close to each household. This process needs to be centrally planned and controlled and not just market-driven, with every household or car owner able to have free access to a dedicated charging point, perhaps with some level of sharing and scheduling.

Generally, we don’t have dedicated parking spaces immediately outside our houses, and use is subject to an element of cooperation and understanding. We would contend that the universal provision of dedicated points is unviable and undesirable. Therefore, we need a fundamental shift in our relationship with our car and our notions of autonomy.

There are a wide range of charging point systems being developed and on the market. These are generally kerbside or end-of-parking-bay bollard additions to our streetscapes. There are some lower alternatives and some pop-up systems. As things stand, more discreet, panel-type induction charging is not a truly viable alternative. The current alternative is the trip-hazard extension lead through the letterbox and front gate and across the footpath.

So what options are available to us?

Bollards – There is a wide range of connection systems appearing at our kerbsides. Many serve two or more adjacent bays.

Pop-ups – Less intrusive when not being used, but they do require individuals to lower them when not in use. They also have issues with debris and water ingress as well as raising and lowering problems.

Lamppost charging – This innovation is a way of eking out a little charge from underused lighting ring mains and can be useful for a few vehicles, but it doesn’t scale beyond two or three cars per circuit at a time and doesn’t address other issues, such as the parking bay not always being free when required.

Public sharing – Sharing of charging points is a way of reducing costs and intrusion, but requires a booking system and mutual user respect.

Kerb sockets – A potentially useful development would be kerbs with built-in power runs. The key issue with this is the clash with the primary purpose of a kerb being containment and direction of surface water, given that water and electricity don’t mix well.

Private trunking – Also under consideration is the installation of trunking from house to kerb. Two forms have been considered – the first with a lifetable cover and the second with a narrow slot wide enough for a cable, similar to the cast iron slot drains seen in Victorian pavements. While both pose potential maintenance issues, these would rest with the user. Again, both are predicated on being able to park closed to your house frontage.

Bollard Charger | Lampost Charger | Pop-up Charger

Charging Box | Gutter Charger with Cover | Gutter Charger | Kerb Charger

In isolation, charging points such as bollards are a further intrusion into, and obstruction of, the landscape. However, they could be developed alongside other interventions, such as the “parklet”, circumventing this problem. It is likely that we will need to develop a number of solutions, but the way ahead is to identify and use some shared community spaces and to manage them through a booking system.

Parklet

Part of the challenge with this approach will be to identify natural locations. This may be further complicated by our wish to reduce overall car space allocation. However, even in the densest urban areas, there are often spaces, often towards junctions, that could be considered as natural sites. As mentioned in Healthy Streets: Elastic Street, reducing junction radii may be desirable, potentially allowing further space for charging. In many of our streets, such as the hundreds of Victorian terrace streets of London, or the apartment blocks of Paris, this is all predicated on the reasonable assumption of a reduced propensity towards car ownership.

With all interventions, we should look ahead. While many interventions are costly now, we need to consider if they are likely to become obsolete in the future. We have already touched on battery technology and induction charging. There is also the potential of rapid charging becoming more scalable and viable, allowing drivers to pause a journey and charge, albeit for slightly longer, which is not dissimilar in principle to refuelling a combustion car now. Alternatively, rapid changing could be available as a service during activities such as shopping or a visit to the gym.

Aside from domestic charging, public and commercial areas will also need to continually upscale provision. Development requirements have significantly increased in recent years, and we will see these requirements increase further.

In the provision of e-charging, developers should also consider other modes within the e-fleet, in particular those at the larger end of the micro-mobility division. When we consider the traditional lack of provision for modes such as mobility scooters, which are essentially a form of wheelchair, it is obvious that this situation needs to improve and be enabled to become more viable. We should take a close look at sharing schemes and at new vehicles, such as Arcimoto’s[ii] three-wheeled cross between a motorcycle and a go-cart, which is ideal for medium-range trips, such as town-to-town, where a public alternative is not immediately available.

The arrival of fully autonomous features vehicles will offer two solutions to the problem of providing sufficient charging capability in our denser urban spaces. Firstly, people will be able to send the vehicle off to get charged at an aggregated facility, and secondly, we may see a decrease in private ownership and an increase in sharing or hailing schemes, further reducing congestion.

In the meantime, a thorough spatial analysis and an intelligent strategy, combined with the most appropriate technology for the specific conditions in each location, will allow for a smoother transition to widespread electric vehicle use, hopefully in time for the government’s proposed 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel-engine cars.

Series Summary

There have been numerous downsides to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has also presented us with a rare opportunity to test, reset and reimagine our relationships with our streets. Whether it is the forms of transport we encourage/discourage, the possibilities for optimising our public realms spaces, rethinking the interface between buildings and the street or rethinking the very purpose of the street, the changes we have discussed may seem profound, but they are vital if we are to equip our towns and cities to meet the demands of the coming decades.

Our proposals for rebalancing our streets will require architects, planners, developers and the wider public to be more innovative, flexible and inclusive in our approach, but the result, in terms of providing more efficient and sustainable towns and cities, will be well worth the effort. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of misery, so we should not waste the rare opportunity it has provided to create something positive for the environment and for future generations.

[1] https://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/power-utilities/insights/electric-vehicle-infrastructure-report-april-2018.html

[2] https://www.arcimoto.com/

About the Author

Peter Farmer (BArch(Hons) BA Arch(Hons) RIBA)

Director, UK

Peter heads up our Transportation sector in the UK. He undertakes a key role in the continuing development of this sector, related research, masterplanning, due diligence and sustainability.

With over 25 years’ specialist experience across the UK, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, he has an in-depth understanding of the political and business drivers of projects with multiple stakeholders and complex design and delivery teams.

Areas of expertise:

Commercial / Transport

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