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Electric Cars Won't Save Us, They'll Make Our Cities Worse

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

By James Warren

@J_M_Warren on Twitter

Photo: Unsplash

Disclaimer, Dont @ Me

Before I tell you why electric vehicles are bad news for our city, I want to start by saying

that reducing emissions is unequivocally good, and that if we’re going to have cars in

our city, they ought to be electric. Even with the “long tailpipe” problem, comparable

electric cars will always be better for air quality and mitigating climate change than an

internal-combustion engine could ever be. Our grid can be modernized, a diesel engine


But I don’t want more EVs in our city. I don’t want more of any car in our city. Cars,

regardless of power source, make cities worse.

Size Matters, So Does Safety

Many of the issues with electric vehicles comes down to their weight. EVs are inherently

heavier than comparable internal-combustion cars, around 500-1000 pounds heavier on

average. The electric version of America’s favorite car, the Ford F-150, weighs 1,600

lbs more than its combustion counterpart. This is true of electric cars across the board

and is explained pretty well in this Motor Hills article.

"Park Row, a few blocks east of La Jolla Cove, has cracks and uneven surfaces."

Ashley Mackin-Solomon, Part 1 — Roadblocks to Repair: A look at La Jolla’s streets and the challenges in fixing them

The biggest thing we should be worried about when it comes to cars is safety, and not

just for those inside cars. I want our city to be a place where people can walk, bike, scoot, and generally navigate the city, and to do so safely. Do you remember “objects in motion tend to stay in motion” back in high school physics? That’s inertia as described by Newton's First Law of Motion, and it is the underpinning for the momentum equation, which is mass X velocity = momentum. If you increase the mass, you increase the

momentum. An object with more momentum is simply more dangerous. It’s the reason

you’d rather be hit by a fly than by a truck, and EVs pose a higher risk to people

because of their weight.

meaning they can accelerate from a stop at a much faster rate than a car with an

internal combustion engine. This means that in traffic environment characterized by

stopping and starting or in cases of drivers accidentally accelerating, EVs can pose a

higher risk to individual because they can get up to speed faster than a traditional car. If

Denver is serious about Vision Zero, the citywide goal of reducing traffic deaths to zero

by 2030, it needs to be serious about the fact that cars cause those deaths.

Burning Rubber, Inhaling Rubber

Various studies have found that the number one source of microplastics in the

environment are car tires. The problem of tire microplastics, of course, is a factor of how

many tires there are and how fast they wear. “Load” is a high-impact factor of tire wear,

and therefore a heavier car will go through tires at a faster rate, once again meaning

that EVs are worse on this metric than their combustion counterpart. While the biggest

concern for microplastics is way they flow to the ocean and are ingested by non-human

animals, they also become airborne and breathed in. While I support replacing internal-

combustion vehicles with electric vehicles on the basis of air quality, I’m not interested

in breathing in microplastics, or having them in our bodies of water, so if given the

choice between a street with an EV and a street without any cars, I’ll take no cars 10 times

out of 10.

Kole, P.J.; Löhr, A.J.; Van Belleghem, F.G.A.J.; Ragas, A.M.J. Wear and Tear of Tyres: A Stealthy Source of Microplastics in the Environment. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health2017, 14, 1265.

Kole, P.J.; Löhr, A.J.; Van Belleghem, F.G.A.J.; Ragas, A.M.J. Wear and Tear of Tyres: A Stealthy Source of Microplastics in the Environment. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health2017, 14, 1265.

Cars Are Loud, Yes, All Cars

One great thing about an electric motor is that it is far quieter than a comparable fossil-

fuel driven motor. Switching to EVs will help quiet the urban environment and improve

quality of life then, right? Well…sort of. The FHA reports that the noise generated by car

tires on pavement overtakes the noise of the engine at 20-30 mph, and this noise

increases with the weight of the vehicle. While the neighborhood roads of Denver are

now limited to 20mph, we all know that many do not obey those rules, and there are

many other roads which are exempt from this limit. This means that a street full of EVs

will not necessarily be quieter for bystanders than a street full of traditional vehicles.

Granted, EVs will be quieter in many circumstances, and I’m excited for that, but a

street with fewer cars of any type will always be a quieter street.

What About Buses?

For however heavy cars are, they’re nowhere near as heavy as a bus, so should we get

rid of buses? Not a chance, buses improve accessibility and provide service for

dozens of passengers, versus cars which typically serve 1.5 person per vehicle. Do I

want electric buses in our city as opposed to diesel buses? You bet. Remember, I

prefer electric vehicles if we must have vehicles, and we must have buses if we want

to make a truly great city. What’s more, bus drivers are professionals, and are much

less likely to injure and kill people despite their size and weight. In fact, Denver’s

publicly-accessible traffic accident data, which you can look through yourself here,

reports zero fatalities caused by transit buses or light-rail going back to 2013 (when the

data begins). Cars, all cars, are what make our streets dangerous and unlivable, and no

amount of electrification will change that.

It All Comes Down to the City

Electric vehicles promise a lot; they are a way for our car-addicted world to reduce

emissions, and emission-reduction should be our number one priority in policymaking.

We shouldn’t take car-addiction as normal or necessary, though. What I’m saying is not

that we should stay with internal combustion vehicles, but that we should move away

from cars entirely. This comes down to how we build our cities, and Denver has a long

22% in Manhattan, compared to over 90% in Denver. That isn’t a mistake, that is a

result of choices made by city planners and the city council. We can move away from

car-centric culture by designing our cities better, and every moment we wait, our air is

polluted, our streets are loud, and people are in danger.

Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards 1944-01: Vol 32 Iss 1


Works Cited:

Bharadwaj, Punith. “Why Do Electric Cars Accelerate Faster than Internal Combustion Cars?”, 30 Dec. 2021, Accessed 23 July 2022. Business, Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN. “Why Electric Cars Are so Much Heavier than Regular Cars.” CNN, 7 June 2021, Carrington, Damian. “Revealed: Microplastic Pollution Is Raining down on City Dwellers.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 27 Dec. 2019, Carrion, Migdalia. “Tire-Pavement Noise - References - Sustainable Pavement Program - Sustainability - Pavements - Federal Highway Administration.”, Accessed 23 July 2022. Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. “Personal Transportation Factsheet.” Center for Sustainable Systems, 2021, City and County of Denver, Denver Police Department / Data Analysis Unit. “Denver Open Data Catalog: Traffic Accidents.”, 2022, Accessed 23 July 2022. “Factors Influencing Tire Mileage | Continental Tires.”, Accessed 23 July 2022. Internet Archive. Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards 1944-01: Vol 32 Iss 1. Internet Archive, Superintendent of Government Documents, 1 Jan. 1944, Accessed 23 July 2022. iSeeCars. “The Most Popular New and Used Cars in 2021.” ABC27, 8 Jan. 2022, Kole, Pieter Jan, et al. “Wear and Tear of Tyres: A Stealthy Source of Microplastics in the Environment.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, no. 10, 20 Oct. 2017, p. 1265,, 10.3390/ijerph14101265. Accessed 25 Sept. 2019. Maciag, Mike. “Vehicle Ownership in U.S. Cities Data and Map.”, 9 Dec. 2014, Mackin-Solomon, Ashley, and Elisabeth Frausto. “Part 1 — Roadblocks to Repair: A Look at La Jolla’s Streets and the Challenges in Fixing Them.” La Jolla Light, 7 Mar. 2022, Accessed 23 July 2022. Martynyuk, Ernest. “7 Reasons Why Electric Cars Are so Heavy | Motor Hills.”, 8 Nov. 2021, Https:// NYCEDC. “New Yorkers and Their Cars | NYCEDC.”, 2018, “POLICY WIN: Twenty Is Plenty / Veinte Es Suficiente.” Denver Streets Partnership, Accessed 23 July 2022. Sutton, Rebecca, et al. Understanding Microplastic Levels, Pathways, and Transport in the San Francisco Bay Region Design and Layout Funded by with Additional Support from Patagonia City of Palo Alto East Bay Municipal Utility District Virginia Wellington Cabot Foundation California Ocean Protection Council San Francisco Bay Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality October 2019 SFEI-ASC Publication #950 Ii. The Physics Classroom. “Newton’s First Law.” The Physics Classroom, 2000, “Vision Zero.”, Accessed 23 July 2022. Warren, James. “Electric Busses and the Mysterious Tailpipe.” James Warren, 23 June 2021, Accessed 23 July 2022.

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