My View: Innovation, Away from Internal Combustion and Going Carless

Tesla represents an innovative concept allowing electric cars to travel 265 miles between recharging.
Tesla represents an innovative concept allowing electric cars to travel 265 miles between recharging.

One of our readers in the past week “suggested” that perhaps the term innovation is an overused term. There is more than a modicum of truth to that, so I’m not sure that the idea of being carless is an innovative idea, or just a practical one.

However, I want to respond with an interesting comment by one of our readers: “Welcome to the world [of] modernization and better and faster ways of getting around with the use of automobiles.  It’s called progress. There will always be those who fight innovation and try to stick to their old ways of doing things.  We didn’t [used to] use phones either, should we go back to the telegraph?”

I think the reader raises an important point that must be addressed in the ongoing discussion. The internal combustion engine is not new technology – it was developed in the late 19th century, along with the rise in commercial drilling and production of petroleum.

Progress in society is, of course, non-linear. And there are generally unintended consequences of new inventions. With the car comes the tens of thousands of vehicular deaths each year. We have the rising concerns about global warming and the health concerns of the more sedentary lifestyle.

There are really separate issues being raised in the carless debate. There is a group of people – perhaps embodied by the TEDx presentation last week by Maria Contreras Tebbutt – who are, in a sense, choosing to move away from cars, believing that the progress of the internal combustion engine comes with too many personal costs.

At the same time, there are those who see the strong negative consequences of the automobile and wish to mitigate those. In reducing our carbon footprint and the impact on climate change, many are not necessarily looking to turn back the clock of progress, but to carve a new path forward.

This is not new. We saw this emerge out of the oil crisis in the 1970s and a wave of more fuel efficient cars coming onto the market. That has continued with the wave of hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.

So one wave of innovation has been to move away from the internal combustion engine – a technology that is hardly innovative at this point, at 130 years old – and toward alternative fuel cars. Tesla has, in a sense, transformed the electric car industry by introducing a high-performance electric sports car to the market.

The problem that electric cars have suffered from is that they have a short range and a very high cost. A Tesla will range from $70,000 to $100,000 but it has changed the game. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which has a 75 mile range, Tesla can go 265 miles, similar to the range of a gas tank in a conventional vehicle.

Tesla hopes to be able to produce more affordable vehicles in the $30,000 range with a similar mileage range. And they want to make the vehicles more practical by building a nationwide network of charging stations that can deliver 200 miles of charge in half an hour.

That is one trajectory of innovation – changing the way we drive our vehicles.

But there is another strand of thinking that we highlighted last week – by discussing a number of European cities that have made portions of their city carless – and that is that the single-occupancy vehicle may not be the best transportation choice for every situation.

Even if we move in the next ten years away from gasoline powered vehicles – which is clearly where we are moving if Tesla and others can solve those practical problems, our cities and communities are not set up well for single occupancy vehicles which clog the roadways, require parking, and, at least for the present, emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.

When I lived and worked in DC after undergraduate school two decades ago, I owned no car. Most places you could hop on the metro – it was inexpensive and reliable. For those times when you were in a hurry or for the places metro couldn’t take you – like Georgetown, taxi cabs (i.e. car sharing) were readily available.

Washington was not well set up for the car, as the streets were awkward and congested. It was a minefield trying to traverse two different cultures of drivers – polite southerners mixed with aggressive New Yorkers. Parking was hard to find and expensive. I found that I could actually bike across town much faster than I could drive.

My proposal and discussions of Nishi and going carless are actually driven less by philosophical considerations and driven more by practical ones. As articles we have published in the last week were intended to demonstrate, there are critical traffic flow problems in Davis.

We push people to enter the campus off of Russell Blvd. which makes little sense from a traffic flow perspective. Many cars appear to exit I-80 on Richards Blvd., drive under the underpass, turn left on 1st, turn right on B, then turn left on 5th/ Russell before making a left onto campus.

The alternative way to enter on the north side of campus would be to drive to Highway 113, exit at Russell and make a right. That would be a bit preferable in terms of avoiding driving through downtown.

The best way, from the city’s standpoint, is entering campus from the south end off I-80, or the west end off 113 by West Village.

Nishi is a great location except for the problem of traffic circulation. One reader suggested we might be better able to handle traffic by encouraging cars to make a left onto Olive, drive through Nishi and onto campus.

Still, the issue of traffic circulation aside, you could solve several problems by making at least the residential portion of Nishi carless. First, you would not have to build a parking lot, which takes up valuable foot print. That means that the area where they are planning to build a parking lot could be transformed to increased density of residential housing.

Second, you could densify the entire section.

As we pointed out, for most everyday purposes you would not need a car if you lived in Nishi and either worked at or attended UC Davis. You would be in walking distance from UC Davis and the downtown. Food would be readily accessible at Whole Foods and at a bikable distance from Safeway in south Davis and the Co-op on the eastern portion of the core.

There are times when you might need a car and a bus will not suffice, but that’s why we have Zipcar and other car-sharing options.

We are still trying to obtain the number of students who do not own cars at UC Davis, but my guess is it’s in the thousands and, if Davis is really going to increase its overseas student population, none of those students are likely to have cars.

We have plenty of housing options for students who wish to have cars, but why not accommodate a growing population who doesn’t?

The bottom line is that we don’t view this type of thinking as attempting to roll back progress, but rather a way to understand that progress moves us in non-linear ways.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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37 Comments

  1. Don Shor

    if Davis is really going to increase its overseas student population, none of those students are likely to have cars.”

    On what do you base this statement? Evidence? I think it’s probably not accurate.

      1. South of Davis

        Things are going very well for UC Davis and the student population is a LOT different than 30 years ago when my sister was an undergrad (smarter, richer and more diverse).

        With Davis in the top 50 of ALL colleges in America (and top 10 of public schools) we are going to see a LOT more rich kids at the school (since it is getting so hard to get in to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford).

        In the past month I have seen two (both looked Chinese) students downtown driving all new ~$100K Supercharged Range Rover Sports.

        We will never be like HBS (where the average student left a job making more than $250K the year before) but I’m guessing that the majority of kids starting grad school at UCD were doing OK and will probably have a car.

        1. Barack Palin

          I was living in the Bay Area when my daughter first attended UCDAVIS.  We tried to get her to just have a bike, but she kept saying she needed a car and halfway through her sophomore year we bought her a used Jeep.  It seemed to me that most of her college friends had a car.

        2. Don Shor

          I’d be surprised if foreign students who come here differ substantially from other graduate and upper division students with respect to car ownership. I see no basis for David’s assumption.

          1. Matt Williams

            The question (as I understand it) was not “do you own a car in Davis” but rather “do you have access to a car in Davis.” Big difference.

        3. Davis Progressive

          my daughter drove to her college.  she took one of our older cars.  seems to me it would be hard for a student from china to do the same.

          “In the past month I have seen two (both looked Chinese) students downtown driving all new ~$100K Supercharged Range Rover Sports.”

          there are a lot of students who are look chinese but were born here.  so did you talk to them?

        4. Davis Progressive

          bp: honest question, if she had had a chance to live in a place like nishi, do you think she would have been more likely to have continued not needing a car?

        5. Barack Palin

          DP, no, she wanted a car for the freedom to be able to drive home to see us and not deal with the train and subsequent connections.  She also liked to go to Lake Tahoe and Lake Berryessa with her friends.  Not having a car she felt like she was trapped in boring Davis, her words not mine.

        6. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > there are a lot of students who are look chinese

          > but were born here.  so did you talk to them?

          I just said they “looked” Chinese (I’m not sure why you included a quote from someone else about China).  They could have been from China or from wealthy Chinese American families (that tend to buy their college age kids nice cars at a far higher percentage than European American families).

          P.S. If you ask most people “who were born here” that look Chinese if they are Chinese they will say “yes”…

        7. Davis Progressive

          which makes your point completely irrelevant since the question is whether they are an overseas student rather than a student who happens to be of an ethnicity but from this country.

    1. Biddlin

      I know of a student coming from the UK,  who’s never driven and is looking forward to doing it.( I have recommended a local driving school!)
      I have advised her of the state of public transportation, here.
      ;>)/

  2. odd man out

    DG wrote:”We are still trying to obtain the number of students who do not own cars at UC Davis, but my guess is it’s in the thousands and, if Davis is really going to increase its overseas student population, none of those students are likely to have cars.”

    For a wealth of info about student, staff & faculty commuting habits, see the annual Campus Travel Survey results here:

    http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/campus-travel-surveys/

    The most recent published results are from 2013-14. 2014-15 should be available soon.

  3. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which has a 75 mile range, Tesla can go 265

    > miles, similar to the range of a gas tank in a conventional vehicle.

    I love high tech stuff, but just like the “5 Year” CFL bulbs only last ~3 years (I date them with a Sharpie when I put them in) the Leaf only has a real range of ~40 miles (one of my best friends has one) and the Tesla is lucky to ever make it over 200 miles (a lot less if driving in the mountains since I have been talking to Tesla owners for years since the charging station is outside the Mexican place I like in Squaw Valley).

    If I recall David has mentioned that he makes the ~8 mile round trip from the Pioneer Park Area to Downtown in a car with an internal combustion engine (something even the worst electric car can easily do).  If he has not made the switch to electric I would be interested to hear why.

    > Tesla hopes to be able to produce more affordable vehicles in the

    > $30,000 range with a similar mileage range.

    Since a typical Toyota Prius now costs over $30K out the door (getting higher every year) the odds of seeing a $30K Tesla is probably not as good as the odds that we will be taking the “Hyperloop” to LA before 2025:

    http://qz.com/316623/these-guys-say-well-have-elon-musks-super-fast-hyperloop-within-10-years/

    1. zaqzaq

      You can get a  base model Prius for well under $25K.   They get more expensive with leather and nav systems and other additions which are only ego aids.  You get about 400 hundred miles to a tank in the Prius about 45mpg.

       

      1. South of Davis

        zaqzaq wrote;

        > You can get a  base model Prius for well under $25K.

        If you notice I wrote “out the door” and after the sales tax of $2,125 ($125 more than last year due to the increase we voted for) and registration of ~$1,000 you are getting close to $30K on even a base model, throw in the $3K “solar roof” (so your “green friends” won’t give you a hard time) and a couple other options and most people will have parted with $3oK before getting a new Prius home (living in Davis I know quite a few people that have bought a Prius in the last couple years)…

        P.S. I just looked and the “plug in” Prius has a base price of $29,990 (over $5K more than the “standard” non “plug in” Prius)…

        P.P.S. My point was that if you want a plug in today a Prius is a great little car and if you are waiting for a $30K Tesla you can plug in you probably will never see one that cheap…

      2. darelldd

        The only way I get 45 mpg in my (model year 2006 rated at 48 mpg) Prius is when towing a trailer, or with bikes mounted on the roof. Lifetime average for that car  (currently at ~100k miles) is 52 mpg.

        I offer this just for a data point.

        (I get ~60 mpg in the newest Prius.)

    2. darelldd

      SOD – a couple of responses:

      The original CFL’s were robust and durable. They lasted well beyond the claimed lifetime. Then the WalMart mentality took over in the US, as it so often does. We wanted these things for $1.99, not for $15! We removed all quality standards and had them built overseas. And we got exactly what we asked for: Very “cheap” bulbs that ended up costing us more, and that made the entire concept look bad. (the silver lining is that LED bulbs are now much better protected in quality due to the CFL disaster.) You would do better to compare EVs to the astonishing rise in quality, performance, and the continually lowering cost of LEDs, not CFLs.
      Until the battery is significantly degraded, the Leaf’s range is approximately double what you claim. We don’t know if your best friend is charging fully for range, or using the 80% charge feature. Is he using the entire capacity of the pack? Has he cooked it with over-charging in the summer heat? If his new Leaf was getting 40 miles, he should go get his money back.  Probably even more interesting is that even 40 miles still covers more miles than the average American drives in a day for all reasons combined. (yes, I realize that nobody is “average” and that we all have different needs – I’m just putting the terrible range of 40 miles into perspective).
      There are plenty of Model S owners who can and have hit 300 miles on a charge. Journalists who have driven across the country without knowing a thing about the cars were getting well over 200 miles. Lucky to make it over 200 miles of range? Well, there are ways to screw up the range, but luck has nothing to do with it. While I appreciate that you seem unimpressed with EVs, this stuff is so easily refuted that I’m not sure it is worth discussing. A Tesla speeding UP the hill to Squaw may get about 200 miles or range. Turn it around and bring it back to the valley and you’ll about double the range. Shockingly, the same physics applies to gas cars as well. And some gas cars struggle to get much over 200 miles of range. Same for plenty of gas motorcycles and scooters. And somehow they make do. Anyway – your point seems to be that EV range is over-hyped. And I certainly agree that some of that exists. But it’s not quite what you claim, and it’s not that big of a deal anyway.
      The Model III is claimed to be ~$35k after incentives, and not including all the “out the door” stuff. So the claimed price is realistic. It will be significantly more than “$30k” that folks are quoting here. Every time I bet against Elon, I end up with egg on my face. And I won’t bet against him on the III. It is GM’s Bolt that is advertised to be $30k.

      (Please note: My EV knowledge is first hand. I have driven at least 20 different EV models, and I have owned several different EVs over the past 14 years. Each one used as our primary motor vehicle. My wife and I have 200,000 all-electric miles between us. I don’t just hear about EVs – I live and breath them. I know what you’re thinking… where do you find time to ride, Darell?)

      Cheers,

      – Darell

  4. Don Shor

    Here are some pertinent stats from the transportation study linked above. Nishi residential units are not likely to be aimed primarily at freshmen and sophomores.

    car access
    transport barriers
    and why some people don’t like to use bikes….
    bike injuries

    1. Barack Palin

      I’m curious Don Shor as to how many college students buy plants for their apartments and balconies or small yards?  Do you see a development where cars are prohibited or scaled way back as hurting your business and other establishments not located close to the campus or downtown?

      1. Matt Williams

        I did the calculations, and for Undergraduate it calculates to approximately 10,500 students who do not have access to a car. As noted in my comments to Don, there are probably a substantial number of additional students who said “yes” they have access to a car (through a roommate/significant other) but do not actually own a car.

        For the record the calculated number of UCD Undergrads who have access to a car is approximately 15,750.

    2. Matt Williams

      Don, I think you are correct when you say Nishi residential units are not likely to be aimed primarily at freshmen and sophomores. The trend of the “have access to a car” percentages is both interesting and illuminating. Freshmen = 20.1% Sophomores = 44.1% Juniors = 62.9% Seniors = 77.0% Masters = 88.5% PhD = 86.2%

      It is interesting to cross reference those statistics with the housing statistics from http://housing.ucdavis.edu/about/strategic-plan/ specifically “More than 90 percent of all incoming freshmen and 20 percent of incoming transfer students contract to live in student housing.” From http://budget.ucdavis.edu/data-reports/documents/enrollment-reports/eactprj_ycurr.pdf we know that there are 5,647 Freshmen (90% = 5,083) and that there are 4,755 dormitory beds, so essentially 100% of the dormitory beds are taken up by Freshmen. As a result Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors live off campus at locations where parking spaces are provided as part of the housing rental accommodations. There is no “downside” cost of bringing a car to Davis and leaving it parked gathering a patina of dust virtually 100% of the time. If that same parking accommodation were to cost the student an incremental $270 per month ($9 a day times 30 days) then I think you would see a market-driven change in the “have access to a car” percentages. Further, depending on how the question was asked, if there are five roommates in a student rental house in which only one of those students owns and possesses a car, will the other four students answer “yes” or “no” to the have access to a car question in the survey. My suspicion is that some, if not all, of them would respond “yes.”

  5. Anon

    But there is another strand of thinking that we highlighted last week – by discussing a number of European cities that have made portions of their city carless – and that is that the single-occupancy vehicle may not be the best transportation choice for every situation.”

    Europe is far different from the United States.  You can drive across a European country in no more than a day, and in some cases half a day.  Thus for Europe, it is more practical and considerably cheaper to provide public transportation than in the United States.  Try building a bullet train across Germany versus across the United States!

    When I lived and worked in DC after undergraduate school two decades ago, I owned no car. Most places you could hop on the metro – it was inexpensive and reliable. For those times when you were in a hurry or for the places metro couldn’t take you – like Georgetown, taxi cabs (i.e. car sharing) were readily available.

    Yes, if you live IN a city (in this case INSIDE THE BELTWAY), that has a good public transit system like a subway or BART system as in San Francisco, going carless might make perfect sense.  However, even in Washington, D.C., many more people do not live in the city but in the suburbs, take the subway downtown to work, but need a car to get around where they live in suburbia to grocery shop, drive their kids to soccer, etc.  Houses are on minimum quarter acre lots, often half acre lots and the nearest grocery store may be miles away.  All the suburban kids are bussed to school because of the distances.

    ““if Davis is really going to increase its overseas student population, none of those students are likely to have cars.”

    There is a huge assumption being made here – that Nishi will house ALL STUDENTS, ALL of whom WILL NOT WANT CARS.  How the heck could you possibly know this?

    1. Matt Williams

      There is a huge assumption being made here – that Nishi will house ALL STUDENTS, ALL of whom WILL NOT WANT CARS. How the heck could you possibly know this?

      Where have you ever seen that assumption made? I certainly never have seen it made.

    2. Topcat

      Europe is far different from the United States.  You can drive across a European country in no more than a day, and in some cases half a day.  Thus for Europe, it is more practical and considerably cheaper to provide public transportation than in the United States.  Try building a bullet train across Germany versus across the United States!

      Yes, Europe is very different from the US.  The population density is much greater in Europe making public transportation more practical.  Also, the price of gasoline is MUCH higher in Europe and taxes and fees on private automobiles are very high in most European countries.

  6. Tia Will

    There is a huge assumption being made here – that Nishi will house ALL STUDENTS, ALL of whom WILL NOT WANT CARS.  How the heck could you possibly know this?”

    I do not believe that this is the assumption being made at all. I believe that this is a straw man, absolutist argument that is being presented to dismiss the idea of limiting the availability of cars within Nishi. True, a carless Nishi, had been mentioned but would have the support of very few. Even the outliers such as myself recognize that because we have built virtually all of our infrastructure around the car, this is not a reasonable option at this point in time. However, this does not mean that we could not choose to be forward looking and be willing to consider alternatives which would cater more to those of us who favor less car dependent neighborhoods than is the American current standard. Many of us would actually see this as progress, not regression.

  7. Alan Miller

    “One reader suggested we might be better able to handle traffic by encouraging cars to make a left onto Olive, drive through Nishi and onto campus.”

    Not suggested:  that was the plan I heard from one of the developers, when the workshops were happening a few months ago, before this revelation that UCD may not allow a connection.

  8. Anon

    TO TIA AND MATT:

    David Greenwald:

    We are still trying to obtain the number of students who do not own cars at UC Davis, but my guess is it’s in the thousands...”

    ““if Davis is really going to increase its overseas student population, none of those students are likely to have cars.”

    We have plenty of housing options for students who wish to have cars, but why not accommodate a growing population who doesn’t?”

    All of these statements and others made by DG sounded to me as if he assumed the people who would buy into units at Nishi are students who do not own cars! That is a huge and unsubstantiated assumption.

     

  9. darelldd

    I’m going to head off on a different path – only because my expertise is in non-petroleum vehicles, and not in discussing the transportation choices of foreign students.

    David, you said this:

    The problem that electric cars have suffered from is that they have a short range and a very high cost. A Tesla will range from $70,000 to $100,000 but it has changed the game. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which has a 75 mile range, Tesla can go 265 miles, similar to the range of a gas tank in a conventional vehicle.

    You claim that electric cars have a short range and a “very high cost.” To demonstrate high cost, you use Tesla (a car that has a long range, super luxury and insane performance). And to demonstrate short range, you use the Nissan Leaf (a car that costs less than the average new car sold in the US, and was introduced at a price a full $10,000 below what all industry experts thought was feasible in 2011.

    Why not report that this “problem” with EVs is clearly untrue by using your same examples in the proper context? EVs can be cheap (Leaf), and they can be long range and astonishingly high performance (Tesla)? EVs are not expensive AND short range any longer.

    Clearly EVs are not the perfect vehicle for everybody. But there’s no reason to perpetuate the tired negatives that no longer apply.

  10. Topcat

    We push people to enter the campus off of Russell Blvd. which makes little sense from a traffic flow perspective. Many cars appear to exit I-80 on Richards Blvd., drive under the underpass, turn left on 1st, turn right on B, then turn left on 5th/ Russell before making a left onto campus.
    The alternative way to enter on the north side of campus would be to drive to Highway 113, exit at Russell and make a right. That would be a bit preferable in terms of avoiding driving through downtown.
    The best way, from the city’s standpoint, is entering campus from the south end off I-80, or the west end off 113 by West Village.

    The two ways to get to campus that have the least impact on city traffic are:  1) From westbound I-80, take the Old Davis Road (exit 70) and turn right towards the Mondavi Center.  2) Take 113 North to Hutchison (exit 27) and turn right onto Hutchison.

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