NOTE: BNC Policy Regarding Letters: BNC invites letters from eNEWS readers. Letters and photos should be sent to email@example.com and should be about issues of neighborhood interest. Letters should be no longer than 500 words, although at times we will publish letters that exceed that length. All letters should state the name(s) of the author and at least the general area where the author lives or the neighborhood group he/she is affiliated with. That information will be published with the letter. Letters should also include a phone number and e-mail address where the author can be contacted. That information will NOT be published. We ask for it just in case we have any questions, and, of course, we need to verify who it was that sent the letter.
BNC received a letter from one of our readers regarding electric cars asking for information about how many Teslas there are in Berkeley. Well, BNC can’t answer that question, but we’ve never backed away from trying to find an answer to anything, so we started by just looking around to see how many electric cars we could spot on our streets. Around the middle of August, we found a few Teslas in Berkeley and that made us even more curious, particularly when we heard that Mayor Bates has been declaring at Metropolitan Transportation Commission meetings that Berkeley will be car-less by some foreseeable date in the future.
We also made a few trips to Whole Foods on Gilman where they have a lineup of several charging stations for electric car owners to use while shopping for their groceries. We’re sorry to report that we found very few electric cars in the charging stations there, but maybe that will change over time. Berkeley is certainly planning for electric cars in the rebuilding of the Center Street Garage Downtown and in the discussion about scattering charging stations throughout the City.
However, as we got into this subject, we found some interesting facts regarding cars. President Roosevelt was the first American President to ride in an automobile in public. That occurred on August 22, 1902 and the car was electric no less! That certainly spiked our curiosity because we always thought that the electric car was cutting edge. Not so, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson built an electric carriage in 1830. It was powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. Some 60 years later in 1891, William Morrison, of Des Moines, Iowa, built the first successful electric car, and in1897, New York City had electric-powered taxi cabs. By 1900, about 4,190 cars were being manufactured in the US and a whopping 28% of them were electric!
While President Teddy Roosevelt was the first President to ride in an automobile in public, he was not the first President to ride in a car. That distinction goes to President William McKinley who was given a private ride in a Stanley Steamer in September 1901. The Stanley Steamer was on the market until the early 1920s. While President Teddy Roosevelt became the first President to ride in a car and his administration actually purchased a steam-driven car for use as a “Presidential Automobile,” President T. Roosevelt apparently made no secret of the fact that he preferred horses to automobiles.
Then in 1908, Henry Ford mass-produced the gasoline powered Model T that would set the standard for years and make the sale of electric cars no longer commercially viable. This was particularly true after 1912 when Charles Kettering invented the electric starter that eliminated the not-so-user-friendly hand crank used in the first Model Ts.
Up until 1939, our Presidents had chauffeurs who drove them in standard production cars from U.S.A. automakers. The transition to limousines began in 1939 when the U.S. Secret Service took delivery of a custom-made stretched version of Lincoln’s K-series model powered by a V-12 engine. It was dubbed the “Sunshine Special” because it was seen most often with its top down. The vehicle was customized for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use with oversized rear-hinged doors to facilitate easy access for his wheelchair.
In 1972, Victor Wouk created the first full-powered, full-sized hybrid from a Buick Skylark. He did it under a 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program that was killed by the Environmental Protection Agency some four years later in 1976.
California got into promoting low emission vehicles in 1990 by approving a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate that required 2% of the state’s vehicles to have no emissions by 1998 with an increased requirement to 10% no emissions by 2003. Then, California turned it all around and weakened the requirements to reduce the required number of pure ZEVs over the next decade. We can guess why this happened!
In 1997, Toyota unveiled the Prius, and in November 2006, Tesla unveiled its Roadster at the San Francisco International Auto Show with a base price of $98,950. With Toyota on their heels, General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection in June of 2009 resulting in the elimination of models like Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac and the US government holding a 61% stake in the restructured company. In August that year, the Nissan LEAF was unveiled, followed by the Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi i MiEV.
Berkeley used to be recognized as the City with the most Prius cars, but the last figures we saw gave that honor to the San Francisco, Oakland area that tops the charts with a little over 9% of the sales of all Prius’. We presume Berkeley is wrapped into that figure but haven’t been able to get either the number of Prius’ registered in Berkeley, or for that matter, the number of cars registered in Berkeley over time.
Anecdotally, BNC feels that while the City is pursuing a policy to get people out of their cars by approving development with either far fewer cars, over what would normally be required, or no cars at all, and encouraging walking and biking, there seems to be more and more cars on our streets. We don’t know if this is fact, but we’d like to see some data.
What we have seen is that in August 2015, major newspapers reported that a nationwide study of traffic congestion by Texas A&M and the traffic organization, Inrix, revealed that Washington, D.C. was the worst in the nation for time lost stuck in traffic. Los Angeles took second place and San Francisco-Oakland was third. The number of lost hours for these areas were found to be about double the nationwide average. Moreover, researchers in that study created what they called a “Freeway Stress Index” and put San Francisco-Oakland at the top of the list.
We also note that the Monday, September 7, 2015 (Labor Day) main section of the West County Times has 22 pages. Of those 22 pages, there are thirteen full pages, 59 percent, devoted to advertising for the sale of new cars!
Tis a sorry history with all sorts of unanswered questions such as how and who reduced California’s ZEV Mandate? What do people actually know about the impact on the environment by the cars they are buying? We will see what we can find out and let you know. But, in the meantime, we all must take individual responsibility to reduce the amount of car emissions that are being pumped into the air. Gasoline-powered cars pump CO2 into the air at a rate of around19 pounds of CO2 for each gallon of gasoline used. However, we shouldn’t fool ourselves about the environmental benefits of ZEVs, as even ZEVs have a carbon footprint.
Manufacturing any car takes a tremendous amount of energy, even if it’s made in a plant using solar panels. Different cars have different footprints and environmental benefits based on such factors of whether it was manufactured in a plant run by electricity derived from coal or natural gas; how it was manufactured; and what “extras” it comes with. All of this is important, and highly complex to determine. There is probably no exact answer, but there is some information that can be used to help guide the consumer when making a choice about buying a car, and what car to buy. Unfortunately, that information is almost impossible for the consumer to obtain at this time.
One thing to consider is that since building a new car, even an electric or hybrid one, has a pretty big footprint, it makes sense to make cars that last a long time and abandon altogether the habit of buying a new car frequently just because the new car has more bells and whistles. What isn’t recognized by many is that cars have a carbon footprint obtained from their manufacture. This footprint is called its “embodied emission.” A car’s embodied emissions typically rival that car’s “exhaust pipe emissions” calculated over its entire lifetime. For example, for each mile driven, the embodied emissions from the manufacture of a Land Rover Discovery that ends up being scrapped after 100,000 miles may be as much as four times higher than the tailpipe emissions of a Citroen C1.
Another example of this same concept is buildings. What is the carbon footprint aka embodied emissions of an existing building as compared to the construction of a new building? How long does it take for the utility of a building to outweigh the cost of building it. We may well find that, as with cars, it makes more sense to build buildings so that they last a long time. This mode of thinking may well be just the beginning of our re-examining our wasteful habits of living.
But to get back to the matter of cars. The important question is how many miles must a car travel before the energy of the gasoline equals the energy to build the car? Here’s a quote from Guardian US:
…unless you do very high mileage or have a real gas-guzzler, it generally makes sense to keep your old car for as long as it is reliable — and to look after it carefully to extend its life as long as possible. If you make a car last to 200,000 miles rather than 100,000, then the emissions for each mile the car does in its lifetime may drop by as much as 50%, as a result of getting more distance out of the initial manufacturing emissions.
There are a lot of caveats in that quote, but our correspondent asking about electric cars has opened up to us a lot to think about. To read the whole story about cars and their carbon footprint go to www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/sep/23/carbon-footprint-new-car
We’d like to hear comments from our readers about this subject. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us if you think traffic is getting worse on the streets of Berkeley and why you think that is happening.
We’d also like to hear what you think about the idea of requiring a posting on all new cars showing potential buyers the ranking of that car in a range of carbon footprint groups that would be applied to all cars. BNC thinks that’s a pretty good idea. What do you think? We really want to hear from you. We won’t publish your name unless we have your specific permission to do so.
In the meantime, BNC will try and get some data on the number of cars registered in Berkeley over the years as compared to population increases.