Georgia can lead the way to a healthier future with low-speed electric vehicles

By Guest Columnist BOB MUNGER, president of the Augusta Greenway Alliance, Inc.

Georgia is a global leader in production of low-speed electric vehicles — such as golf cars and other personal transit vehicles (PTVs).

Since the production of those vehicles are such an important part of our economy, shouldn’t the State of Georgia also be a leader in the use of these vehicles?

They are affordable, environmentally-benign, and they can lessen the impact of high oil prices and our dependence on foreign oil.

Couple these vehicles with other sustainable forms of transportation, such as bicycles and transit, and Georgia could become a global leader in sustainable transportation.

Bob Munger

A growing number of homeowners and renters prefer mixed-use, walkable and transit oriented developments. These choices reduce the importance of auto-oriented suburban living, and reduce carbon footprints.

The millennial generations are easily drawn to walkable neighborhoods, and even baby boomers are increasingly attracted to such developments. For many, the American dream of large lot single-family home has become an economic and environmental nightmare, with underwater mortgages and evaporated equity.

This dynamic should also factor into the equation used to plan transportation projects. Pedestrian-scaled, walkable communities are well-suited to the use of low-speed, sustainable transportation.

That is a major reason why the Augusta Greenway Alliance, and Augusta-based nonprofit, is advocating a bill coined the Georgia Alternative, Sustainable Transportation Act (GASTA).

Our older generations can remember a time when students could safely walk or ride bikes to school. Today, we mostly live in subdivisions designed during an era of cheap oil and modest transportation costs, which are highly automobile-dependent, lacking healthy transportation options. In many cases, there actually are ways to mitigate that modern malady.

If successful state-wide, the upcoming, July transportation sales tax votes are expected to raise over $15 billion in revenue for transportation projects.

GASTA could be a strong complement to those projects. Feasibility studies and cost benefit analysis could be performed on select, identified, alternative transportation strategies and corridors.

In other words, let’s continue to look at alternatives that would grow jobs for Georgia, likely cost less, lead to healthier lifestyles, and reduce our collective carbon footprint.

Imagine, for instance, a greenway running along a creek-side green space corridor, linking multiple subdivisions to a school.

Like Peachtree City, high school students and fitness enthusiasts could utilize the Greenway for jogging, biking, golf car transportation or recreation. Owners of low speed electric vehicles could shorten their travel distances and save transportation dollars. The route might even enable the school system to reduce expenditures on school busing.

Imagine repurposing underutilized, urban roads into “green roads,” with dedicated facilities for sustainable transport.

There are likely scores of such opportunities across the state.

Sustainable transportation is also a natural fit for urban areas and college campuses as a way to relieve traffic congestion, air pollution and the need for parking.

Effective this year, State Bill 240 defined a new class of vehicle, known as a PTV (personal transportation vehicle). Many such areas already have a network of low speed roads, but they need dedicated parking facilities and supporting local ordinances to encourage proliferation of PTV’s. Recharging facilities for electric vehicles would be a nice bonus, to relieve “range anxiety.”

Multi-modal, sustainable transportation can also boost transit ridership very cost-effectively, if planned correctly.

Global forces also exist for us to develop alternative modes of transportation.

I just finished reading an excellent book — Two Billion Cars. It was published in 2009 by the Oxford University Press and co-authored by Daniel Sperling, the visionary director of the UC-Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, and Debora Gordon, another internationally-acclaimed transportation policy analyst.

To briefly summarize the central message:

Based on the current growth rate of automobile proliferation in developing countries, the planet’s roughly one billion autos will reach two billion within 10-15 years.

Imported oil already accounts for roughly half of our nation’s trade deficit, and the average American family now spends roughly 20 percent of its income on transportation, a tenfold increase from a century ago.

According to a 2006 study by the Center for Housing Policies, Atlanta ranks near the top in national rankings of working family household income percentage devoted to transportation, at 32 percent.

Rising oil prices will only make these figures grow. In order to break oil’s monopolistic grip on our transportation systems, we need alternatives. We need alternative propulsion systems, fuels and alternative modes of travel.

Automobile proliferation in developing countries, along with rising transportation costs and environmental awareness are beginning to impact our American lifestyle in a big way.

Georgia, which stands to benefit economically by promoting the use of low-speed electric vehicles, could become and a national and international leader in alternative modes of transportation.

But for change of this magnitude to occur, grassroots support in Georgia is necessary. Passing the Georgia Alternative, Sustainable Transportation Act (GASTA) would be a good place to begin.

Click here for more information about the Augusta Greenway Alliance.

Bob Munger is a Georgia-licensed architect, LEED-accredited professional and certified construction manager. He is founder of the Augusta Greenway Alliance, an Augusta-based nonprofit, and co-chair of the Augusta Branch of Georgia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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22 comments
Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Steve, Thanks so much. I just read the study and it is excellent! I'd love to talk offline sometime, if you are willing. I can be reached at bob.munger@augustagreenway.org Cheers!

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Steve, Thanks so much. I just finished reading the study and it is excellent! I highly recommended it. Let's talk offline sometime. Bob

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Steve,

Thanks so much. I just read the study and it is excellent! I'd love to talk offline sometime, if you are willing. I can be reached at bob.munger@augustagreenway.org

Cheers!

SteveBrown
SteveBrown

Bob - I think emulating Peachtree City's path system might be easier than everyone thinks. Our paths were not part of the original plan, but the later evolution of the system is a fascinating story. Checkout this study from Ruth Conroy Dalton, University College of London: http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/1099/1/AP.pdf.pdf Steve Brown (Fayette Commissioner and former Peachtree City Mayor)

SteveBrown
SteveBrown

Bob - I think emulating Peachtree City's path system might be easier than everyone thinks. Our paths were not part of the original plan, but the later evolution of the system is a fascinating story.

Checkout this study from Ruth Conroy Dalton, University College of London: http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/1099/1/AP.pdf.pdf

Steve Brown

(Fayette Commissioner and former Peachtree City Mayor)

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

LSV's are street legal on low speed roads, which are often found in urban environs. They emit zero emissions at the point of use, are quiet, are very affordable, and are less taxing on land for parking. They are mostly produced in Georgia by Georgia workers and tax payers. They do not use foreign oil. If 10K of these take the place of 10K internal combustion autos, helping Atlanta achieve air quality attainment, what's not to like?

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

LSV's are street legal on low speed roads, which are often found in urban environs. They emit zero emissions at the point of use, are quiet, are very affordable, and are less taxing on land for parking. They are mostly produced in Georgia by Georgia workers and tax payers. They do not use foreign oil. If 10K of these take the place of 10K internal combustion autos, helping Atlanta achieve air quality attainment, what's not to like?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Bob, in one response you state that the Peachtree City model cannot be retroactively applied to existing suburbs . In the next, you state that existing urban environments are where sustainable transportation can shine. Why couldn't the Peachtree City model be applied to existing suburbs? I think that your exclusivity argument doesn't make sense. It seems to me that it would be simpler to apply in the suburbs in dense urban environments. I don't think that 100,000 golf carts running around downtown Atlanta would be a desirable situation.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Bob, in one response you state that the Peachtree City model cannot be retroactively applied to existing suburbs . In the next, you state that existing urban environments are where sustainable transportation can shine.

Why couldn't the Peachtree City model be applied to existing suburbs? I think that your exclusivity argument doesn't make sense. It seems to me that it would be simpler to apply in the suburbs in dense urban environments. I don't think that 100,000 golf carts running around downtown Atlanta would be a desirable situation.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Another point to make is that GASTA goes far beyond the suburban model. IMO, existing urban environments are where sustainable transportation can really shine, Dense urban environments need lower speed, walkable environments, High speed internal combustion vehicles in such locales is like swatting mosquitoes with shotguns--very inefficient and in fact harmful to health. Provide mini parking spaces and plug-ins in urban areas, and use zoning ordinances to make it sing like a virtuoso. Why not marry low speed electric vehicles to transit, for instance? Your swath of sustainable transport increases from 1/2 mile wide to 8 miles wide. Provide mini parking spaces at MARTA stations, and maybe even use flat cares than one can drive right onto.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Good questions, Burroughston Broch. 1. Peachtree City is a multipurpose trail system that has been quite successful. It segregates golf cars and PTV;s from automobile traffic, placing them with bicycles, which is fine. However, bicycles are still allowed on low and medium speed roads, while PTV's are more restricted. LSV;s which travel up to 25 MPH, are sort of "in-betweeners" and my understanding is that they are not allowed on multipurpose trails, or if allowed, are restricted to lower speeds. So there are some holes in the logic, perhaps. Overall, a great system, but the LSV is sort of left out of the equation, as their "sweet spot" is around 25 MPH.. They eliminate a tremendous amount of auto traffic from their road systems. The high schools for instance have as many low speed electric vehicles as automobiles in their parking lots. 2. One cannot simply retroactively apply the Peachtree City concept to existing suburbs. Peachtree City has been planned for decades with alternative transportation in mind. Many of the concepts are transferable, but IMO they won't happen in a meaningful fashion (see Suburban America of the last 30 years) including the sorts of connectivity required to really accomplish much, without a level of governmental involvement. Most of our suburbs are designed for "exclusivity," which effectively makes them reliant on high speed arterial roads, making us highly reliant on autos. A neighborhood of $300K homes does not want to consort with ones of $200K homes, etc. thus they avoid street connections. 3. You make a good point about railroads, although much of the land was practically donated in the early days because the economic incentives of having a railroad were so clear. 4. I don;t completely understand your question, but the point is that transportation projects should be vetted by legitimate cost/benefit analysis. The key is "legit," because too often the studies are biased to a predetermined conclusion. Would you support funding of alternative transport projects without such analysis?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Bob Munger, 1. Please explain how the GASTA concept is different from what has worked in Peachtree City. 2. Perhaps there is a reason that the Peachtree City concept has not been adopted elsewhere. What is it? 3. Our entire transportation system was not paid for by taxpayers. Rail network for instance. 4. Regardless of whether past projects were subjected to cost/benefit analysis, why should yours be exempt?

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Another point to make is that GASTA goes far beyond the suburban model. IMO, existing urban environments are where sustainable transportation can really shine, Dense urban environments need lower speed, walkable environments, High speed internal combustion vehicles in such locales is like swatting mosquitoes with shotguns--very inefficient and in fact harmful to health. Provide mini parking spaces and plug-ins in urban areas, and use zoning ordinances to make it sing like a virtuoso.

Why not marry low speed electric vehicles to transit, for instance? Your swath of sustainable transport increases from 1/2 mile wide to 8 miles wide. Provide mini parking spaces at MARTA stations, and maybe even use flat cares than one can drive right onto.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Good questions, Burroughston Broch.

1. Peachtree City is a multipurpose trail system that has been quite successful. It segregates golf cars and PTV;s from automobile traffic, placing them with bicycles, which is fine. However, bicycles are still allowed on low and medium speed roads, while PTV's are more restricted. LSV;s which travel up to 25 MPH, are sort of "in-betweeners" and my understanding is that they are not allowed on multipurpose trails, or if allowed, are restricted to lower speeds. So there are some holes in the logic, perhaps. Overall, a great system, but the LSV is sort of left out of the equation, as their "sweet spot" is around 25 MPH..

They eliminate a tremendous amount of auto traffic from their road systems. The high schools for instance have as many low speed electric vehicles as automobiles in their parking lots.

2. One cannot simply retroactively apply the Peachtree City concept to existing suburbs. Peachtree City has been planned for decades with alternative transportation in mind. Many of the concepts are transferable, but IMO they won't happen in a meaningful fashion (see Suburban America of the last 30 years) including the sorts of connectivity required to really accomplish much, without a level of governmental involvement. Most of our suburbs are designed for "exclusivity," which effectively makes them reliant on high speed arterial roads, making us highly reliant on autos. A neighborhood of $300K homes does not want to consort with ones of $200K homes, etc. thus they avoid street connections.

3. You make a good point about railroads, although much of the land was practically donated in the early days because the economic incentives of having a railroad were so clear.

4. I don;t completely understand your question, but the point is that transportation projects should be vetted by legitimate cost/benefit analysis. The key is "legit," because too often the studies are biased to a predetermined conclusion. Would you support funding of alternative transport projects without such analysis?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Bob Munger,

1. Please explain how the GASTA concept is different from what has worked in Peachtree City.

2. Perhaps there is a reason that the Peachtree City concept has not been adopted elsewhere. What is it?

3. Our entire transportation system was not paid for by taxpayers. Rail network for instance.

4. Regardless of whether past projects were subjected to cost/benefit analysis, why should yours be exempt?

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Adding to the preceding comments: 1. Our entire transportation system is paid for with taxpayer dollars. 2. Were those projects vetted with cost/benefit analysis? 3. Most of the current projects in the pipeline were planed 1-2 decades ago, when gasoline was around $2 per gallon. When the projects are completed, the price might easily be $5 or $6 per gallon, mainly due to the rapid proliferation of autos in developing nations like China. Lliving patterns and densities are dynamic as well. I was in Peachtree City last week looking at their systems. They have a great thing going, but it can be improved, and it obviously hasn't spread much to other locations in Georgia.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Adding to the preceding comments:

1. Our entire transportation system is paid for with taxpayer dollars.

2. Were those projects vetted with cost/benefit analysis?

3. Most of the current projects in the pipeline were planed 1-2 decades ago, when gasoline was around $2 per gallon. When the projects are completed, the price might easily be $5 or $6 per gallon, mainly due to the rapid proliferation of autos in developing nations like China. Lliving patterns and densities are dynamic as well.

I was in Peachtree City last week looking at their systems. They have a great thing going, but it can be improved, and it obviously hasn't spread much to other locations in Georgia.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

BB, We are talking about much more than what Peachtree City has done. It is a very nice suburban model, but why hasn't it caught on elsewhere? Nearly all of our planning is based on the single occupant internal combustion auto, that is why. GASTA will also look at urban environments, which badly need better alternatives to compliment their resurgent intown living.

Bob Munger
Bob Munger

BB,

We are talking about much more than what Peachtree City has done. It is a very nice suburban model, but why hasn't it caught on elsewhere? Nearly all of our planning is based on the single occupant internal combustion auto, that is why.

GASTA will also look at urban environments, which badly need better alternatives to compliment their resurgent intown living.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

This is not a new concept - it has been in use in Peachtree City since 1974. Peachtree City has over 90 miles of golf cart tracks and over 9,000 households own a golf cart. It seems to me that there is no need to establish a taxpayer-funded pilot project in Augusta since we have had one ongoing (without taxpayer support) for 38 years. If the Peachtree City concept works, it should be expanded.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

This is not a new concept - it has been in use in Peachtree City since 1974. Peachtree City has over 90 miles of golf cart tracks and over 9,000 households own a golf cart.

It seems to me that there is no need to establish a taxpayer-funded pilot project in Augusta since we have had one ongoing (without taxpayer support) for 38 years. If the Peachtree City concept works, it should be expanded.