Electric Avenue is part research project, part alternative transportation showcase
One month after its grand opening, Electric Avenue is already drawing attention from all kinds of people, and its developers couldn’t be
On a Wednesday afternoon, Mary Wiese was on her way to catch a street car that takes her to a nearby grocery store, when something caught her eye: three Toyotas parked on Montgomery Avenue, each with a cord coming out its side. The accountant stopped for a minute to read the sign that explains Electric Avenue to visitors before she continued on her way.
Ten minutes later, a woman pushing a baby stroller walked by the same stretch of road, and stopped to check out the latest addition to Portland State campus before getting in her car.
To the uninitiated, the seven charging stations for electric vehicles along the small strip of sidewalk on Montgomery Avenue, now dubbed “Electric Avenue,” may be just another feature in the university’s ever-changing landscape. But for George Beard, the man for whom Electric Avenue is a vision of a greener urban city, having all eyes on his project achieves its own purpose.
“You can’t just buy that kind of publicity,” Beard said, a manager at the office of Research and Strategic Partnership.
As Beard explains, Electric Avenue is not just a “charge-and-drive” station, but the pie on the windowsill that can attract the right kind of attention from the right kind of people to the city—namely electric car manufacturers looking for a test site to launch their products.
Already, two of the biggest car companies, Toyota and Mitsubishi, have expressed interest in launching their electric vehicles in Portland, with Toyota recently choosing PSU as a demonstration host for its new plug-in Prius that gets up to up to 87 miles per gallon.
In July, the Japanese company loaned ten Prius plug-in vehicles to PSU, and the university then assigned the fleet of “green” vehicles to test drivers and Zipcar members. Electric Avenue plays a big part in influencing Toyota’s decision to use Portland as a test city, Beard said.
Electric Avenue serves as both a research project and a stimulant for the growth of alternative transportation in Portland.
“It’s a showroom for all the eyeballs and it’s also ‘bait’ that we can use in our dialogue with different companies to come and launch their products here,” Beard said.
Speaking enthusiastically about the strip of land dedicated to electric cars, the PSU alumni admits that it has been a long-time vision of his that he hopes will one day serve as a blueprint for alternative transportation in the country.
Back in 2008, Beard participated in a joint conference with Toyota and Portland General Electric on the future of transportation in the country. It was apparent to all the parties involved that the current state of mobility cannot sustain a growing and rapidly urbanized population.
“Our mobility model in the United States is based on a 20th century vision of reality, [characterized by] cheap oil, mass produced cars and an expansive continent,” Beard said.
When these three conditions disappear, the way people and goods move around the city should change, but they haven’t, leaving a model of transportation that was built upon a historic understanding of urban-planning.
Compared to most cities, Portland is a haven for innovative urban planning that emphasizes the streamlining of public transportation, bicycles and automobiles into everyday life. Keeping in touch with the city’s liberal root, Portland’s early urban planners were all about choice when it comes to getting yourself from point A to B. Beard calls the early 1970s urban planners who pushed for the creation of the first light rail “courageous.”
Now four decades after TriMet was created, with Portland having an extensive network of rails and buses, and the city designating more paths for bicyclists on the road, it was time to consider a fourth mode of transportation, one that people like Beard hope to supplant Portlanders’ dependence on
Electric vehicles are not something new to Portland. In the early 1980s, the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association (OEVA) was created as a social group for electric vehicle enthusiasts to share their experience converting their gas-guzzlers to run on electricity. Over time, it has become an advocacy group for the adoption of electric vehicles.
“One of the hang-ups people may have about [the] electric car is the availability of [a] charging station on the road,” Phil Hochstetler, a representative for the OEVA said.
Hochstetler said many members don’t know where some of the charging stations are located. PGE, which has been a leader in supporting the growth of electric vehicles ownership, has created a map of all the charging stations, which is available on oeva.org.
According to PGE, the Oregon Department of Transportation is looking to install more than 2,000 charging stations in homes and businesses throughout the state. Businesses like IKEA who are looking to draw in customers have also installed EV charging stations on their property.
Electric Avenue can help defibrillate the electric vehicle movement in Portland by making it more convenient to own electric cars, Hochstetler believes.
Several partners, like PGE, Eaton and Shorepower Technologies, donated the seven charging stations. According to Scott Gallagher, the university’s director of communication, PSU is paying the monthly energy charges.
Gallagher said Electric Avenue’s strategic location next to the busy Broadway Avenue will be sure to attract a good number of eyeballs.
“You have the MAX, streetcar, bus stations, bicycles and right next to it is [Electric Avenue]: the next best thing,” Gallagher said. “The question is, ‘Why didn’t we have it earlier?’”