New York Requires Garages and Lots to be Built EV-Ready

By · December 10, 2013

Tesla in New York

A Tesla Roadster in Manhattan--soon that garage there should be able to charge it. (Flickr/NYCTaxi)

Once you build a parking lot, retrofitting it for electric vehicle charging—so-called “trenching”—is witheringly expensive. One reason most chargers in store parking lots are near the entrance (aside from convenience) is that the trenching bill is far less that way. It pays, then, to think ahead and think of the charging before the concrete is poured.

That’s the impetus behind a law passed on Tuesday by the City Council in New York—it requires that a minimum of 20 percent of any parking spaces in new-construction open lots (or older lots being upgraded) be readied for EV charging. That means the spaces will be embedded with at least one-inch conduit that can support hooking an EVSE to an electric supply panel with 3.1 kilowatts of capacity or more.

A Big Push in the Big Apple

This new law will likely spur electric vehicle deployment in New York, which has been dragging in terms of making its streets EV-friendly. In the past five years, 15,000 parking spaces were permitted, so the impact can be fairly large. Similar legislation was passed in Vancouver and London. The latter mandates that 20 percent of new parking be equipped with actual charging, not just the prospect of it.

Although the city sets a great example with a fleet of almost 6,000 electric and hybrid cars (including 103 Volts and 37 LEAFs served by 151 ChargePoint stations), there are still only 210 registered electric vehicles in Manhattan (compared to 591 in nearby Westchester County, and 972 in Suffolk County on Long Island. In fairness to the rigorous efforts under now-departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC is a tough nut to crack.

A Challenging City

The city’s density, and the premium placed on curbside real estate, makes easy-access charging difficult. Less than 22 percent of Manhattan residents own cars, according to city data, and of them 50 percent park in assigned parking garage spaces. If you want personal driveways or garages, you have to go to Queens, Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Some high-end Manhattan apartment buildings, including the Solaire, offer EV charging as a major asset.

Bloomberg and EV

Mayor Michael Bloomberg plugs in an EV at one of Manhattan's first parking lot charging stations. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Luckily, parking garages are also covered in the package that went before the City Council Tuesday. When garages are built or updated, they’ll also have to prepare 20 percent of their spaces for 3.1-kilowatts or more. Retail parking spaces are exempt from the law.

The charger law was vigorously defended at a hearing in November. Ari Kahn, policy advisor on electric vehicles in the mayor’s office, pointed to the city’s Mission Electric efforts to increase awareness of EVs—a 2010 city survey showed that a majority of likely adopters don’t know much about them. The new law, 1176, would add only $4,000 to the cost of a new parking garage. He said adding conduit at the time of construction costs just five percent of the same work as a retrofit. “EVs increase our city’s resilience,” Kahn said. “Thanks to our work with the garage and parking industries, 1176 provides maximum flexibility for parking operators.”

The council also passed a provision creating a task force that will study how best to implement curbside in traffic-dense New York. Some great ideas have been floated, including converting the city’s existing base of thousands of outdated telephone kiosks into EV chargers. One city food cart in Union Square is already running on grid power (instead of a generator) from a similar hook-up, and in a one-year pilot some 3,300 pounds of carbon dioxide was avoided.

An All-EV Fleet?

Luke Tonachel, a senior analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the group’s projects that if the city is to meet its climate goals, and achieve 80 percent CO2 reductions by 2050, “the automobile fleet must become primarily electric drive.” A million cars a day pour into New York, and imagine if none of them had tailpipes.

Finally, PlugInCars.com contributor Tom Moloughney, a New Jersey restaurateur who pilots a BMW ActiveE, testified that the chargers he installed at his location in Montclair get used every day. “Since I didn’t have the foresight to install the conduit when I developed the property back in 1998,” he said, “the installation cost me many thousands of dollars more than it would have had the raceways been installed when I was doing the initial construction.”

But it worked out, Moloughney said, because now his restaurant gets EV owners who “couldn’t find charging in New York, or didn’t want to risk going there and not being able to plug in.”

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