Rebecca Kiernan, Principal Resilience Planner for the City of Pittsburgh, explains how her office is making electric vehicle infrastructure more sustainable, equitable and accessible for all Pittsburghers, even if reaching that goal looks insurmountable at times.
Part 2 of BlastPoint’s Q&A with City of Pittsburgh Principal Resilience Planner Rebecca Kiernan. To return to Part 1, click here.
The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You’re a Resilience Planner. What does “resilience” mean in the context of city government?
It’s a focus on creating co-benefits, from understanding how one project connects with some other area, and how you can make sure it’s benefiting multiple areas and multiple people. That’s how we approach all of our projects. For example, if we’re adding charging infrastructure to a parking lot, we would also look to see if we could install solar to power the chargers, add stormwater management controls and tree pits while we’re digging up the site, etc.
Talk about the challenges the City faces in installing better EV infrastructure.
A big challenge is funding. In some cases we have to dig up the concrete and run electricity from the nearest building all the way to the other end of the parking lot, so there’s a significant amount of trenching that has to be done.
Part of the complication is, we’re trying to scope out everything that we would want in future years, so that we have enough electricity running to the site to handle a future buildout.
We also want to cover parking lots with solar in future cases, and that complicates projects. We don’t have an electrical engineer on staff, so contracting pieces of different projects out as funding becomes available can get confusing.
There’s also a lot of micro transit happening in the city with electric scooters and electric bicycles. We’re considering ways to leverage electric vehicle charging for micro transit charging. You want to make sure that all these pieces and plugs fit together.
How is your office creating better access to EV charging for average Pittsburghers, even if they haven’t adopted EVs yet?
Equity is a big concern. In this city, not everyone has a driveway. The leading mentality currently is that you wouldn’t purchase an electric vehicle unless you had a driveway and a location to plug it in.
Two major recommendations coming out of our EV Task Force Report will be residential curb charging and neighborhood charging hubs, where residents could pull up to the curb or into a lot near their homes to charge quickly, so they won’t have to have a driveway to own these vehicles.
Until public charging is successful in neighborhoods where people park their cars overnight, I don’t think we’ll alleviate that anxiety of, “Where am I going to charge?” or until we get the gas stations of the electric vehicle world.
DC fast chargers, which can charge vehicles up to 80 percent in around 20 minutes, would really alleviate range anxiety. A lot of the grants coming out now, at least in Pennsylvania, are intended to make them more widespread and available, especially along highways.
What kind of data does the City look at to make its recommendations?
We’re trying to prioritize need, so we’re analyzing all of our city-owned Parking Authority lots and garages, because that’s where we have infrastructure, jurisdiction and land to be able to install equipment.
We look at which lots could be most successful to meet residents’ charging needs, such as average parking time or proximity to neighborhoods where residents are without driveways. Then we have to whittle the selection down to which sites are most ready to be able to handle the technology.
“We’re trying to come up with a solution so that every user type across the city would have an option.”
–Rebecca Kiernan, Principal Resilience Planner, City of Pittsburgh
We’re doing some mapping exercises, looking at different data sets to figure out the criteria we need to determine where we’re going to put things.
Also, we need to analyze which neighborhoods have on-street or off-street parking. We have to look at how many people rent versus own. A renter isn’t going to pay to install a plug at the curbside of a house they’re renting.
And we have to think about high density, permitted parking areas. If you live in one of these areas, that probably means you can’t park in front of your house very often, so you wouldn’t be able to run a cord. Is there some other solution we can create for those areas?
We’re trying to come up with a solution so that every user type across the city would have an option.
How are you setting these plans into motion in order to reach your targets?
I’m having a lot of conversations with folks who work in community-based organizations. They know their neighborhoods better than anybody. There’s a lot of really good neighborhood planning going on.
As charging needs increase, the best way to go about this will be to make sure the community has the ability to give input, and that all residents have import into where all of this infrastructure goes. I think community engagement is going to be the key.