Portland State University realizes that electric vehicles currently represent only a small percentage of Oregon’s automobile fleet. But like other research campuses across the United States, they realize that it’s only a matter of time before EVs become mainstream, and it wants to establish itself as leading green transportation researcher long before then.

Recently, PSU has directed its attention towards the relationship between EV charging stations and urban form. It has transformed a whole block of downtown Portland into a one-way corridor for EVs, decked out with special parking spaces and 6 brand new EV charging stations. Dubbed Electric Avenue by the university, it is what you might call an EV-owner’s “oasis” in the middle of the city.
Now 6 months after the public launch of Electric Avenue, it’s time to take a step back and determine what we can learn about the new development.
A recent article in Forbes has already detailed the 10 biggest lessons learned from Electric Avenue. But I want to take a step even further back and look at how the strategic placement of charging stations such as Electric Avenue represents a wider societal shift towards fluid or intermodal methods of transportation. More specifically, the Electric Avenue demonstrates how EV charging stations are a key entry-point into fluid transportation networks of the future.
Fluid Transportation Networks
As urban environments densify and consumers increasingly embrace sustainability, more people are turning towards alternative forms of transportation such as electric vehicle, bicycles, street-cars, and walking. Frequently, individuals will take more than one form of transportation over the course of their journey.
For instance, vehicle sharing programs have opened up convenient, sustainable transportation to urban dwellers in cities across the country (Car2Go has a new EV fleet in San Francisco). Sometimes to get to one of these vehicles, an individual might take a bike, walk, or utilize public transit.
Or on the other side of the coin, a person might use a Zipcar to arrive at a public transit hub (such as a subway or bus depot). Either way, these alternative forms of transportation form an intermodal network that increasing numbers of urban dwellers are embracing.
Electric Avenue: Location Analysis
One of the key things PSU observed about Electric Avenue, was that it was situated in an ideal location to tap into Portland’s intermodal transportation network. It not only provided a place for EV owners to charge their cars, it also served as an entryway into Portland’s fluid network of alternative transportation.
Electric Avenue is bordered by bike paths and pedestrian boulevards. Portland’s streetcar system can be accessed from neighboring PSU Urban Plaza, which can take one either North to downtown, or South to South Waterfront. Bus and light rail options are located at nearby Portland Transit Mall.
This plethora of transportation options means that EV owners who charge their cars at Electric Avenue are not isolated in this one area while their EVs charge.
For instance, PSU noticed that many EV owners would leave Electric Avenue while their car was charging and take nearby streetcars into the city’s commercial core. Since EVs require time to charge anyways, they could fulfill other tasks in their daily journey without remaining solely dependent on their vehicle.
Furthermore, the close proximity of hospitality services and stores near Electric Avenue provides EV drivers with convenient shopping options while going for a quick charge. (And on a side note, many retailers have realized the benefits of locating charging stations on their properties for their EV-owing clientele.)
Concluding Points
Portland’s Electric Avenue is more than a place to charge an EV; it serves as an important node in Portland’s alternative transportation network and a significant hub for Oregon’s EV owners. These EV hubs will play an increasingly important role in cities as people turn towards sustainability and alternative transportation.
It will be interesting to see how Electric Avenue will develop over the years as EVs become a more prevalent form of transportation.
Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.