Low Speed Vehicles in the City
What might happen if we introduced a variety of low-speed, electric vehicles into cities? Might it reduce noise pollution? Air pollution? Speeding? Crashes? Injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists? Might it expose the absurdity of Balkanizing the streets?
Those are possibilities I ponder when I see increasing numbers of LSVs around my neighborhood (Audubon Park and Baldwin Park). I like them. Not just because they’re slow and quiet, but because their drivers are not enclosed and isolated. We greet each other like neighbors when we pass.
Time Magazine’s Bill Saporito drove a Garia LSV (a street-legal golf car) in Manhattan. You can get his perspective right from the first paragraph of the article, Slow Riders:
Central park South in Manhattan is everything that is awful about driving in New York City. Tour buses, horse-drawn carriages, trucks, cyclists, taxis and passenger cars converge from Fifth Avenue in a tortured tango of man and metal trying, without apparent success, to get somewhere in a New York minute. And now I am adding another machine to the transportation mix: a battery-powered Garia LSV, which is short for low-speed vehicle.
But it’s not just convenience Mr. Saporito worries about. It’s safety:
Do we really want LSVs, which have little in the way of passenger protection, out there with the heavy metal? When the IIHS crash-tested one popular LSV model, the GEM e2, the results weren’t pretty. In one test, the institute took the smallest car on the market, the Smart, and rammed it into a GEM at 31 m.p.h. Sensors showed that the crash-test dummy in the Smart was protected from serious harm by the car’s air bags and roll cage. The GEM dummy was toast. David Zuby, chief research officer of IIHS, called LSVs the undoing of 40 years of auto-safety improvements. To be street legal, LSVs need headlights and taillights, rear and side mirrors and seat belts, but they don’t have to pass the crash tests required of all passenger cars and trucks, nor do they have side-door air bags. Heck, they don’t even have side doors.
Gasp! No air bags or safety cage! Kinda like a motorcycle, scooter, horse carriage, pedicab, bicycle, pedestrian…
“They have their place.” Says Saporito, “But not in the big city.”
Goodness no! We certainly don’t want slow vehicles and exposed humans in a big city. That would be a threat to the Motor Age. What would our streets be like if people didn’t feel their lives depended on being encased in heavy metal?
The LSV/NEV industry still needs to embrace and promote total equity for its users rather than the current strategy of making Faustian bargains with the Culture of Speed.