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.

Of course, if it was nothing but cars they’d all be moving smoothly, like they do on urban freeways every afternoon.

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.

5 replies
    RANTWICK says:

    I thought the LSV pictured had one big advantage over, say, an electric bike/scooter; the fact that its footprint is large enough that it must take the lane. I’ve seen tons of these pedal-start electric scooters putting along in the gutter lately. Often even slower than bicycles, it makes me cringe as I fear for their operators.

  2. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    rantwick, your description fits that of too many people on bikes, as I expect you might recognize. It’s long been my opinion that motor vehicles should be operated from a position ahead of the front axle, enclosed by perhaps a plastic phone-booth looking sort of arrangement. Operators would become more cautious in their driving as the first part of the vehicle to impact anything would be the operator. “Safety improvements” is a serious misnomer if it doesn’t provide protection for everyone.

    I’ve seen LSV/NEV operators hugging the curb too, so even that type of vehicle and operator combination is not immune to poor skill sets.

    The “popular press” needs to recognize Keri’s last paragraph, but I’m not holding my breath. I need it to pedal!

  3. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Personally, I think a wider variety of LSV is a good thing for all LSV and for breaking the notion of bigger/faster equals more right to travel public roads.

  4. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    For safety’s sake, we need a mandatory LSV helmet law. Yeah, that ought to do it. (Kidding) ((<– That's what the pregnant goat said!))

Comments are closed.