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Keep Portland Weird…And Electric: Dispatches from Portlandia’s Living Room

Ashley Horvat,


Photo credit to Patrick Connor

In Portland, Oregon, we like our transportation options, and we like them electric. Think we’re dreaming of the 1890s, bearded, and busy churning butter? That may be true, but if you came to Portland’s Living Room, Pioneer Courthouse Square, in July, you’d think you’d stepped into 2090 (with an occasional goat roaming the city). A TriMet Max, whizzed past Classique Floors’ decked out fleet vehicle-a 100% electric Nissan Leaf, while a young boy pointed excitedly at a Th!nk electric car, resembling the cars he’d seen in the movies. While it may be commonplace to see your average unicycle casually roaming the streets of Portland, you may not expect to see SoloWheel riders gracefully gliding by atop a gyro-stabilized electric unicycle!

On July 13, 2013, Portland was a much quieter city, filled with EVs at two events aimed at showcasing electric transportation- OMSI’s “Drive Revolution” event and Oregon Electric Vehicle Association’s EV Celebration Day. 21st Century Pioneers quietly came in droves, nestled emission-free beneath the looming Pioneer Courthouse.

A rainbow of bikes, motorcycles, Oregon State University’s (Beaverettes) Formula Sun Grand Prix-winning solar vehicle, Green Scene’s lime green “Voltswagon” bug decked out with a bike rack (when in Portland), a Honda dirt bike, a smattering of candy-colored Nissan Leafs, and many more electric options sprawled in the heart of a city. Soaking up the fleeting dose of Vitamin D that July ceremoniously delivers, EV drivers welcomed the city to take a peek into the future of transportation.

Purveyors of vintage left dreaming of tweed-attired velo trips up those pesky Forest Park hills, aided by an assist from an electric bike decked out in cognac leather bike bags, custom wood fenders made in Bend, and a mid-century headlight. A Tesla Model S ended the day covered in drool and fingerprints (Portlanders and visitors alike just couldn’t quite summon the strength to mask the childlike awe in the presence of the candy apple 285-mile range EV).

Unlike previous years, 2013 promises to extinguish all excuses not to drive electric if you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Especially in Oregon.

Range anxiety? Get over it. In Oregon, the West Coast Electric Highway will take you from the OR/WA border to the OR/CA border, up and down the Oregon Coast along U.S. 101, along the Columbia River Gorge to The Dalles, to the FDR-era Timberline Lodge (think “The Shining”) tucked at 6,000 ft. elevation on snowy Mt. Hood, the sheer face of Smith Rock near Bend, and weaving through the verdant vineyards of Oregon’s Wine Country. With almost 100-planned fast chargers (half of which are already up and running) and almost 1000 public charging ports, think range awareness.

Too costly? Not so much. At as low as $199/month for a lease, paying the equivalent of less than $1 per “egallon” to drive, electric vehicle drivers in Oregon are saving around $2,000 per year.

Too long to charge? Is 11 minutes charging to go 70-100 miles too long? That’s the average amount of time people are taking to charge at the West Coast Electric Highway fast-charging stations. A Portland to British Columbia Road Trip added 1.5 hours to my trip. An hour of which would likely have occurred in a gas car with a stop for lunch and an occasional pit stop.

Time Magazine posed the question, “What Would Make an All-Electric Car Appeal to the Masses?” My answer to that question is, “come to Oregon, and you can see that it’s already happening NOW.” Over 3,000 EVs are on our roads, with 100% electric cars outselling plug-in hybrids.

The automobile has dramatically shaped our lives, unlike any other technological advancement has in the past century (some would argue the iPhone is right up there with the automobile). Take the iPhone and breed it with the most advanced vehicle on the road and you get an EV. Imagine the type of transformation that will take place over the next 100 years with this technology well under way.

Step into Portland and you will find knitters at work on a blanket for the Broadway Bridge’s upcoming 100-year anniversary, fueled by Blue Dog mead (this isn’t your prehistoric father’s honey wine), and fluttering about putting “birds on things” (or surfers riding waves if you’re driving an electric, solar panel-adorned VW van). But, you will also find innovative thinkers beating the drum incessantly, calling for progress on how we move people and goods.


Photo credit to Patrick Connor


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