Cities/suburbs should replan street networks for low-speed electric vehicles

Polaris GEM – Source:

As the electric vehicle revolution expands around the globe, one factor that cities and suburbs need to start accounting for is the increased adoption of low-speed electric vehicles for personal and transit use. Whether you refer to them as low-speed vehicles (LSVs), tiny cars, or neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), they are a category of vehicles that are designed and built not to exceed 25 miles per hour (mph). As a result, they are only street legal (in applicable states) on roads and streets with a maximum speed of 35 mph. These are not golf carts, but something that appears more like a traditional motor vehicle, but at a smaller size.


“A Low-Speed Vehicle (LSV) is a street-legal, four-wheeled electric vehicle with a top speed of 25 mph and a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 lbs. Most states allow LSVs to drive on roads marked 35 mph or less.
Low-speed vehicles are typically electric, with a range of about 30 miles.”


For the average consumer, spending north of $50k on an electric vehicle to primarily run errands around town seems preposterous. But, a low-speed electric vehicle priced at 1/5 to 1/3 of that is another story. The problem then lies in accessibility with such a vehicle. If whole neighborhoods and sections of a city/suburb are separated from business areas by streets/roadways that have speed limits exceeding 35 mph, then buying a low-speed electric vehicle for such purposes would be a waste of resources.

gO’side low-speed EV transit – Source:

Certain low-speed electric vehicle designs can allow micro-transit trips within the community or in a campus setting, provided the road network permits them. Such a pilot program has been taking place in the San Diego suburb of Oceanside, California, where gO’side low-speed EVs have provided a free shuttle service in the beach district and downtown area of the city.

“Low-speed vehicles must adhere to the performance and safety standards set by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Association) which states that low-speed vehicles must be equipped with headlamps, front and rear turn signal lights, tail lights, stop lights, reflex reflectors, mirrors, parking brake, windshield, seat-belt assembly, and an alert sound (horn).”


This is where America’s past NIMBY attitudes towards connecting streets and neighborhoods is coming back to haunt us. If we don’t have a street network that caters to lower speed vehicles for personal or transit use, then the benefits of affordable electric vehicles are lost…as are the benefits of reducing our individual/collective carbon footprint and fighting climate change.

Squad Mobility low-speed solar EV – Source:

As a result, areas with traditional grid street patterns currently provide the best options for low-speed electric vehicles as there are often multiple alternatives to arterials available by using paralleling lower-speed streets. Meanwhile, places, particularly suburbs, that developed in in latter half of the 20th century are going to have a harder time adapting to this new transportation option due to a plethora of cul-de-sacs; gated communities; sprawling, disconnected neighborhoods; the lack of an urban core; and a tendency to be married to freeways and arterial roadways with higher speed limits.

According to the National Household Travel Survey, 59 percent of all vehicle trips are 5 miles or less in distance.


Where we live in New Mexico is just such a case, as all but one of the connecting roads for accessing businesses from our neighborhood have speed limits of 45 mph or more. And that one road is well out-of-the-way for many trips. Needless to say, this blogpost will be forwarded to our community leaders in the hopes they will consider some changes to the street and road network here, particularly in regards to speed limits, but also in future street/road design.

Eli Zero – Source:

So what can be done?

Well, talking about the issue and acknowledging it is the first step. Beyond that, community leaders should work with their planning, transportation, engineering, and infrastructure departments to look at ways they can adjust speed limits and their current street network to provide greater access and interconnectability for low-speed electric vehicles. In some cases it may be as easy as revising speed limits on certain streets. Not every street or roadway has to be a four-lane arterial. Adapting some arterials by using road diets to convert them into collectors may be an option.

Other solutions may take more time and funding to resolve. The community may also want to review parking requirements during this process to see if adjustments are necessary for low-speed electric vehicles. In the longer term, community master plans and transportation plans should be revised to provide options for low-speed electric vehicles (assuming the community wishes to do so).

Unfortunately, not all local communities control their street/road networks nor their speed limits. This is especially true for townships in states like Michigan where county road commissions or the state dictate these parameters. And, in some cases, as noted above, there may be some communities who do not want to encourage low-speed vehicles on their roads. However, IF a community wishes to have a truly comprehensive transportation strategy that serves all needs and adopts to changing market conditions, then it should seriously start looking NOW at how to accommodate low-speed electric vehicles.


This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, Alternative transportation, Bus transportation, Cars, cities, civics, climate change, commerce, consumerism, density, downtown, electric vehicles, engineering, environment, EVs and hybrids, fun, geography, health, highways, history, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, logistics, new urbanism, parking, pictures, placemaking, planning, politics, pollution, product design, revitalization, shopping, solar, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, technology, Trade, traffic, transit, transportation, Travel, urban design, urban planning, walking, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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