With its low speed limits, flat landscape and small size, Foster City is already ideal for electric vehicles that can’t go as fast as their internal-combustion counterparts.
But city officials hoping to encourage their use within city limits are now looking at ways to make every stretch of road in town accessible to the 25-mph, zero-emission vehicles — including lowering the speed limits for gas-powered cars.
"The vehicles could go in almost any section of the city now, but there are some places in the city that would be easier for them to get to if the speed were lower," traffic engineer Stan Workman said.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, which resemble golf carts, are prohibited on streets with speed limits over 35 mph. Stretches of Foster City, Shell, Edgewater and East Hillsdale boulevards are all 40 mph areas, and a section of East Third Avenue has a top speed of 45.
Like traditional internal-combustion vehicles, drivers must have insurance, registration and licenses to drive "NEV"s and the vehicles must be equipped with safety equipment like seatbelts.
If the city council were interested in making the city completely accessible to electric vehicles, the speeds on each faster road would need to be lowered, or separate lanes would need to be built. Cpt. Matt Martell said building new lanes would not be possible with existing road widths, so the speed limits would have to be lowered.
"I don’t think it would have a huge impact, but I think there would be an initial adjustment period when people would need to change their driving habits," Martell said.
While there are not currently a large number of the small electric cars roaming city streets, the police department currently uses one NEV for special events or specific patrols.
Martell said the lightweight, nearly-silent vehicles are perfect for patrolling in parks and other areas at night where a silent vehicle — to avoid bothering residents or giving away their position to suspects — is key.
But Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter Director Melissa Hippard said the biggest obstacle to getting electric cars on local roads may be America’s cultural love affair with driving fast-and-free in traditional vehicles. Hippard said she hopes a fully accessible city would encourage more people to consider a new mode of transportation.
"I think the notion of changing our cultural expectations around transportation is a really important part of moving toward a different energy strategy," she said.