Electric Vehicle Planning through Regional Collaboration

BY STEPHEN GOLDSMITH • JANUARY 24, 2022

There is no one-size-fits-all relationship between governmental entities and real estate. Governments own some, possess easements on others, and regulate essentially all the rest. Cities are inherently place-based, and therefore city governments are entrenched in the physical space as well. When changes in the patterns or needs of residents cause officials to rethink conventional land uses, they need a framework to visualize and understand these change in the dual realms of physical use and policy.

The concern that most local officials have about sustainability and the environment is prompting this type of reconsideration, requiring changes to many policies and uses of the built environment. Is a public right of way just a strip of road to be maintained and traversed, or is it a potentially valuable resource for new uses such as solar panels or charging stations? In Michigan, government leaders are rethinking these very questions as they seek to build a more resilient transportation future.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is helping member organizations promote electric vehicles as part of its Economic Development Strategy. Planning for EVs involves examining land uses, ownership, and driver patterns to identify locations for charging stations. Leveraging spatial analytics, SEMCOG created the Electric Vehicle Resource Kit & Planning Hub that brought together information on economic development, environment, equity and transportation in order to facilitate regional planning through shared information. To get a better understanding of how SEMCOG took on these challenges we spoke with two SEMCOG officials: Beheshteh Makari, a project manager whose work focuses on regional planning for EVs, and bicycle and pedestrian mobility and Kevin Vettraino, Director of Planning.

Makari started by reviewing the state’s carbon neutrality plans and the national plan for EV infrastructure, plus a collaborative study on charging infrastructure from Michigan Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Michigan State University (MSU). From this research and planning Makari created the  EV Resource Kit & Planning Hub. Makari used ArcGIS to create detailed maps of these plans, plus existing and potential future charging stations. This also allowed SEMCOG to receive and map new information provided by member communities. This information will be useful in terms of receiving grants or making decisions about related transportation infrastructure.

The next stage of Makari’s plans is to put together an action team, including the stakeholders from different levels of government, utility providers, and nonprofit organizations to come up with those priority locations and corridors in the region. SEMCOG will incorporate the American Planning Association recommendations to provide charging infrastructure along high volume traffic corridors including destinations like community libraries, grocery stores, theatres, hospitals and schools, so that SEMCOG members can consider these factors in determining priority locations.

“We want to make sure that as many of our maps as possible are seven counties wide,” said Vettraino “so that we and our members can plan for and see the big regional picture.” Vettraino points out that SEMCOG, like other councils of government (CoGs), provides value through its technical support to its communities, some of which “are ahead of others in, for example, updating zoning ordinances, planning for parking and choosing areas for EVs. Our members want to have one place [SEMCOG’s EV Hub site] to go where they can take the language needed for updating master plans, zoning, knowledge about funding sources, and preparation for the next 10-year conversion to carbon neutrality, in order to be ahead of things.”

Rex Richardson, the president of the Southern California Association of Governments, agrees that CoGs  play a vital role in serving as a “resource to help cities, sub-regional organizations and our entire region plan for a long-term sustainable future.” We spoke with Richardson and SCAG’s Chief Operating Officer, Darin Chidsey, who explained that “The value of this system is that it is two way. It allows cities, counties to upload information so that when we're doing our long-range planning, we know what's on the ground today. We have a better sense of how to help our members predict the future. At the same time, it provides transparency as it starts to get fully built out so that the community-based organizations can understand what that means in the areas that they're most concerned about.”

The changing nature of an environment will, and should, cause a rethinking of land use, and the management and regulation of real estate at all levels of government. Mapping tools provide insights across stakeholder groups, and the more layers of information available the better. Organizations like SEMCOG provide regional planning services, but also support the technical applications of their members, which in turn means better environmental and economic outcomes for all.

About the Author

Stephen Goldsmith 

Stephen Goldsmith is the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His latest book is Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development.

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