Expect More of These Tripping Hazards

The dawn of modern electric cars is great for the environment. But they need to be charged. While most Americans can simply charge them in their suburban garages or driveways, people living in neighborhoods like Georgetown face a much steep challenge adopting this new technology. Since most Georgetowners don’t have a garage or off-street parking spot, they have no natural place to charge their cars while at home.

This is an issue GM first flagged way back in 2019. That was when GM first started noticing residents who simply ran a charging cord across the sidewalk and to their car. This practice presents a host of problems. The most obvious is that it is a big tripping hazard. Even when residents try to cover the cord, it still can bunch up and catch the toe of an unsteady walker. Additionally, over time the cord can easily become torn and a shocking hazard. And beyond these safety concerns, they’re just really ugly strewn about. They also open the door to the possibility that homeowners begin to feel entitled to always park immediately in front of their house, which is simply not a right we can logistically recognize in Georgetown.

And until recently, this practice was illegal although it’s unclear whether the city ever tried to enforce the law. Earlier this year, WAMU ran a piece showing the lengths one driver on Capitol Hill went to run cables up and through trees to charge his cars. Although he received one note from a neighbor complaining, the city had taken no action against him.

But this summer, the city did finally take action. But not to stop him, but to give him a green light. This summer, DDOT issued guidance that permits residents citywide to string cables across the sidewalk. The only substantive requirement is that the car-owner puts a cover over the cable and remove it from the sidewalk when not using it.

So the sight you see at the top of this post of a cable across the sidewalk is both totally legal and probably just the start.

Electric cars are great! But how to deal with charging them in neighborhoods like Georgetown will take a lot of thought and discussion. But DDOT skipped right through that! Is it a huge problem when a couple of drivers do this? No. But just imagine when virtually all cars are electric. The rules DDOT issued really cannot possibly scale up to address that problem unless we want sidewalks to be constantly covered in extension cords.

Long term, it seems that the ultimate answer will involve some sort of a curbside outlet (although even that will be pretty ugly, in GM’s opinion). But until then, DDOT is content to let extension cords proliferate. So keep your eyes down.

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