Changing NYC for the Greater Good

April 7, 2022

By Denny Ting

Fighting Air Pollution and Climate Change with Electric Vehicles

As NYC begins to revert from a remote environment back to in-person work and activities, the interactions between transportation and air quality demand our attention. According to the NYS DMV, car registrations in NYC spiked 37% from August to October 2020. This raises the question of how we can prevent an increase in the number of vehicles on the road from worsening NYC’s already dreadful air quality, as measured by the “Air Quality Index”, which reports changing levels of air pollution. Long-term health risks attributed to poor air quality from high concentrations of PM2.5 pollution (fine particulate matter that are 2.5 microns or less in width) result in the increasing development of asthma, developmental delays, lung cancer, and premature deaths in children.

Automobile exhaust and coal power plants are the main secondary contributors to PM 2.5 pollution when chemicals in the air combine. According to the Citizens Budget Commission, New York State emitted 175.9 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, and 47 percent of it was from transporting goods and people. Since the transportation sector was the cause of nearly 50 percent of 2018 carbon dioxide emissions in New York State, the evident solution would be to electrify vehicles and limit the amount of carbon dioxide produced in NYC. 

Source: 4 Facts About New York’s Transportation Emissions | CBCNY

The Significance of Electric Vehicles

Initial findings show that EV drivers produce 271 fewer grams of CO2 emissions per mile than those driving a gasoline-only car. According to a ChargePoint fleet charging report, businesses deploying EVs to transport goods have seen 20 to 25 percent fewer costs on average because of more affordable fueling and less required maintenance. Not only are the costs cheaper for companies owning EVs, but it has also been recorded that electric fleet vehicles can lower greenhouse gas emissions by half or more depending on the vehicle type. According to the American Lung Association, EVs deliver $185B in health and climate benefits, and municipal electrified fleets can deliver localized community health and climate benefits.

The current NYC EV market is still in its early adoption stages, with over 1.9 million cars in the city and only 14,000 of them electric. This means there is a significant market for vehicle electrification growth and a need for regulatory shifts that incentivize electric vehicles over internal combustion engine vehicles.

Changes To NYC

Consumer buy-in requires the removal of existing barriers to adoption; simply put, we need a greater number of affordable places for New Yorkers to charge up their electric vehicles. Although there are over 1,200 charging ports across the five boroughs, most of them are located in parking garages where it can cost 50 dollars to park and charge. In addition to the shortage of curbside charging for electric vehicles, the city administration hasn’t prioritized charging station construction. For example, the city has seen delays in implementing a 2020 pilot program to build 100 curbside parking spaces for electric vehicle charging in two dozen neighborhoods. Curbside charging stations come with their own set of challenges, specifically around identifying locations where cars can be parked, due to space constraints within a densely populated urban environment. As an alternative, the city could set up electric charging stations in abandoned sites, where vehicles could park free of charge while charging.  One example is the ‘Jumping Jack’ Power Plant that has been abandoned since the 1960s. With these changes, owning an EV will be incentivized in NYC.

Benefits of Good Air Quality

As more electric vehicles are registered in NYC, significant health and climate benefits will be realized for NYC residents. If electric vehicles were able to modestly reduce 10% of PM2.5 pollutant levels, 300 premature deaths, 200 hospital admissions, and 600 emergency visits for asthma in children and adults could be avoided annually. The reduction in air pollution through electric vehicles would decrease acid rain impact, which generates agricultural benefits for over 33,000 family farms in New York State. Furthermore, according to an air pollution research group at UC Berkeley, staying below the PM2.5 threshold of 10 µg/m³ recommended by World Health Organization on a global scale will increase life expectancy by over half a year on average globally. Lastly, mass vehicle electrification contributes to decreased greenhouse gas emissions, allowing excess heat from the sun to escape from the atmosphere, which lowers temperatures and mitigates the likelihood of extreme climate events.

Source: Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers: The Impact of Fine Particles and Ozone | NYC Health

Toward A Better Future

Electric vehicles will become more prominent as the city designates more curbside parking spots and identifies alternative spaces for EV charging. They will also become increasingly affordable, making it more accessible for middle-class residents to participate in improving urban air quality through electrification. Future generations of the city will be able to enjoy the wonders of the city that we once experienced in our childhoods without having to check and plan daily for hazardous air quality conditions. Electric vehicles are not only a remarkable achievement considering that the first gasoline car was invented approximately 140 years ago, but they will also be a critical solution to combating poor air quality in NYC and helping to prevent further damage to our planet.

This blog post was written by Denny Ting, a freshman at Midwood High School at Brooklyn College. Denny is very passionate about saving the environment since he enjoys spending time outdoors with his family.

This blog post is a part of the new GreenHomeNYC public high school outreach initiative. As part of the NYC public high school outreach initiative, our blog will feature content from high school students where they share their perspectives on current and emerging topics within sustainability.