Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I’m a bit of a car nut. Performance and otherwise cool cars have been a recurring theme in my life.
During my impressionable pre-teen and teen years, my mom drove a car with a V-8, 4 barrel carb, racing stripes and a Hurst 4 speed. Sadly, the glass packs were swapped out after my dad woke up a neighbor at 3am when heading out to visit a patient at the ER.
I experienced a nearly religious experience one day in the 80’s when I downshifted my Mustang GT to pass a car on Moon Lake Road. I missed the shift to fourth, going from fifth to second instead as I floored it. I caught my breath a mile down the road. Driving the Mustang was never the same after that. It’s a miracle that I never got ticketed while driving that little rocket.
During the 90’s, I owned a succession of Trans-Ams: The first one delivered in West Pasco (a hard top), followed by a T-top and then a convertible.
As a kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I wasn’t alone. Most of us loved cool cars and I still enjoy the car shows and cruise-ins that we have from time to time downtown.
During the latter half of the 20th century, our collective car culture promoted a number of features of everyday life that are only now starting to change: We built subdivisions that forced residents out onto main highways to go anywhere. We built malls and strip shopping centers surrounded by acres of parking lots, tempting us away from the historic downtown shopping districts that used to be the heart of every community. The old service stations morphed into gas stations that now dot nearly every corner. Through it all, we continued to power our cars primarily with imported oil.
A Grid System
Grid street layouts are now back in style. You can’t easily retrofit a subdivision, but New Port Richey was designed from the start with one.
The shopping paradigm is shifting. Walkable downtown shopping districts are back in fashion and malls and strip centers across the country are dying a slow death. You can see this happening right here in West Pasco. New Port Richey’s historic downtown is experiencing a major renaissance while the Gulfview Mall and any number of shopping plazas along US 19 have been dying.
The old model of acres of parking surrounding a store or mall is also fading away. On street parking is back in fashion, although parallel parking has become a bit of a lost art. Sidewalks, where people can stroll, stop, and hang out with friends are once again taking their place in our culture. Spending a bit of time in the evening on an outdoor dining deck or sidewalk cafe is FAR more enjoyable than sitting in the middle of a mall. Watching people attempt to parallel park is part of the fun.
Our parking downtown has been an ongoing topic of discussion. Some of us are of the opinion that we’ve got plenty of parking spaces, they just aren’t all where we might want them. It all boils down to the question of whether we should build our community for cars or people? People who don’t think twice about walking across acres of asphalt to get into the mall are sometimes challenged by the prospect of walking a block to get to a downtown restaurant or business. We can change that mindset by making our downtown sidewalks pleasant places to walk and make sure that our parking is well marked.
The only time parking becomes next to impossible is during the big special events in Sims Park. Park & Ride arrangements, a downtown trolley during events, or even something as simple as a few GEM vehicles should be able to bridge the divide between where everyone wants to go and where the parking is located.
The golf cart parking marked off by Boulevard Beef & Ale takes up less space that one parallel space would normally take. Joe has no problem with folks going to other stores or restaurants parking their golf carts in the spaces. This is the sort of private innovation that everyone can be proud of.
We still have some challenges we need to address. People Places will be hosting a Talk About Town session at 6pm on June 18th. I would encourage you to consider attending. We did a public notice of the meeting so city staff and members of the city council can participate.
Wither the Gas Station
I read an interesting research paper from Morgan Stanley last month. It is titled “Electric Vehicles Bring Disruption to the Pump.” The question that Morgan Stanley raises is “What happens to gas stations when nobody stops in for gas?” It’s not out of the realm of possibility that your grand kids will respond like the ones in this video to the whole concept of gas stations.
The Morgan Stanley article wraps up by suggesting that restaurant owners could capitalize on EV charging times by offering charging stations at their restaurants. Some grocery stores, most notably Whole Foods and Publix, have started installing EV charging stations at some of their locations. I can see the benefit of looking at adding charging stations in our downtown parking lots as the number of EVs plying our streets increase. To the extent that our restaurants and shops have dedicated parking, they may want to add charging stations specifically for their clients.
Morton Plant Northbay Hospital is now offering EV charging. Their shiny new charging station is on the north side of the hospital, not far away from the main entrance.
Electric Vehicles Are Coming
My son left his Plug-in Prius with us when he deployed two years ago. Plugging the car in each night is no big deal.
With gasoline prices spiking higher this year, there is an increased interest in electric vehicles. AAA just released the results of a survey where they found that one in five Americans are interested in buying an EV the next time they go shopping for a car. Count me among the 20%.
Driving along so quietly that you can spook cyclists and pedestrians can be entertaining. Saving boatloads of money on gasoline and saving the environment are all nice as well, but they won’t get most people to pick an EV as their next car. The cars have to meet the needs of people at an affordable price and they have to be fun to drive. Prices for EVs are dropping rapidly, especially in the used car market. New EVs as a group are expected to reach full price parity with gasoline powered cars within the next few years. That leaves the bigger questions: Are they practical and are they fun?
Are EVs practical?
Imagine starting each morning with a full take of gas. That is what EV owners experience when they plug in overnight. Recharging this way works out about the same as if you could buy gasoline at $1 a gallon.
So called “destination chargers” are popping up. There are three 240 volt “Level 2” destination chargers in New Port Richey: Sims Park, the Recreation and Aquatics Center, and Morton Plant North Bay Hospital. Another unit should be installed at City Hall within the near future. These let you “fill up” while you are at the park, the hospital, or working out at the Rec. Center. Quite a few destination chargers, including all the ones currently in New Port Richey, are free to use.
So called “Fast Chargers” are popping up along the Interstates and other major highways. There is one at the Quality Inn on US 19. Fast Chargers typically require some sort of payment. They make long distance travel in an EV practical. Some pure EVs, like the Chevy Bolt and various Tesla models, can go well over 200 miles on a charge. Stopping in Ocala or Gainesville for a a bite to eat and a quick charge from one of the fast chargers located in either town puts Jacksonville and beyond well within the range of these cars.
Plug-in Hybrid EVs have a gasoline engine, so they run for some distance on electricity and then switch automatically to gasoline when the battery is discharged. They can essentially go on forever with stops at gasoline stations along the way. I drove my son’s Plug-in Prius all the way to Babcock Ranch, near Punta Gorda, and back in one day, charging while I was there before heading home. Electricity powered part of each drive, with the gasoline engine handling the balance of the trip.
Practical options exist for people who want to spend less time and money at the pump.
Dodge makes a big deal advertising how their Challenger Demon is the fastest production car in the 0-60 test. They have to foot note their claim that “production car” doesn’t include hybrid/electrics. It’s a good thing too, because a four door Tesla beats the Challenger’s 0-60 time by a fraction of a second, 2.27 seconds to 2.3 seconds.
To put modern cars into perspective, my Mustang GT was only a tick faster than a new Chevy Bolt and the Bolt, with a 0-60 time in the mid 6’s, is absolutely faster than my mom’s mid 60’s vintage muscle car.
Pure acceleration isn’t everything, but the torque from an electric motor starts immediately, making at least some electric cars a hoot to drive. You step on the accelerator and away you go, something you can’t say about many of the turbo gasoline cars on the market.
Is this for me?
If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, you should plan on attending New Port Richey’s first ever National Drive Electric Week event. It will be on September 8th. Plug-in car owners can register now. You will be able to talk to people who drive these vehicles every day and we are lining up local dealers, so you can take a test drive if you would like to see for yourself what they are like.
Regardless of whether you plan on continuing to burn dead dinosaurs or switch to an electric car down the road, things are rapidly changing and it should be a fun ride.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor