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Electric Vehicle Charging in the Public Right-of-Way

Pole-mounted EV charger in SE Portland
This Portland Bureau of Transportation program allows companies to install electric vehicle (EV) chargers in the public right-of-way in commercial centers across the city. The goal is to provide convenient and reliable EV charging to all Portlanders, especially those who cannot charge at home.
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Portland City Council approved a project by the Portland Bureau of Transportation in spring 2023 to allow companies to install electric vehicle (EV) chargers in the public right-of-way. The project aims to make affordable, convenient, reliable EV charging accessible for all Portlanders, especially those that currently live in multi-unit dwellings with no access to charging. 

These new rules enable EV charging companies and utilities to install Level 2 (medium-speed) chargers in commercial Centers where the city has planned for more growth and density. These chargers will either be installed on free-standing pedestals or mounted on existing poles, and all adjacent parking spaces will be designated as “EV charging only.” 

Why allow EV chargers curbside? 

The City of Portland understands that transportation electrification is crucial to achieving our ambitious climate goals of at least a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While some Portlanders can make the switch to an electric vehicle and easily charge at home, many Portlanders lack access to home charging because they live in a home without a garage or driveway or are renters and must rely on their landlords to make the necessary infrastructure upgrade.  

To date, publicly accessible EV chargers in Portland have largely been concentrated around downtown and a select few additional commercial centers, leaving many neighborhoods, especially those in the fringes of the city, without convenient access to EV charging.  

Map shows designated centers in Portland color coded to show density of public charging stations. Generally, downtown is green signifying sufficient public charger availability and Centers are yellow (meaning they have 1-5 public chargers) or red (meaning they have 0 public chargers) as you move farther to the fringes of the city.
Centers in green have 5+ publicly accessible EV chargers. Centers in yellow have 1-5 public EV chargers. Centers in red have zero public EV chargers. The charger locations are based on data from the US Department of Energy from January 2023

In Portland, rising rents and home values mean that many low-income and communities of color have been pushed out to less-central areas of the city where vehicle ownership is often necessary due to a lack of convenient, safe, and efficient alternatives, such as rapid transit and dedicated bicycle facilities. Increasing EV adoption in underserved communities where car ownership is likely to remain necessary is crucial to achieving the City’s climate action and racial justice goals. The current charging deserts have largely formed around these neighborhoods, and this program will bring convenient and accessible charging options to all areas of Portland. 

Where in the City will EV chargers be allowed curbside? 

EV chargers will be allowed in designated Centers across this City, excluding Central City. Centers include commercial large areas, like Gateway Regional Center, Town Centers like Hollywood, Lents, and St. Johns, and Neighborhood Centers like Roseway, Montavilla, and Woodstock and more. At this time, no chargers will be allowed in the Central City since that area already has over one-third of the total public chargers in the city, including options like PGE's Electric Avenue or charging in public parking garages, like Smart Park

Within Centers, chargers must be installed on Local Service Traffic Streets, meaning that they will be installed "around the corner" from main streets like SE Hawthorne Boulevard or N Mississippi Avenue. Chargers will also need to comply with a comprehensive set of clearance and accessibility requirements. 

There are many existing public EV chargers in Portland, and this policy is expected to fill and expand that network. 

What will this look like on our streets? 

The EV chargers that will be installed in Centers and on Local Service Traffic Streets will either be mounted to an existing utility pole or installed on a pedestal roughly the size of a Parking Kitty meter. They will have a relatively small profile and will be installed in the furnishing zone, as shown in the below diagram of sidewalk zones. They are not expected to impact the Pedestrian Through Zone or other areas of the sidewalk.  

Image showing the different zones of the sidewalk with the furnishing zone (the area between the street and the sidewalk where trees and fire hydrants go) highlighted in green

All EV chargers installed in the right-of-way will have the adjacent parking space designated as “EV Charging Only.” These spaces will be clearly signed and striped to ensure that only EVs that are plugged into the charger and actively charging will be permitted to park in those spaces. Drivers that park in EV Charging Only spaces in metered districts, like the NW Parking District, will still be required to pay for parking as normal. Drivers that park in EV Charging Only spaces in non-metered districts will not be required to pay for parking, just for charging.  

Who will be permitted to install EV chargers curbside? 

At this time, only utilities and EV charging companies that meet City requirements will be allowed to install EV chargers in the public right-of-way; not adjacent businesses, private groups, or individual residents. There are several factors that contributed to this decision, including health, life, and safety issues, liability concerns; and, state utility location requirements, among others. Additionally, private citizens are generally prohibited from installing infrastructure for their private use in the public right-of-way, which could essentially privatize a public space. Having private assets in a public space also raises several difficult policy questions, including who is responsible for the asset if the owner relocates. 

All companies and utilities that receive a permit to install an EV charger in the right-of-way will sign a comprehensive legal agreement with the city, upholding them to strict maintenance and high operability standards. Once EV charging permits are issued, PBOT will ensure that there is an easy way to report an outage or other issue with the chargers so that companies can quickly respond to any problems. 

When will EV chargers be coming to our curbs? 

Portland City Council approved the code changes required to support this project on March 1, 2023 and directed PBOT staff to engage in a public rulemaking process to update relevant Administrative Rules. The public rulemaking process wrapped up in November 2023 with a public hearing and the final rule has now been posted to the City's website. 

At the same time, PBOT staff are finalizing the contract and permit process. Local utilities and EV charging companies interested this opportunity will first need to obtain a franchise, license, or privilege to operate in the right-of-way and sign a Master Lease Agreement prior to submitting site-specific EV charging permits. 

No installations are planned in the immediate future and there will be a public notification process prior to any installations. 

If you are a company interested in learning more about this process, please contact the PBOT staffer listed on this page.