Reducing Transportation Emissions Through Better Zoning

July 21, 2019 | | Policy

Local governments across the nation are leading on solutions to address climate change that will bring major benefits to their communities, from cleaner air to saving money on energy bills. Over 400 mayors in the US signed accords to meet the Paris climate goals, and hundreds of American cities have taken the next steps of establishing carbon emission benchmarks, setting carbon reduction or carbon neutrality goals, and creating climate action or energy plans on how to achieve their local goals.

Local engagement on carbon reductions is particularly important to eliminating carbon emissions from the energy system. Historically, the power sector (the generation of electricity) was the primary carbon emitter and the focus of most efforts to transform the energy system, where local governments had little authority. Policy and market transformation in the power sector has put us on a path to substantial decarbonization over the next few decades. The transportation sector (where local governments have authority) has seen slow progress—two steps forward and one back—as annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) declines then bumps up again, and vehicle fuel efficiency improves marginally. Transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions in our economy, and light-duty vehicles (the cars and trucks driven by households and businesses) are the primary source of emissions within the transportation sector.

To decarbonize the transportation sector, there needs to be large-scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) by consumers. To achieve large-scale adoption, EV charging infrastructure needs to become part of home, workplace, and public parking development.


Fortunately, local governments have at their disposal several tools for supporting electric vehicle infrastructure and to encourage EV adoption to reduce their local transportation emissions and create healthier communities. The Great Plains Institute is working closely with communities to identify specific actions that cities and counties can take to transform their community to be “EV-ready,” which can set the stage for increased EVs and infrastructure development.

The missing EV charging infrastructure

The lack of readily available opportunities to charge EVs is frequently cited by potential EV buyers as one of the primary barriers to market adoption of EVs. Consumers need to feel as confident that they can re-fuel EVs they do with gasoline-powered vehicles. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) completed a detailed study in 2017 on how much non-home charging infrastructure would be needed by 2030 to accommodate a world where 20 percent of the light-duty vehicles sales were electric (either completely electric or plug-in hybrids). NREL estimated that for every 1,000 EVs in a geographic area (such as a city or metropolitan area), 3-4 fast chargers (DCFC) are needed, but over 40 workplace or public Level 2 chargers are needed.

Using NREL’s estimates, to reach just 10 percent EV market share, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area needs approximately 9,000 workplace or public Level 2 chargers, even if all EV owners have access to home charging.[1]


If one assumes that 10 percent of EV owners live where they cannot charge the vehicle at home, the need for non-home Level 2 chargers increases to over 16,000.[2] The Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area currently has about 500 workplace and public Level 2 chargers.

Better zoning to change the world

How does the workplace/public charging gap get filled? As the arbiters of development and most local infrastructure, cities are in a unique position to accelerate EV infrastructure buildout. Commercial parking requirements and parking area designs are (in most states) determined by local governments, to both manage the transportation and land use impacts of development and ensure public benefit from this development.

EV-friendly zoning ordinances can encourage the development of infrastructure necessary to address market barriers to widespread EV deployment, such as range anxiety (not knowing if there will be a place to charge your car when you need it). Local ordinances can also create EV incentives to encourage EV purchases, such as regulations that create favorably-placed EV parking spaces.

Using zoning ordinances to reduce obstacles and create benefits for EV users makes them a powerful tool for municipalities seeking to enable electrification of transportation and bolster EV use and accessibility in their communities.


Even with a growing interest in EVs, few municipalities have adopted EV-related zoning ordinances or standards. However, examples do exist across the nation that serve as a guidepost for communities looking to become “EV-ready.”

The Great Plains Institute is developing an inventory of EV ordinances from across the country to identify EV-ready ordinance best practices. GPI created an ordinance summary document that aggregates, by best practice category, the inventoried municipal EV ordinances. The summary explains the eight key categories of best practices and provides text examples for each of the key categories. The summary also includes references to model zoning codes and guidance documents that provide more general guidance and model zoning language.

The eight best practice categories[3] include:

  1. Electric Vehicle Charging Station as Permitted Land Uses
  2. Electric Vehicle Make-Ready Standards
  3. Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Standards
  4. Electric Vehicle Parking Space Design and Location
  5. Required EV Parking Capacity & Minimum Parking Requirements
  6. EV-Designated Parking Use Standards and Protections
  7. Signage, Safety, and other standards
  8. Definitions of Terms

Using the zoning ordinance summary: Ordinance language best practices

The summary is sorted into best practice categories and provides a summary of typical provisions used by cities for each category. Each category includes a table with key points and text examples from actual ordinances, as well as a table with model code recommendations for that topic, drawn from one of several model ordinance or ordinance guidance documents for EV-ready communities.

The following provides three examples of ordinance language best practices, including a brief introduction, an explanation as to why each of these is important to creating a successful EV ordinance, and an ordinance text example.[4]

Best practice example: Defining electric vehicle terms used in the ordinance

Definitions are a critical part of an EV ordinance (even though they may sometimes seem trivial or obvious). EV charging equipment is a new land use, for which both developers and city staff need clearly written definitions to ensure that those regulated by/using the ordinance understand what they are reading. Avoiding ambiguity cuts out unnecessary frustration that may lead someone who would otherwise be interested in implementing optional EV standards from doing so and help ensure that any actions taken are done properly. Some examples of definitions found in the summary include:

Battery electric vehicle—any vehicle that operates exclusively on electrical energy from an off-board source that is stored in the vehicle’s batteries, and produces zero tailpipe emissions or pollution when stationary or operating” (EV Infrastructure: Guide for Local Governments in Washington State).

Electric vehicle charging station—a public or private parking space that is served by battery charging station equipment for the purpose of transferring electric energy to a battery or other energy storage device in an electric vehicle” (Des Moines, IA, Ordinance).

Electric vehicle parking space—any marked parking space that identifies the use to be exclusively for the parking of an electric vehicle” (Auburn Hills, MI, Ordinance)

Best practice example: Permitted electric vehicle charging station land uses

This best practice recognizes where EV charging stations (or specific types of EV charging stations) are permitted land uses. Clearly identifying EV-charging as a permitted land use means that those wishing to install EV charging stations within the city are given peace of mind that they are doing so in accordance with the law.

Example language: “Levels 1, 2, and 3 electric vehicle charging stations are allowed in all zoning designations.” (Des Moines, IA, Ordinance)

Example language: “Level 3 electric vehicle charging stations are a permitted use in the Warehouse and Industrial (WI), Highway Service Commercial (C-HS),…, zoning districts” (Chelan, WA, Ordinance)

Best practice example: required EV parking capacity & minimum parking requirements

Commercial and workplace development are typically required to have a minimum number of parking spaces,[5] and the spaces frequently must meet minimum design standards that can include dimensional minimums, surface type, drive lane dimensions, landscaping, stormwater management, handicapped accessibility, and reasonable maintenance practices. EV charging infrastructure can similarly be treated as a necessary component of parking facilities.

This best practice category shows how cities are defining the needed number of EV parking stalls in parking standards and how EV parking stalls fulfill zoning minimum parking space requirements (established elsewhere in the ordinance). Mandating EV parking stalls in ordinance parking standards helps cities build up the infrastructure needed to support residents with EVs, reduces range anxiety, and accelerates market transformation efforts to meet climate and greenhouse gas reduction targets. Municipalities might require that for a certain amount of off-street parking spaces, a specific number or a percentage of stalls be equipped with EV charging stations.

Example language: “The minimum number of electric vehicle charging stations required is 1 electric vehicle charging station per 50 parking spaces.” (Montgomery County, MA, Ordinance)

Example language: “Multiple-family residential land uses shall have 10 percent of required parking as Level 1 stations for resident parking, and one Level 2 station for guest parking. At least one handicapped accessible parking space shall have access to an EVCS.” (St. Louis Park, MN, Ordinance)

Ordinance summary aims to help communities build beneficial transportation infrastructure

City land use and parking standards are evolving as the electric vehicle market expands and new ordinance examples are being created in cities across the country. GPI created this ordinance summary to assist communities that are evaluating how to integrate this new infrastructure into the built environment of their community and to consider local means of accelerating the decarbonization of our transportation system.

Download the full guide, “Summary of Best Practices in Electric Vehicle Ordinances, for ideas on how to create a successful EV ordinance.  

Download Guide

This guide was developed through GPI’s work with Drive Electric Minnesota. 

[1] The U.S. Census reports that 27 percent of households in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area are renters.  Renters in multi-family building generally don’t have access to charging facilities.

[2] Non-home charging needs are estimated using NREL’s EVI-Pro Lite tool, Results are highly dependent on assumptions of vehicle mix and availability of home charging, ranging from 5,000 to 19,000 non-home chargers needed for 10 percent EV market penetration.

[3] These categories are not necessarily in order of how they would be written in an ordinance and do not represent ordinance sections. Rather, they are categories that reflect the best practices for EV ordinances.

[4] The examples are specifically for zoning ordinances, and do include the building code tools that some communities have used to incorporate EV infrastructure in new development. Building codes are an extremely useful tool when available to local governments, but in a number of states the building code cannot be modified at the local level.

[5] Recognizing that some areas with access to transit or centralized parking facilities may not have parking minimums or may have parking maximums.