When it comes to the future of transportation, a lot of the focus in the media has been on autonomous vehicles, though that reality appears to be a little further off in the future than was anticipated a decade ago. The momentous boom in electric vehicles (EVs) though is something that is affecting cities today and the infrastructure to support the move to EVs is not being talked about enough.

In collaboration with Louisville Metro, the Urban Design Studio hosted an Open Studio event on Wednesday, January 24th. Open Studio is a series intended to develop conversations around issues affecting the design, function and health of cities. 

Katie Littman (right) and Rachel Casey (middle) discuss Louisville Metro's EV Infrastructure approach

Katie Littman and Rachel Casey from Louisville Metro kicked off the Open Studio with some background on where the city is on electric vehicles and supporting infrastructure.

As one method to reach overall goals of 100% renewable energy and a 2040 goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions, Louisville Metro agencies and departments are prioritizing the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles and the necessary infrastructure to support the transition, creating a work group of City departments as well as external partners.

To date, out of approximately 3500 Metro vehicles, they have a fleet of 75 hybrids and 25 EVs (including the Chevy EUV pictured at the top of this article). Though the proportion seems small now, adoption of EVs has risen significantly recently despite supply chain issues and that the technology for medium to heavy duty electric vehicles is still not there yet. Costly infrastructure upgrades are also necessary to increase electric vehicle fleets.

Speaking of infrastructure, Metro has installed 16 ports at four of its facilities. There are libraries with charging stations and 11 stations in PARC owned garages.

Preliminary research efforts are also underway to identify how the Land Development Code (LDC) can be improved to facilitate EV infrastructure needs and goals. There are a number of cities such as Columbus’ Equitable Electric Vehicle Ready Parking Ordinance that are providing some best practices and approaches to how to either incentivize or require EV-ready parking spots for certain land uses.

Louisville Metro has a Community Charging Request for Information (RFI) out that closes on February 9th with Metro on building community charging infrastructure. Some of the questions sought are what the upfront (installation) and ongoing (maintenance) costs will be, future proofing in terms of upgrades tracking with technological changes, types of payment apps and rates to be used, and how to approach EV infrastructure to ensure an equitable deployment strategy.

Utilized publicly accessible data provided by we were able to visualize the spatial distribution of electric charger permits across Louisville. It is pretty obvious that the majority of permits since 2012 are predominantly in the eastern and more affluent parts of the community. These permits range from individual residential installs to multi-port commercial stations. It would make sense that the majority of these are where early adopters and EV usage is highest, but it was acknowledged that any public EV infrastructure plan will have to provide facilities across the city and address the current gaps in the west and south.

With a better understanding of what is currently going on at the city level, the group discussion began to unfold along a wide range of viewpoints including real estate and development, land use law, design professions, energy management, urban planning, current EV owners and more.

Group discussion on EV Infrastructure at the Urban Design Studio's Open Studio event

Differences in Charging Stations

Though we didn’t get too deep into the technical aspects of the differences in Level 1, 2 and 3 related to charging stations, it was important to understand that typically a level 1 charger provides about 4 miles of range per hour of charge. A Level 2 charger is about 8x faster providing an average of 32 miles of additional range per hour plugged in. Level 2 chargers require professional installation and can require costly upgrades to electrical systems. Level 3 chargers can be 100x faster than Level 2 providing more than 300 miles of travel on an hour charge, think of Tesla’s Supercharger stations. These units can start at a cost of $70,000 and can be far more.

A bright spot for EVs is that the mishmash of charging standards appears to be coalescing around the clear market leader Tesla with over 34,000 fast chargers in the US with Tesla owning about 20,000 of those. Tesla’s network will soon be open to EVs from many other car companies with an expected switch over starting in 2025.

EV Adoption Kneecapped by the State

Partly due to concerns about an expected drop-off in road funds that are tied to gas taxes… which EV users do not contribute to… Kentucky passed new taxes on EVs that went into effect on January 1, 2024 that adds $120 to yearly registrations of EVs as well as a 3-cent per tax on public EV charging with an additional 3-cents on top of that when the charging is done at a station controlled by the State. There are several articles that shed more light on the negative impact these actions can have on EV adoption in the state including this one “Kentucky should incentivize EV ownership and charging station, not add new road taxes“ from the Courier-Journal and this “Kentucky electric cars now pay two taxes where gas cars only pay one” from Electrek.

Infrastructure Needs of Different EV Users 

There is more than one EV customer type that needs to be considered when thinking about and planning supporting infrastructure. The tourists who come into Louisville to visit for the day, whether it be to explore our bourbon distilleries or other attractions, are interested in charging infrastructure that looks very different from the local commuter’s daily needs, and there are differences in resident EV charging needs.


Someone visiting the city or stopping on the way en route to other destinations is typically looking for a place to rapidly refuel for the next leg of their trip. It was surmised by some in the discussion that these users are looking for places they can explore and amenities they can use while their vehicle is at a charging station. It was noted during the discussion that there are only three Level 3 Tesla Supercharger locations in Louisville and none of them are in the downtown area.

During the discussion it was mentioned that Bardstown, Kentucky recently installed a EV charging station with the express understanding that EV chargers “near tourism activities can be a deciding factor on why a visitor plans a trip to one city over another.”

As more people purchase EVs and are compatible with Tesla Supercharger ports, capturing their disposable time while charging will be an important tool in drawing people into downtown. Tesla has a program that invites interested parties to host Supercharger stations if they meet their criteria with the potential incentive of attracting people to their site. It would seem to be a good idea for some place downtown to apply to host, particularly when there are attractions that bring people from out of town to spend several hours. That seems like a no-brainer. But how do we incentivize the location of these charging stations so that they don’t add to the tragically moonscape areas of our city with more surface lots? More on that later.

Local Residential Commuters (Home Owners)

The local commuter that drives less than 40 miles in a day likely is not going to need to charge before returning home. With somewhere around 85% of EV owners also owning their own homes, most local commuters typically plug their vehicles in at their home and recharge overnight, not needing public EV stations to charge during their daily activities. There will be some who, compared in the discussion to people who like their phone to be fully charged whenever possible, will want to top off their car battery even when not necessary, but that is not the target market for public charging stations.

Local Residential Commuters (Renters)

This line of discussion brought up the inequities and issues around EV ownership and multifamily dwellings. At the moment an overwhelming majority of EV owners are also homeowners who have the ability to install chargers and oftentimes in a secure garage. This is not always an easy task for renters, and even more difficult if the rental property is within a multifamily development. According to a Pew Research Center Poll about two-thirds of Americans under 35 live in rentals, the same demographic that is most open to buying an EV.

With the aim to expand EV use, several states and municipalities are adopting “right to charge” laws that require new homes and multifamily developments to be wired so they are ready for EV charger installation. Chicago officials even considered an ordinance that would apply to existing buildings. 

Retroactively installing EV charging stations in multifamily dwellings is extremely difficult. The same CNET story referenced above mentions that Census data indicates that approximately “60% of US apartment stock is from between 1959 and 1989, properties that likely lack the electrical infrastructure to support multiple Level 2 chargers operating at once, with upgrades costing upwards of $30k.” This creates a specific need for public charging station development in or near multifamily developments that is far different from the needs of tourists and travelers, to provide the infrastructure needed for renters to more reasonably adopt and take advantage of EVs.

Installing EV chargers in new multifamily developments is also a much more complicated ask than might appear. A developer that was participating in the discussion provided an analogy when it comes to the risk involved with rapidly changing technology. Back in the mid-2000s, developers were still fully outfitting projects with landline infrastructure at a significant cost, only to have cell phone adoption nullify those investments. At this early stage of EVs, charging technology is changing so rapidly that pioneering developers that include EV charging infrastructure are taking on a major risk that the technology may shift and make very large investments obsolete. That is not to say developers shouldn’t or won’t make these investments, but there needs to be some acknowledgement that there is a significant risk involved.

There is also a cost associated for developers and property owners with the installation of EV charging equipment when it relates to insurance. High profile new stories of electric vehicle fires and the harmful toxins that are released when a lithium battery burns are real concerns, even if these fires are becoming less of an issue as technology and design address the problems. 

Urban Design and EV Stations

For anyone who is familiar with downtown Louisville, we essentially have a “T” shaped area where most of the activity and best urban form is located. This is Main and Market streets that run east-west just south of the Ohio River, and Fourth Street that runs north-south forming the spine of our city. Particularly as you move west of 4th Street, the urban fabric falls apart fairly quickly as blocks and blocks of surface lots dominate the landscape for a multitude of reasons stemming mostly from poor decision making and urban renewal during the middle of the 20th century.

Louisville has made some gains on converting these surface lots into developments, such as the Omni Hotel site, but we have a long way to go. As more people move to EVs, some estimates suggest 60% of vehicle purchases by 2030 will be EVs, there will be an exponential growth in infrastructure needs. How do we avoid further incentivizing surface lots from becoming even more lucrative and entrenched in our downtown? How can we creatively locate EV charging stations within the middle of blocks, hidden behind buildings and storefronts so that we continue to work towards an urban core that is oriented towards the pedestrian experience? Our urban centers need to be places people want to get out of their car to walk around and enjoy.

Some really encouraging news related to three expansive surface lots downtown was announced on January 26th. Louisville Metro has awarded three development companies the first right to develop the Mud Lot at Ninth and Jefferson, the Civic Center properties that includes the old Police Station site and massive parking lot on West Market among other adjacent assets, and the Main and Washington development sites which includes the surface lot at 615 W. Main that once housed the first two Resurfaced projects in 2014 and 2015.

Mud Lot Property
Civic Center Properties
Main and Washington Properties

Lastly, there was an acknowledgement that the entire discussion had been focused primarily on single occupancy vehicles. The move towards EVs and away from combustion engines is needed, but if our community is to reach its sustainability goals and we are to create the vibrant walkable city we need to improve the quality of life of our citizens as well as to attract talent and business, we need to also be thinking about ways to integrate high quality transit, bicycling infrastructure and other modes of transportation into future discussions.

The Open Studio discussion around EV Infrastructure was a good start and there is a lot more to talk about and many more voices to be included in the conversation, but we hope that these sessions will help to get more people engaged in thinking about how we make our city a better place and what we can do to make that happen.


If you would like to be notified about future Open Studio events please email Patrick Piuma, Director of UofL’s Urban Design Studio.