Reforms to the Level of Service Rule Under Way Across Country

Oct 6th, 2013 | Posted by

Last week Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 743, a bill that makes a long overdue reform to transportation planning in California – as well as makes it easier for Sacramento to build a new arena to house the Kings. SB 743 contains reforms to the odious “Level of Service” guideline, often known as LOS. Eric Jaffe explains why this law and this reform is so important:

The problem with LOS is that it makes projects with clear environmental benefits seem like a sustainable drag. A simple plan to add a crosswalk, for instance, might downgrade LOS because it causes cars to advance through an intersection more slowly. The result is often that a project is cancelled or that some form of LOS mitigation favorable to cars, such as a wider road, is implemented….

The new law calls for the state’s Office of Planning and Research to offer a new CEQA transportation guideline by next summer. That metric, by law, must “promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” Lawmakers made a few suggestions for LOS replacements, including metrics that gauge vehicle miles traveled or automobile trip generation.

This is the direction in which American planning and environmental laws ought to be going. Rather than promote traffic speeds, we need to be promoting reduction of greenhouse gases, greater urban density, and transit. The fix to the LOS rule, whatever the final version takes, is a big step forward for transit and for sustainable development in California.

California isn’t alone in moving away from LOS. Streetsblog DC calls 2013 “the beginning of the end” for LOS:

California isn’t the only place rethinking its reliance on Level of Service to grade transportation and development projects. Portland, Oregon, issued an RFP last summer asking for help developing new performance measures to replace Level of Service. The RFP read: “The existing LOS standards and measures, which focus only on motor vehicle levels of service, do not reflect the City of Portland’s current practice which emphasizes and promotes a multi-modal approach to transportation planning and providing transportation services.”…

“A lot of places are trying to rethink it,” said Weinberger, who is now director of research and policy strategy at Nelson\Nygaard. “People are starting to say, ‘We’ve been using this performance measure and we’re not getting the whole picture, and we’re not getting the result we really want.’”

Cities like New York, Seattle, and Charlotte are all looking at ways to move beyond LOS, with states such as Florida and Virginia experimenting with new metrics as well. California may well be the furthest along in junking LOS and replacing it with a new statewide standard, but it’s clear that there is national interest in finding a better way to plan in our cities than just focusing on traffic alone.

  1. BruceMcF
    Oct 6th, 2013 at 19:04

    I wrote on a similar topic in Sunday Train this week.

  2. joe
    Oct 6th, 2013 at 21:27

    “The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

    TomW Reply:

    Or to put it anmother way: if you tell people to maximise a metric to achieve some goal, they will focus on maximising the metric, not on achieveing the goal.

    trentbridge Reply:

    This is what I observed on businesses that are run “by the numbers”. The employees try to do everything to manipulate the data to their advantage. Soon-to-be-retired public employees put in massive amounts of overtime in their last two years to raise the base income for their pension calculation. Salespersons rush or delay new contract signings to fit the month that is likeliest to generate the most commission income. Operations people will delay annual maintenance to the following month so they can meet their “goal” for the current year. School teachers will encourage less gifted students to call out sick when state-mandated testing is scheduled. Even baseball players have better stats in the year when their contract expires.

    In any endeavor, the prizes tend to go to the most manipulative rather than the most deserving. The reason you have financial disasters like 2008 is because the people who made the home loans knew that they’d be measured by gross loans generated rather than the percentage that went delinquent. The people who packaged the same mortgages were equally interested in selling product than analysing the potential for default.

    joe Reply:

    About schools.

    Soon-to-be-retired public employees put in massive amounts of overtime in their last two years to raise the base income for their pension calculation.

    Overtime is over the base income. I don’t know where this is possible with full public workers. maybe it is but I don’t know of it.

    What I’ve seen locally, CA teachers take paycuts to avoid layoffs of peers. That paycut lowers their base income. For near retirement teachers that impacts retirement, they get less sinc eit is based on recent, not peak income. Some quit early. It costs them more over their lifetime in pension. other cannot afford to quit and take the hit hoping pay is restored. Our Teachers do not get Social Security.

    School teachers will encourage less gifted students to call out sick when state-mandated testing is scheduled.

    Nonsense. STAR tests for a 3rd grader are multi-day tests. It’s also illegal since that absence is a truancy. It’s financially bad for the school. Schools get funded based on daily attendance, not enrollment.

    What does happen is 1) kids get a buttload of homework. Teachers screen kids for that do not do the homework and focus on the lowest performing students and they have to achieve scores in all demographics. You see less of the teacher over the year if your kid is performing well.

    Well performing schools get less funding than failing schools. The system encourages spending to improve the lowest scoring schools in a district.

    A school just below 800 and not rising is failing. A school way below at 450 that’s improving over last year’s 425 is successful. Your kid maybe moved out of the 780 failing school into a successful 450 school.

    Kids are encouraged to chew gum during tests. They are asked to run a lap outside prior to going into the school. These both are shown to help increase test scores. Modest exercise in the AM and gun chewing.

    Eric Reply:

    hey trent, overtime isn’t used by all public employees for retirement calculation…I know it isn’t used by state employees, and hasn’t for a while…

    Derek Reply:

    If maximizing the metric doesn’t achieve the goal, then the metric needs to be realigned to the goal.

    For example, when the goal is student improvement but the metric is student performance, teachers are incentivized to ask their less-gifted students to stay home for state-mandated testing.

    joe Reply:

    Educated and experienced economists claim there’s a problem with metrics. So do social scientists.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Do everything by gut feel.

    GilroyLogic™. For the educated and experienced©®℠

    Joe Reply:

    No Richard.

    You now seem perfectly happy with the performance metrics Americas finest transportation professionals meet and exceed. Bonus time.

    Now how many lines of code will you write today?

    Eric Reply:

    The real question is, how many lines of other people’s code will he complain about today?

    Eric Reply:

    different Eric, by the way.

    Derek Reply:

    Educated and experienced economists claim there’s a problem with metrics.

    Ask an economist whether incentives matter, and report back here with the answer.

    Brian Reply:

    Yes, for uneducated piece work, incentives work. For highly educated workers, (including executives) incentives lead them to try and game the incentives, at the price of them doing their jobs as well.

    Derek Reply:

    A friend of mine worked in a poultry processing plant, where they would pay by the pound. His job was to assign chickens to workers to break down. He would assign the bigger chickens to people he liked. Does this mean incentives don’t work even for uneducated labor? Or does it mean the process is broken?

    W. Edwards Deming, who is largely credited for Japan’s post-war revival and product quality, used to say, “blame the process, not the person,” because processes are responsible for 85% of defects while workers are responsible for only 15%. So if people are gaming an incentive (which is part of a process), the incentive is broken and should be fixed.

    Joe Reply:

    His favoritism means he’s created a harassing workplace and a liability for his employer and himself.

    Measuring parts isn’t social indicator or metric. It’s not an economic metric either.

    synonymouse Reply:

    WTF, Jerry funnels favors to house consultants, contractors, and unions all the time.

    It all depends on how far up one is on the power chain. When you write the laws as you go along, you define what constitutes “harassment” and “liability”. Who’s gonna stop the machine boss?

    Derek Reply:

    You’re still trying to blame the person and not the system. Ask an engineer how long he would remain employed if he keeps doing that.

    Joe Reply:

    The manager who favors employees is not working within any defensible system.
    He is at risk of a complaint against him. They may not be organized and with little recourse but it’s a risk.

    It might happen, unintentionally, he is friends and favors people he gets along with and are like him. That could unintentionally be religion, gender or race based favoritism – that’s how a lawyer would go at it. I’ve seen it.

    Derek Reply:

    So instead of fixing the root problem, litigate?

    Next time you wonder why we’re so lawsuit-happy, you can find the answer in the mirror.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Even moderately small companies send their managers to employee relations classes where they are informed that fucking over the employees can get the company sued. But a significant percentage of the people who go through those kind of classes … don’t pay attention… and some of them report to people who didn’t pay attention either. Sometimes the solution to the problem is to sue. Which gets their attention.

    joe Reply:

    So instead of fixing the root problem, litigate?

    The fix to the root problem is for the manager to stop.
    I’m telling you what I understand is implication given the Law in CA and Federal. Managers are responsible for managing liabilities. It’s part of the job. Do the job.

    He’s obviously not following any company policy or improving their profitability. Probably unintentionally disfavoring people less like him which is going to trigger race, gender and other protected worker status. Then it gets really serious.

    Manager is directing fat chickens to favorite workers and skinny chickens to unfavored workers. Salary is based on pounds processed. That’s straightforward impact on salary and work load.

    A company will have little tolerance for actions that do not help their bottom line and have them waste resources defending themselves.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The fix to the root problem is for the manager to stop.

    Assuming he reports to someone who cares. It’s almost always a he. And whoever is responsible for reminding management that they can’t be assholes hasn’t given up.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, the restaurant owner in San Diego who banned tipping and claims that it radically improved customer experience and brought in more profits argues that there’s so much hidden discrimination in the system that it’s impossible to sue directly. See here.

    Everyone, note how an incentive that is supposed to improve service (i.e. the tipping system) ends up working in the opposite direction as intended.

    Joe Reply:

    I don’t see any parallel with the chicken example.

    Say some employees are given the fixed service fee and others are not.

    The decision is based on the manager choosing who does and does not. He chooses to reward his favorite employees with the guaranteed tip.

    See you in court.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Ask an engineer how long he would remain employed if he keeps doing that.”

    If he’s charged with finding fraud, he’d get promoted for blaming the person (at fault), rathe than the process.

    Sometimes the process is broken. (Tip-based compensation is a good example.) Other times, there are people actively trying to break it. (The Republicans in Congress are a good example.) You have to be able to tell which is which.

    Joe Reply:

    Look up Campbell’s law and the economic counterparts. Wikipedia possibly.
    Now get back to work making crabby patties.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sounds a little reminiscent of Lord Acton.

    Please comment on the “process” whereby CAHSR degenerated from hsr to regional commute to the point it was obvious to a bright but non-transport type like Musk.

    jimsf Reply:

    HSR did not degenerate, HSR since prop 1a was designed to both provide long distance and regional service. Once completed, this is what it will do. long distance express semi express train, local trains serving smaller markets, and the ability to schedule region commute services on the bookends. I was aware of that when I voted and I am still aware of that. The only real change is that they have come up with a way to make use of bookends via blended systems sooner, while waiting for full build out.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It cannot do both. It is either direct, express and very fast to achieve competivity with air and enter the break-even zone or it is regional commute, heavily subsidized.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How fast does it have to be to compete with air in the Los Angeles – San Francisco market?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Kopp & co. figured 2:40 would do it. Musk got the routing right – as he commented it is now just amounts to an improved Amtrak. I call it AmBART.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How fast is the currently proposed route going to be? They are proposing 2:40 minutes or not?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Ain’t no way 2:40 with the DogLeg.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    2:44 isn’t going to stop people from using it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    more like 3:44

    Wonder who really is the clandestine muscle behind the Ranch? Maybe it really is Mickey.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I think it’s Nancy Pelosi mind ray covens who use their cloaking devices to hide their ritual compounds on the Ranch from the satellites.

  3. StevieB
    Oct 6th, 2013 at 22:29

    SB 743 is a good start on reform of LOS standards although it only applies to “transit priority area”. The next step is an expansion of the benefit area.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Couldn’t a “transit priority area” pretty much cover an entire major city in California? I read as long as your within 1/2 mile of a transit line (bus included) a project is covered by SB743. ?

    Edward Reply:

    TPAs are defined as areas within a ½-mile of high quality transit: a rail stop or a bus corridor that provides or will provide at least 15-minute frequency service during peak hours by the year 2035.

    Jon Reply:

    I think that’s literally the whole of San Francisco. All of these lines are already 15 mins or better at peak:

    synonymouse Reply:

    In the realm of the 13 undocumented no-shows?

    Can someone score a copy of the contract-MOU to settle this urban legend once and for all?

    Elizabeth Reply:

    So uh…every city will just declare that every bus stop will have 15 minute headways in another 23 years?

    Tony D. Reply:


    bixnix Reply:

    LA’s 15 minutes or less map – link

    bixnix Reply:

    Derek Reply:

    Demand-responsive pricing makes LOS irrelevant.

Comments are closed.