Reforms to the Level of Service Rule Under Way Across Country
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.