By Amanda Easken, September 2, 2014
I think it’s important to remember—as we slap each other on the back
about this year’s legislative victories—that getting a bill passed is
just the beginning of making change happen. Fortunately, we have some
great progress to report on one of the bills that made it through in the
waning hours of last year’s legislative session—a bill that could
fundamentally change the way we think about development and traffic in
As I’ve written in the past,
the crux of this issue comes down to three little letters: L.O.S. It
stands for Level of Service, which is essentially just a measure of how
much a project will slow down cars, and it’s the way the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has evaluated new projects for decades.
Last year the Legislature—in their infinite wisdom—decided that in
fact, in California in the year 2014, transportation is about a whole
lot more than moving cars quickly. In fact we have much more important
goals, and volumes have been written
about the deep flaws of the LOS paradigm: it makes road widening look
good for the environment, discourages infill, encourages traffic
engineers to remove pedestrian crosswalks and slows transit projects.
Through Senate Bill 743,
they directed the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to
kick Level of Service (LOS) to the curb, and find a replacement that can
better help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create transportation
So here’s the good news: they’ve done it.
OPR has just released their draft guidelines recommending Vehicle Miles
Traveled (VMT) as the much more appropriate metric. Let’s think about
this for a second. Under the old system, a proposed bike lane had to
analyze its transportation impacts and if it was found to slow down cars
(by, say substituting a bike lane for a car lane) then our
environmental statute would have said let’s either not build this
project, or pay a lot of money to find some other way to speed up cars.
Pretty backwards, eh? Considering the whole point of bike lanes is to
encourage one of the cleanest, healthiest and most sustainable ways of
getting around we know. Now, instead, the same project would be asked a
simple question: will this project result in any more vehicle miles of
travel? Even a four year old can figure this one out. NO! Abundantly
clear that the answer is no. So these bike projects—not to mention
transit projects, safe pedestrian crosswalks, and other livable
communities projects—will get built faster, cheaper, with less headache.
We all win.
We love OPR’s proposed new metric because it just makes sense. It’s
worth pointing out that California is the first state in the nation to
try to tackle the insidious LOS problem and OPR should be praised for
setting the precedent. Comments are due October 10th,
and we feel that certain elements of their draft guidelines need
revision—such as the proposed threshold and which types of projects are
presumed to be less than significant—and we will blog again with more
information on these details.
But we can’t forget the bigger picture: we and a whole host of other
livable, sustainable communities advocates have wanted to see the end of
LOS for decades, and we say it’s about time. RIP LOS.