A new survey of planning officials in California finds that most are embracing the shift from highway level of service to vehicle miles traveled for evaluating the environmental impacts of new development projects. While some are ditching LOS altogether, however, many still rely on it to measure traffic impacts.
Two recent studies suggest that California’s change in assessing the impact of development—from level of service (LOS) to vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—can reduce costs for developers and streamline the review of projects. Under the new guidelines, both studies to determine transportation impacts and any mitigation measures after review are less costly than the previous requirements. This has been confirmed not just by academic studies, but also by the City of Pasadena in a paper by recently-retired Director of Transportation, Fred Dock.
This month, for at least the second time in a year, the Institute of Transportation Engineers has challenged its members to rethink common practices and metrics that are often thought of as objective and unbiased, but that convey values that aren’t necessarily in line with the greater public interest. In particular, these values emphasize the movement of vehicles above all other interests.
The California legislature last week passed a bill that will remove highway level-of-service and parking from traffic mitigation analyses. The bill applies to projects in many urban and suburban areas. An earlier version of the legislation, SB 731, would have eliminated LOS standards statewide and replaced them with what essentially would have been an impact-fee based on VMT or some other systemic metric. Advocates say the weaker version in SB 743 still covers wide swaths of the state’s most populous areas, and that while it does not require statewide reform, it allows the Office of Planning and Research to accomplish such a change through rule making.