From the 1970s through the late 2010s, transportation analysis of the impact of development projects and land use plans focused heavily on automobile Level of Service (LOS), a performance measure focused on congestion and delay experienced by drivers. This was the case in part because the guidelines implementing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) called for the use of LOS as a key performance measure. Outside of CEQA, many jurisdictions in California also incorporated LOS standards in their General Plans or other documents, requiring intersections to operate at a minimum LOS threshold. Policymakers, researchers and others identified LOS as a contributor to auto-dependency and sprawl.
In 2013, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 743, to replace LOS with Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as the primary metric by which projects are evaluated under CEQA. VMT represents the total amount of vehicular travel across the entire transportation network, and the reduction of VMT is closely tied to other state goals such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Outside of CEQA, lead agencies and local jurisdictions have greater discretion to develop their own guidelines and select metrics (which may include VMT, LOS or other measures) to evaluate the impacts of projects. As cities and agencies become more familiar with using these new metrics, they can revise related policies to plan and pay for transportation infrastructure. The sections that follow outline strategies to implement these changes.
Modernize Transportation Analysis Policies
Cities and agencies can adapt their transportation analysis policies by implementing Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and being more flexible with the use of Level of Service (LOS).
Adopt Performance Standards for Other Modes
Measures of performance or quality of service for non-auto modes are still emerging, but current examples can help evaluate the benefits of transit, cycling, and pedestrian travel.
Update Level of Service Analysis Practices
Level of Service will likely continue to play some role in transportation impact analysis, but its use can be refined and supplemented with additional metrics.
Vehicle Miles Traveled and Multimodal Improvements
Conduct VMT and multimodal assessments to inform the implementation of transportation and streetscape improvements.
Consider Broader Mitigation Frameworks
In lieu of requiring project-specific mitigation measures or improvements, agencies can also consider mitigation frameworks that work on a broader scale such as citywide or area-wide impact fees.
Develop a Program Environmental Impact Report
A Program Environmental Impact Report can be prepared for agency plans, policies, regulatory programs, or series of actions that can be characterized as one large project.
- San José, California, USA – Transportation Analysis Policy Change
- Fort Collins, Colorado, USA – Multimodal Level of Service Standards
- City of Pasadena, California, USA – Traffic Reduction and Transportation Improvement Fee