After several years of work, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is almost ready to release draft guidelines on replacing vehicle Level of Service measures under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The shift was called for by Senate Bill 743, which passed late in the 2013 legislative session.
OPR will propose measuring a project’s environmental effects with an estimate of how many new vehicle miles it would produce, instead of the long-used Level of Service. LOS, as it is commonly referred to, focuses on how much traffic delay a project might cause. Its use under CEQA has produced many unintended consequences.
The draft guidelines, pending further refinement, are expected to be made available for public comment and discussion in a few weeks. Anticipating the release, Chris Ganson of OPR gave a presentation at a recent American Planning Association meeting in Oakland. There will be another chance to hear Ganson talk about the subject at the California Bicycle Summit in San Diego later this month.
While seemingly obscure and definitely wonky, the subject is an important one: the shift in perspective that the new guidelines call for is likely to have a profound impact on the way development happens in California—perhaps as profound an impact as using vehicle Level of Service has been until now.
Ganson’s presentation begins with background: LOS has been used in planning to estimate the effect that projects will have on traffic in the area around it. Estimates are made, numbers are crunched, and in the end nearby intersections are assigned a grade, A through F, which gives a general idea of how quickly cars get through an intersection without delay.
Under CEQA, depending on definitions set by local agencies, a “bad” grade can set off requirements for expensive mitigations, and those have frequently included widening roads and intersections to prevent the traffic delay.
The problems with this are turning out to be numerous. Read more…