With today’s deadline looming for comments on new rules governing the way the state analyzes transportation planning impacts, many transportation planners and engineers remain confused about what the new rules might mean while others join advocates in hoping that new rules will create better projects.
SB 743, signed into law last year, removes traffic Level of Service (LOS), a measure of traffic congestion, from the list of environmental impact metrics that have to be used under the California Environmental Quality Act when planning development and transportation projects. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has to decide on a substitute for LOS that more broadly measures a project’s transportation impacts. Although SB 743 says LOS can only be replaced in dense urban areas with robust transit access, OPR can also decide to apply that new metric everywhere in the state.
Focusing on LOS has severely hindered the expansion of bike lanes in California, including a lawsuit that delayed San Francisco’s bike plan for years, because it might affect delay car traffic. Critics of LOS have long argued that using a metric that solely measures the movement of cars, rather than the movement of people, makes for an inefficient transportation system and requires costly measures to “mitigate” LOS impacts.
“CEQA rules were so backward that you had to analyze the environmental impact of replacing a ‘car’ lane with a bike lane but you could remove a bike lane to add a car lane with no analysis required whatsoever,” said Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.
“It’s not just for bikes, either, but for any street improvement that involves reducing car capacity,” he added, “which is to say transit lanes, sidewalk bulbouts, or all manner of changes that make a place more livable, safer, and more prosperous, if a bit more congested with automobiles.”
Another example would be converting a mixed traffic lane to a bus-only lane. In the past couple of years, there has been a debate in Los Angeles over expanding the Wilshire Bus Only Lane. Studies showed a net increase in vehicle congestion in the remaining mixed traffic lanes with a major reduction in travel time for buses. More people ride the bus on Wilshire Boulevard than drive, but that didn’t stop opponents of the bus line from charging that the project was bad for commuters.