Feds Coming Around to Level of Service Reform
"[F]or a very long time one metric has reigned supreme on American streets," writes Angie Schmitt: "'Level of Service,' a system that assigns letter grades based on motorist delay." Here, Schmitt provides more on the importance of Level of Service to planning and engineering practice:
Level of Service, or LOS, is what traffic engineers cite when they shut down the possibility of transitways or bike lanes. It also leads to policy decisions like road widenings and parking mandates. Even environmental laws are structured around the idea that traffic flow is paramount, so they end up perpetuating highways, parking, and sprawl. Because if the top priority is to move cars — and not, say, to improve public safety or economic well-being — the result is a transportation system that will move a lot of cars while failing at almost everything else.
Schmitt's purpose with the article is to harken the winds of change. First, California is already well underway with ending the use of LOS to measure development impacts, releasing a draft of changes to the California Environmental Quality Act in January. But the federal government is also on board. " Officials at the Federal Highway Administration are looking at how they can spur changes like California’s LOS reform in other places," according to Schmitt.
Barbara McCann of the Policy office of the Secretary at U.S. DOT told Streetsblog that her agency has been charged with reviewing internal policies that are an obstacle to better biking and walking. “LOS is something that has come up with that,” she said.
Considering that there is no federal mandate for LOS, the FHWA can only advocate for the adoption of alternatives to LOS.
As a first step, FHWA will soon release a case study about a local agency that is moving away from using LOS. Then the agency will develop a peer-to-peer exchange, where cities and states can share ideas and experience about shifting to other metrics.
The article includes more potential policy mechanisms on the table for the federal government to pursues in the near future that could begin to bring about more widespread adoption of alternatives to LOS.