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Ending California's Love Affair with Bad Planning Practices

Amanda Eaken

Posted February 14, 2014

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This Valentine’s Day, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is giving California the chance to end its ill-fated love affair with Level of Service (LOS), an antiquated method of measuring the transportation impacts of projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

California received national attention for its decision to eliminate LOS from CEQA last year, largely because the problems with it are widely acknowledged. In fact, while advocating for the bill late in the session, Senator Steinberg confidently stated that “there is near uniform consensus that LOS has to go.” LOS’s spotty reputation comes as no surprise; by focusing exclusively on automobile traffic flow, it has had the perverse effect of making road widening look good for the environment, bike lanes look bad, and pollution-reducing infill development more costly. This paradox is the reason that the Atlantic Cities has dubbed LOS “The Transportation Planning Rule Every City Should Reform”.

Under SB 743, which passed last year, California now has the chance to fix this decades-old problem. Today marks the deadline for preliminary public feedback on this process, and NRDC’s comment letter can be found here.  

As with every bad breakup, there are bound to be some people who will have a hard time letting LOS go, and entrenched interests are likely to come out of the woodwork to oppose proposals for new metrics. Nonetheless, California needs to take the opportunity to end its relationship once and for all with an outdated practice that is undermining its own sustainability and climate goals daily. It’s time to adopt a new process that is consistent with the state’s efforts to fight pollution and promote walking, biking, and more sustainable transportation options. 

This blog was co-written with Lucian Go, Transportation Program Associate with NRDC.

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Wayne SenvilleFeb 15 2014 12:18 PM

Good to see this news about California. Readers interested in more about the problems with overreliance on LOS standards, might also want to look at my posting on remarks by Gary Toth, Senior Director of Transportation Initiatives for the Project for Public Spaces.

Mike FerreiraFeb 16 2014 10:35 AM

CEQA is, or at least was, about providing information to the public and agencies. Why any environmental organization should be exultant about withholding information escapes me.

Amanda EakenFeb 18 2014 08:17 PM


Thank you for your response. I think you may misinterpret my meaning. NRDC is advocating a change in metrics used to measure new projects’ transportation impacts because the old metric – Level of Service (LOS)—has fallen out of step with California’s environmental goals. By focusing primarily on automobile delay, LOS has made changes to support safe walking, biking and transit more complicated and more costly, while in some cases resulting in CEQA mitigation dollars being spent widening roads, further undermining our goals of creating connected, walkable communities. As you will know if you follow NRDC’s work, we spent a significant amount of time and energy last legislative session defending CEQA from changes that would have actually resulted in the withholding of information you fear, and we were successful. We celebrate this change because it will result in better information, better CEQA mitigations and stronger communities as a result.

GuthrumFeb 19 2014 09:15 AM

I hope this doesn't translste into higher taxes, fees, more controls, and lesd freedom for those who must drive csrs and trucks, as well as those who love driving.

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