Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It’s time to put LOS in the past. Will SoCal make it define our future?

In January, the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released draft guidelines that would usher in a new era of transportation planning that prioritizes greenhouse gas emissions reductions, improving public health, and providing more transportation choices over decades of sprawling auto-oriented development. The OPR’s guidelines would replace the prioritization of the Level of Service (LOS) with reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

But, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the region’s six county transportation agencies are resisting the change.

Many of our partners working to address climate change, support safer communities for walking, bicycling, and transit access, saw the OPR recommendations as a “rational next step, and a national precedent,” as written by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and Climate Plan (See their blog post here). Prioritizing the reduction of VMTs, overall, would result in more bikeable, walkable, healthy, and low-carbon communities. We couldn’t agree more.

“The new guidelines remove “Level of Service” (to cars) as a significant transportation impact of new development. The new measure is Vehicle Miles Traveled.” Bill Sadler at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

But, SCAG and their group are asking for exemptions from the revised guidelines. Specifically, they are asking to be grandfathered in all projects in the 2016 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS), State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), and voter-approved sales tax measures. However, many of those projects, including many road widenings, wouldn’t be subject to these new guidelines even though they will inevitably increase VMT. SCAG argues that these road widenings are necessary to accommodate future growth, and that any increase in VMT would be balanced out by VMT reductions in transit-oriented areas that will see growth. (See SCAG’s letter to OPR here)

Pushing back against the Governor’s OPR, SCAG recommended preserving LOS and congestion impact analysis. If we preserved this old-school method, projects that increase the amount of driving would further promote suburban sprawl and exacerbate public health problems rather than prioritize affordable housing, safe walking and bicycling infrastructure, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our regional transportation network.

The Governor’s OPR recommendations are a major milestone for battling climate change and advancing healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities across the state. Some cities, including Pasadena and San Francisco, are getting a head start and adopting these changes before OPR even finalizes these guidelines.

We welcome these progressive changes in Southern California, especially when the Governor’s office is leading the charge — let’s just hope SCAG jumps on board before we get left behind.

To help get Southern California back on track to become a leader in climate change and transportation equity, please sign your organization onto this response letter to SCAG by Friday March 12th by emailing

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