Ending California's Love Affair with Bad Planning Practices

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 Nonetheless, California needs to take the opportunity to end its relationship once and for all with an outdated practice that is undermining its own sustainability and climate goals daily.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.