There is widespread agreement that automobile LOS is a bad metric for determining the environmental impact of projects. But what should replace it?
The California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) proposes to replace LOS with VMT for the EIR process. That is a step in the right direction, but I am not optimistic it will make transit projects “much much easier” to implement — as some seem to think.
One problem is that LOS is firmly established in transportation agencies. They will continue to use the metric, regardless of what is required in an EIR. It is unlikely that a transit agency, or bike planner, will get to build a project if it were to significantly degrade LOS at an intersection. A City Council is even less likely to approve of such a project. LOS will continue to be a flaming-hoop-of-fire that projects will have to jump through.
Yes, but what about all those frivolous EIR lawsuits? Actually, that problem is greatly exaggerated. Only a tiny number of EIR’s are successfully challenged. The most famous example, the injunction against the San Francisco Bike Plan, will probably never happen again now that California has exempted bike projects from EIR’s.
So using VMT is fixing something that isn’t horribly broken — though it might make it worse. Why might VMT make EIR’s worse? Because sweeping changes in the regulations could provide fertile ground for creative lawsuits. LOS has decades of case precedent, whereas the courts may have to re-define terms like mitigations and significant impacts in a new VMT regime.