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Elements of Sustainable Transportation

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News from STPP (Surface Transportation Policy Project)...



"The Transportation Research Board's annual meeting in Washington last week included a debate over the future of the Level of Service (LOS) measure of road quality. In this session, Adolf D. May of the University of California at Berkeley moderated as five panelists debated the usefulness of LOS, which grades roads from "A" to "F" based on volume and capacity or intersection wait. The majority of the panelists agreed that current LOS measures need to be substantially adjusted, or even scrapped, to allow for a broader definition of effectiveness. Panelists noted that although LOS is the measure used most frequently in traffic impact analysis of new developments, it is easily "gamed" to suit developers' purposes. Several participants also commented that the current LOS measure also usually penalizes roads for providing good pedestrian crossings, frequent bus stops, and similar transportation improvements. The implications of this debate are enormous, as LOS is commonly used as the primary justification for new roads and widenings."


"Some context: Level of Service has long been a misnomer. What it actually measures is the level of comfort for drivers, who tend to like streets that have very few other cars and where they can drive fast without interruptions. To get a "good" LOS (i.e., an A or B), you needed to widen streets, add lanes, get rid of on-street parking, limit crossings, add turn lanes, etc. In the US, LOS was never intended to measure how well a road performed for all interested parties (e.g., the people who lived near it and worried about high speeds, the kids who wanted to cross it to get to school, the bicyclists who wanted to use it to get to work, transit users, etc.). A friend who was on the international committee on highway capacity once told me of a meeting on LOS in Australia, where engineers from Europe and elsewhere argued that a true Level of Service would balance the needs of a variety of users. The American engineers (except him) were aghast at the idea... "

-- John Williams, editor NCBW Forum & CenterLines
National Center for Bicycling & Walking

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