California’s relationship with automobile traffic, how it is evaluated in connection with development projects, and how it is accommodated, have been the subject of heated debate and acrimony for years. In response to legislative directives, the methodology for studying and planning for traffic in connection with development is about to change.
Currently, traffic studies examine roadway volume-to-capacity ratios based on levels of service related to vehicle delay at impacted intersections. If development is expected to lead to reduced “service levels,” these studies often recommend mitigation measures, which may consist of roadway improvements such as widening and restriping to create additional lanes and/or adding or reconfiguring traffic signals. Unfortunately, experience has shown that these improvements frequently lead to INCREASED traffic, as the number of cars on the road and the volume of traffic simply expands to fill the new capacity.
Service levels and vehicle delay
Enacted in 2013, SB 743 defines metrics such as service levels and vehicle delay as inconsistent with existing policy goals of reducing vehicle miles traveled, and directs the Office of Planning and Research (the state agency responsible for setting standards) to come up with better metrics. Under these proposed new regulations implementing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a proposed project’s environmental impact on traffic would instead be measured on the basis of the vehicle miles traveled that the project generates and on the project’s effects on transit, non-motorized travel, and traveler safety.
Although the new approach is intended to be applied prospectively on projects that come up for review after the new regulations go into effect, it would apply immediately to projects that are located within a half mile of major transit stops or stops along high quality transit corridors.