Eric Jaffe’s recent article for The Atlantic’s CityLab website: “Transit Projects Are About to Get Much, Much Easier in California” explains that “California will soon reform traffic analysis under CEQA by replacing ‘level of service’ [LOS- the current measurement of a project’s traffic impacts] with another metric more in line with its environmental and urban mobility goals. So transit projects and transit-friendly development are about to get much, much easier in California cities — and some think the shift in mindset will spread across the country.”
Jaffe notes that the use of LOS favors sprawl over smart growth because the traffic generated by remote development creates little delay at any single intersection when dispersed over a full road network, especially compared to compact infill placed right at a city corner. Conversely, using vehicle miles traffic as a metric (which anticipated changes in CEQA Guidelines should soon allow for certain projects) favors the reverse pattern: while a single-family development in the exurbs generates a great deal of driving mileage, i.e. VMT, a new mixed-use building near major transit lines and walkable cores should generate very little. The article details why, with cities more in control of how they measure what constitutes a traffic impact under CEQA, urban areas, like San Francisco, should be more easily able to conduct CEQA review and approve smart growth projects.