Our cities and therefore our lives, are structured around cars. Nothing can happen without planning for traffic and parking, and as growth continues those two factors are at best hindrances, and at worst, insurmountable obstacles. The moment is approaching when the state will flip the formula used to compute transportation, and the domino effect may be felt in many ways.
According to UrbanizeLA, by July 1, 2020, all California cities, including Culver City, are required to update their transportation impact analysis from Level of Service (LOS) to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Rather than treating traffic congestion faced by drivers as an environmental impact, this new metric instead considers the act of driving itself as the environmental impact.
That is a profound change; for data, for planning and for all of us.
For decades, the transportation impacts of all projects subject to CEQA – including housing developments, sporting venues, and transportation infrastructure – have been evaluated by the metric “Level of Service,” or LOS, a measure of automobile traffic congestion at signalized intersections surrounding a project site. Any project determined to have a significant impact on LOS is required to provide mitigation measures, most frequently in the form or road widenings to increase vehicular throughput. VMT is calculated by multiplying the number of vehicle trips that a proposed development will generate by the estimated number of miles driven per trip. But while LOS often required wider roads as a mitigation measure, projects expected to induce significant increases in VMT will be able to mitigate their impacts through measures such as car-sharing services, unbundled parking, improved transit, and enhanced pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
The change from LOS to VMT was mandated by the legislation SB 743, which was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2013. In Los Angeles, the transition is being jointly led by the Departments of City Planning (LADCP) and Transportation (LADOT), which have worked for the last five years to draft a framework for the city to evaluate projects through VMT.
Should a project exceed the impact criteria threshold for their respective APC areas, potential mitigation measures include:
- reduced or “unbundled” parking;
- neighborhood shuttles;
- transit subsidies;
- education programs to discourage automobile use;
- employer-sponsored vanpools and rideshare programs;
- car share programs;
- bike share or other shared mobility devices;
- improved bicycle infrastructure;
- traffic-calming improvements; and
- pedestrian network improvements.
The arrival of VMT also portends important changes to how land use plans – including the 35 Community Plans of Los Angeles – are evaluated through CEQA. A staff report to the LA City Planning Commission notes that in future land use plans, potential mitigation measures for VMT could include “reallocation of future land use development to increase density in transportation-efficient locations,” such as those in close proximity to bus and rail lines, as well as to services and employment districts.
“What next?” is approaching “What now?” at rapid speed.