Stop caring about auto congestion in environmental analysis, says OPR

by / November 10, 2014

A new law changes a perverse aspect of the California Environmental Quality Act that required local agencies to consider delays to motor vehicles worse for the environment than negative impacts on bicycle safety. The Governor’s Office of Planning & Research is writing new guidelines to comply with the law, eliminating “automobile level of service” as a measurement of a project’s environmental impact. Pushback from some local agency leaders more concerned with congestion than safety threatens to weaken the proposal, so OPR needs to hear from you.

Last year, the Governor signed SB 743 by Darryl Steinberg to eliminate the use of “automobile level of service” (LOS) as a measurement of a project’s environmental impact for purposes of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The old guidelines for compliance required an agency to measure the seconds of delay that motor vehicles experience at an intersection, and declare a project to have a significant (and bad) impact on the environment if it increased that delay beyond a certain thresshold. The rule was widely panned, as it penalized a bike project that removed a traffic lane for a bike lane, while giving a project that removed a bike lane for a traffic lane a free pass, in the name of environmental protection.

SB 743 required the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research (OPR) to develop new guidelines that did not use LOS or any measure of congestion as an indication of environmental impact. OPR’s proposed new guidelines replace LOS with a measurement of the increase in vehicle miles traveled caused by a project. Whereas project proponents used to mitigate for increases in congestion by widening roadways or elminating bike lanes, now they will be required to mitigate for increases in vehicle miles traveled by improving conditions for biking, walking, and taking transit.

It’s a sensible change to environmental law that implements the intent of CEQA’s original drafters more than 40 years ago. Requirements to maintain a certain so-called “level of service” for automobile traffic may still be imposed by a local agency, and some state congestion management laws still require local agencies to reduce automobile congestion, so this change isn’t the last one that’s needed. You can learn as much as you’d ever want to know in this 2-hour webinar.

Pushback from agencies more concerned about traffic flow than economic vitality and safety is growing. They need to hear from you. The comment period is open through November 21, 2014. By clicking on this link you can download a letter and mail it to the OPR to tell them how much you support their current direction.

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