Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “multimodal transportation”

An End to LOS in Pasadena

Members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition pose for a celebratory picture after the City Council voted unanimously to end the city's old car-centric LOS transportation metric. (Photo courtesy PasCSC)

Members of Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition pose for a celebratory picture after the City Council voted unanimously to end the city’s old car-centric LOS transportation metric. (Photo courtesy PasCSC)

On November 3, Pasadena’s City Council voted unanimously to ditch the car-centric measure of mobility called “level of service,” or LOS.  The policy change was developed and proposed by the staff at Pasadena DOT and is a critical element of Pasadena’s efforts to become a more environmentally-friendly city by encouraging multi-modal transportation, and denser, mixed-use development downtown.  Pasadena’s local complete streets advocacy group, Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition (PasCSC), lobbied for this change as a necessary step in making the city’s streets safer and more user-friendly for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users.  The state of California is currently reassessing LOS and working on its own statewide multimodal metric, but to my knowledge Pasadena is the first city in Southern California (though certainly not the last) to break from the old LOS standard.

For the policy wonks, LOS was developed by traffic engineers decades ago as a means of measuring the increased automobile traffic that often comes with the growth of cities.  It made sense in an era when cities were being redesigned around the automobile and it was assumed that everyone would—and should—drive.  It makes far less sense when cities are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, automobile pollution, and encourage alternative modes of personal mobility.  Providing for the convenience of automobile mobility as the only measure of transportation quality had the unintended consequence of creating what is known as “induced demand” as wider roads encouraged more driving, more driving begat more auto-centric development, which, under LOS, mandated wider roads, ad infinitum.

One of the downsides of LOS has been that it measured the transportation impact of property development and road use solely by its impact on automobile wait times at intersections.  Put another way, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users didn’t count, so their needs usually went unmet under the LOS rubric.  A short wait time for cars at an intersection would, for example, receive an ‘A’ grade, while a longer wait time for cars would receive lower grades.  Pedestrians who had a long wait at a traffic light and then a dash across the street to beat the short crossing signal were not counted under LOS.  A bus with 25 passengers counts as much as a single occupancy automobile under LOS.  A bike lane that might slightly reduce road capacity for automobiles would be D.O.A. under LOS, on the assumption that it might make drivers wait a few seconds longer at a stoplight, triggering a failing LOS grade.  Never mind that more people would be willing to leave their cars at home if they had safe, convenient alternatives, LOS meant drivers, and only drivers, counted.  Moreover, the widening of roads to achieve a good LOS score often resulted in unused road capacity during off-peak hours and has also been shown to induce higher automobile speeds and deadlier collisions.  The ‘S’ in LOS thus stood for service to motorists only, and reflected the domination of streets by cars in the late 20th century.  The new standard reflects the idea that cities should measure the movement of people, not just cars, when judging the impact of development.

The new standard uses a mix of Vehicle Trips (VT) generated, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) per capita, access to alternative modes (walking, biking, transit) of transportation, as well as LOS.  The new measure also provides that mitigation of the traffic impact of development can include funding for alternative modes of transportation, whereas previously a developer would be required to provide more parking or road-widening.  Pasadena DOT staff believe that the new measure provides a fuller picture of the multimodal reality of modern city mobility and give the city the flexibility to encourage multi modality, safety, and sustainability.

Pasadena still has a long way to go to achieve its complete streets vision, but it is gratifying to see the city take one more step toward that vision.

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Pardon the Interruption

Much has been happening lately, which is one reason I haven’t been posting as regularly as I’d like.  For one, the resumption of the academic year has filled my plate to overflowing with things-to-do.  Second, I’ve been tweeting many of my bike-related thoughts lately, which does not substitute for the longer prose enabled by blogging, but does sometimes allow me to vent, which I have noticed sometimes leaves me less-compelled to vent on my blog.  For example, a recent anti-bike op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that might have sent me a-blogging in frustration, sent me instead to the twitter-verse, where I commiserated with other like-minded tweeters and shared my thoughts there.  The ability to quickly share my thoughts in a time-stressed day and engage in a conversation with others about such issues has its advantages too.  Moreover, the ability of twitter to direct my comments toward a party (in this case to the newspaper) has an advantage over the blog, which, I fear, sometimes goes out into the ether where no one hears it.

All of which is my elaborate way of apologizing for having been absent from the blog for the last few weeks.  It probably won’t be the last time.

As I said, much has been happening lately.  I’m continuing to get to work daily by a multimodal bike-and-bus commute, 22 miles from my home.  As a result, it’s now been almost 5 1/2 months since I filled my car’s gas tank, and I still have about a quarter tank left.  Compared to how much I used to drive, that’s easily 2 tons of GHGs I haven’t pumped into the atmosphere, hundreds of dollars saved, and countless calories not added to my waistline.  I’ve adjusted my schedule to take the bus, and recently purchased a tablet so I can work online while I’m on the bus, making my longer commute time more productive and, since I have many of my books and most of my paperwork on it, lightening the load for the bike portion of my commute considerably.  I’ve become more convinced than ever that we need to promote transit as well as bicycling if we’re going to have a chance of reclaiming our cities and our lives from the tyranny of the automobile, and while these are both daunting challenges, they are definitely doable if we summon the political will.

I’ve been continuing to work in my community to make the streets more bike-friendly.  I recently received a generous mini-grant from my local Rotary club to host a bike safety event for kids with “Walk n’ Rollers” in my hometown next spring, and we’ll be promoting our second annual bike-to-school day as well.  I’ve been working with the PTA and other parents at my daughter’s middle school to purchase some quality new bike racks to make it easier for more kids who bike to school to lock up their bikes safely.  The Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition is up-and-running, and PasCSC is set to have a meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss strategies for getting the city’s DOT to put in more bike lanes, cycletracks and other bike-friendly street treatments.  The university where I teach is also making strides, announcing recently that at least one new bike path is under consideration after last year’s tragic death of a bicycling student on a campus roadway, and a new student bike advocacy group is under formation on the campus that shows lots of positive energy and promise.  Finally, some local advocates in the neighboring city of Monrovia are organizing with Bike SGV to advise the city to install some bike lanes around town as the city prepares to get its very own light rail transit line in 2015.  I’ve been heartened by this energy and enthusiasm to make our streets safer for bicyclists and it makes me hopeful for the future.  As these advocacy efforts begin to bear fruit, I’ll be blogging (and tweeting) about them, so stay tuned.

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