San Francisco’s Transportation Authority Sacrificing CEQA Car Congestion Standards for Developers Money

By George Wooding

San Francisco’s Transportation Authority wants to stop utilizing car congestion and delays as a traffic measurement.
Buried deeply inside San Francisco’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transportation regulations is a traffic measurement called “Level of Service” (LOS).  LOS was developed in 1970 as the fundamental building block of San Francisco’s transportation. The Transportation Authority is advocating for a change to CEQA regulations.
The chief function of LOS is to measure the delay each car experiences at a particular intersection.
LOS is a simple measuring system of how new real estate developments and transportation plans impact car usage in San Francisco.  Car congestion and delay measurements are rated on a scale of “A,” being good traffic flow — to a low of “F,” which means unacceptable congestion.
Under current CEQA interpretations, LOS is a quality measure describing operational conditions within a traffic stream, generally in terms of such service measures as speed and travel time, freedom to maneuver, traffic interruptions, and comfort and convenience of transportation.
The City, its Transportation Authority, Planning Department, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Department of Environment all complain that LOS does not do a good job measuring environmental impacts.
These agencies believe that the LOS-based system needs to be replaced, as it supposedly will cause roads to be widened, sidewalks to shrink, crosswalks removed, dangerous bicycle lanes added, traffic lights to be re-timed, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels increased.
In 1973, the City adopted a “Transit First” policy that gave planning priority to modes of transportation other than the automobile.  The City’s Transit First policy expressly states that decisions related to streets and sidewalks “shall encourage the use of public rights-of-way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit.”
The “Transit First” policy was the first step toward demonizing car usage, blaming cars for GHG emissions, and for steeply increasing fees to own cars.
Now that the Transportation Authority will be trying to replace the LOS system in the November 2014 general election, car congestion and delay will become a second-tier priority.  Greater car congestion and delay is inevitable — and the City doesn’t care.

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