The Role of Level of Service in Post-SB 743 California

This project aims to address the consequences of Senate Bill (SB) 743, chaptered in 2013, which eliminated traffic delay, traditionally measured using level-of-service (LOS) standards for roadways, as an environmental impact for review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). State implementing guidelines for SB 743, adopted in 2018, instead require assessment of impacts of development projects and plans upon vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The researchers’ ongoing work indicates that the cities that are continuing to use LOS are doing so for a variety of purposes. Developers’ concerns that they must mitigate for both VMT and LOS could potentially worsen the housing-supply crisis, particularly as the Caltrans research solicitation indicates, utilizing both LOS and VMT as part of the project approvals process can create tensions.

The research process will begin with a review of literature review on CEQA, LOS, impact fees, and adoption and implementation of state law relating to traffic analysis under CEQA. Following the literature review, the project will proceed by developing an interview and public documents research protocol and procedure, based on a set of defined research questions, for determining how California cities are integrating VMT- and LOS-related metrics in their conditions for development approval and/or impact fee structures. The researchers will identify a case study sample of approximately fifteen (15) to twenty (20) California cities for investigation. The sample of cities will be identified based on information gained from the co-PIs’ previous research on SB 743 implementation and from interviews with expert informants to include cities that are combining LOS and VMT analysis as part of applying conditions of development approval. The sample will also be tailored to include variation by type of city, e.g., by regional location, large/small population size, position in the urban-to-suburban-to-rural continuum, built-environment differences such as extent of transit access and density differences, and socio-economic and demographic factors such as median income level and racial/ethnic diversity.

The project will present and discuss findings that address research questions related to city intentions and perceptions of opportunities and challenges of integrating LOS- and VMT-related metrics and standards in a fashion that supports attainment of SB 743 and broader sustainability goals and objectives, when applying conditions of development approval, structuring impact fee requirements, and otherwise attaining related city-level policy goals.

Research Area