Reform level-of-service standards


Departments of transportation should not automatically impose a high level-of-service standard without first considering the transportation context. For roads of statewide importance, high levels of mobility may need to be maintained and higher level-of-service targets can be warranted. For secondary and tertiary roads, high levels of mobility may not be a priority. For these, maintaining or enhancing the quality of the community should take precedence. There should not be an automatic mandate to address poor level-of-service at all costs every time it arises. Levels-of-service should be one factor, and traffic forecasting one tool, not sole determinants, in project decisions.

Transportation departments generally rank the performance of roads by their level-of-service, but employing this standard can inadvertently discourage or block development in urban core areas, because they typically rank low on standard level-of-service measures. Many jurisdictions, for example, have responded to growing traffic congestion by developing performance standards to ensure that traffic speeds are maintained as areas become more developed. But these standards ignore the role that walking, biking, and transit play in more densely developed areas. Design decisions based on high level-of-service performance measures can end up serving only the motorist at the expense of the very communities that the road is supposed to serve. Decisions made only for the peak hour may tune the roadway to work well for motorists during those hours, but render the road over-designed for the rest of the day and ineffective for all other users. To remedy this, state transportation departments should review how they apply level-of-service standards and, if necessary, work with local governments to revise how the level-of-service is measured.


The process for estimating vehicle level-of-service should be simplified and basic pedestrian, bicycle, and transit measures should be added. While localities generally establish minimum level-of-service standards, state departments of transportation develop the analytical tools and traffic counts used to implement them. States can mitigate the negative impact on level-of-service standards from new infill development by adopting models that also consider the level-of-service for other modes of travel.

One approach some localities are using is to set lower minimum service standards in infill areas designated for growth or eliminate requirements altogether. The downside of this approach is that it fails to reflect the improved access to homes, jobs, and stores that infill can bring to a neighborhood. It also fails to measure the quality of transportation services for other travel modes or create any accountability that could lead to improvement of alternative modes of transportation.


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