January 27


Rethinking Level of Service

By Mike Spack

January 27, 2012

Nicollet mallThe current issue of the Institute of Transportation Engineers' Journal had an interesting article in it about the City of Pasadena, California moving towards a Multi-Modal Level of Service framework for making decisions.  Pasadena recognizes that a vibrant downtown with good transit, pedestrian, and bicycle mobility will have suboptimal vehicle mobility.  This was certainly my experience in Manhattan – vehicle traffic was quite congested, but there were a tremendous amount of people getting from A to B in a reasonable amount of time because of the subways and the bicycle/pedestrian systems. 

No one would argue Manhattan needs to tear down buildings to make bigger roads – in fact they're moving the other way by turning streets into pedestrian/bicycle malls and adding bike lanes onto streets that used to be dominated by vehicles.

The article spoke about Pasadena's framework of how they make decisions.  Fred Dock and Mike Bagheri from the City were kind enough to respond to an email from me and provide a couple of initial project specific studies where they've implemented Multi-modal Level of Service (MMLOS) standards to assess transportation conditions instead of just looking at the standard vehicle Level of Service. They're early in the process and I'm hoping to see more examples of how communities are implementing MMLOS to move away from an auto-dominated infrastructure system.

The 2010 Highway Capacity Manual has many chapters related towards MMLOS – this is the way our industry is heading, but it is a slow moving tanker that needs to be turned.  Anyone out there have good project specific Transportation Impact Studies that implement MMLOS?  I'd love to share examples – maybe we can get the slow moving tanker turning a little faster.

  • MMLOS may have some application in highly urbanized areas such as Manhattan or Pasadena. However, in most areas it is not a realistic approach because it pretends that adequate provision of facilities for other transportation modes will satisfy trip demands, whereas in reality these trips will continue to rely on the automobile due to the existing land use pattern. Use of MMLOS in these areas would mean sacrificing vehicular LOS in the short term and using congestion to force long-term development of a more dense land use pattern suitable for other modes.

  • Allan – I agree there are a lot of suburban settings with zero bikes, zero peds, and no transit. I think we’re currently in a chicken/egg scenario with suburbs becoming more multi-modal. I’m not advocating treating every situation like we’re in Manhattan, but there are small things we can do to prep our infrastructure for a more multi-modal situation without sacrificing much vehicle performance. One of my favorites relates to right turn lanes. They make ped/bike crossings longer, they often have little impact on shortening delay times, yet some engineers reflexively want a right turn lane at every intersection (bigger being better). Also, many jurisdictions still have 12′ lane widths as their default, yet there’s no evidence that shows they’re any better than 11′ lanes – so why have the default be narrower to improve bike/ped situations and save money?

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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