Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 30, 2017

Lost LOS

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Here’s an interesting bit from the Environmental Impact Report for the Encinal Terminals project.  It’s particularly of interest considering that most people who will oppose any development in Alameda will speak about how terrible traffic is in Alameda.

In 2014 the State of California announced it was moving away from using Level of Service (LOS) as a measurement that required mitigation and instead Vehicle Miles Traveled would become the alternative.  From Streetsblog:

Late yesterday, OPR released a draft of its revised guidelines [PDF], proposing to substitute Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for LOS.

In short, instead of measuring whether or not a project makes it less convenient to drive, it will now measure whether or not a project contributes to other state goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing multimodal transportation, preserving open spaces, and promoting diverse land uses and infill development.

Naturally, if we’re talking about environmental impacts assessing the number of miles traveled is a lot more sensible to determine environmental impact.  More miles typically equals more emissions and therefore more impact.  Level of Service simply measured how congested a stretch of road was, but not necessarily the impact on the environment.

We’re still apparently in the phase in process where this EIR measures both and mitigates (if necessary) for both, but here’s a section from the EIR which talks about how Alameda in general has a lower per capital VMT than our region, the area in question is even lower.  Which is why, typically, it is more “green” to build near job centers than away from it since commuting from Livermore to Oakland churns out more VMT than Alameda to Oakland.  Naturally Bay Farm has a higher VMT per capita than the main island.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.05.56 PM
Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.06.09 PM

In a probably hard to wrap one’s head around analysis, because the proposed plan would have a smaller VMT/capita than Alameda in general, by 2020 it would actually serve to lower the overall VMT/capita for the City of Alameda as a whole, and this doesn’t even include mitigation measures:

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.15.24 PM
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Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.18.30 PM



  1. You’re right! Despite the fact that the Chronicle today indicated traffic as one of the main problems in the Bay Area, the best way to handle congestion is to change the definition. This is brilliant.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — March 30, 2017 @ 6:41 am

    • ?

      People feeling like it’s taking them longer to get through the tube or through certain intersections (LOS) is not an Environmental Impact which is what is measured in an EIR.

      Calculating the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) which typically corresponds with emissions is a better environmental impact measurement.

      Comment by Lauren Do — March 30, 2017 @ 9:19 am

      • The Captain was being sarcastic, Lauren.

        Comment by vigi — March 30, 2017 @ 11:35 am

        • I think what the Captain is saying is: if there is no solution to the problem, redefine the problem to one you can solve. If the new goal is the fewest VMTs, that can be accomplished by making traffic grind to a standstill. VMT = 0.

          VMT problem solved!

          Of course, now there is no service at all and LOS reaches Infinity…but LOS is no longer a metric, so it is irrelevant.

          Comment by vigi — March 30, 2017 @ 11:40 am

  2. I like Andrew Thomas’s response to the questions and concerns about traffic: Work like hell to make traffic improvements.

    And I say, we can choose to focus on the problem, or we can choose to focus on the solution(s).

    • We now have a new AC Transit 19
    • Work towards a new bus line to the Main Street Ferry Terminal
    • Construct the necessary water transit infrastructure for water shuttles and water taxis along the Northern Waterfront
    • Construct more bike lanes

    When you just focus on the problem — you get more of the problem; when you focus on solutions — you start solving the problem. And city staff is working tirelessly on all of these solutions.

    Comment by Karen Bey — March 30, 2017 @ 8:16 am

  3. This change in metric happened so long ago I was surprised so many on our Planning Board were unaware of it.

    The VMT vs LOS debate got much attention in Alameda when that study came out about all the new development adding only one net car to the tube traffic.

    Of course, when you’re sitting dead still in traffic, you’re not racking up many VMTs. VMT = 0.

    Comment by vigi — March 30, 2017 @ 9:13 am

  4. I wonder if the no-new-housing/no-new-traffic crowd would change their tune if they had to pay property taxes that accurately reflected the increase in property values that result from restricting supply.

    In this fantasy scenario, which would be worse for them? Having to allow for 15-more minutes of travel time to drive off-island, or having to pay property taxes 3x or 4x or 5x higher?

    I suspect a lot of people would find both options too unappealing and move somewhere else with the dual-benefits of lower traffic and lower property values (away from the core metro area).

    Comment by brock — March 30, 2017 @ 10:07 am

  5. In the end we all will $pay$ one way or another. The price of Bay Area California living. Open those wallets…it’s inevitable.

    Comment by Il Cane di Ferro — March 30, 2017 @ 11:04 am

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