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City of Portland looks to go beyond auto-centric 'level of service' standards

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The existing LOS standards and measures, which focus only on motor vehicle levels of service, do not reflect the City of Portland’s current practice which emphasizes and promotes a multimodal approach to transportation planning and providing transportation services.
— From the City of Portland RFP

If you or any of your friends are transportation wonks, then you already know how powerful "level of service" (LOS) standards are. For the uninitiated, LOS is a measurement tool used by traffic engineers and planners to grade how a road or intersection "performs" in terms of traffic flow. If vehicles roll through without delay, the road performs well and gets an "A" LOS grade, if vehicles screech to a standstill and traffic backs up, the section of roadway gets an "F". (I'm sure someone in the comments can give a more accurate/nuanced definition.)

The issue comes up in nearly every transportation project that includes bicycle access — because as cities make room for better bicycling, they are bound by these LOS standards to make sure a new design doesn't lower the LOS of a particular street. Recall the considerable heartburn PBOT engineers faced on the N Williams Avenue project as they pondered whether or not they would endorse a one standard lane cross-section for the entire project. PBOT traffic engineer Rob Burchfield wanted to honor the communities desires for a cross-section that would tame auto traffic; but he said the City had to "make sure we have adequate capacity for the volume of traffic we expect," and that, "there are some pass/fail criteria," — LOS standards — they had to work with. That's just one example.
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