Metro Approves Multi-Modal Metric for Measure M Guidelines

Using VMT instead of LOS will help put complete streets projects, like MyFig pictured, more competitive with car-centric projects
Using VMT instead of LOS will help put complete streets projects, like MyFig pictured, more competitive with car-centric projects

At yesterday’s monthly meeting, the Metro board approved guidelines that will direct Measure M spending. In the process, the board approved a half dozen motions that modified the guidelines. One modification, shepherded by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, is especially important in shifting single-focus, car-only projects into complete streets that accommodate all road users.

Garcia’s motion made a very significant change to shift one methodology used to evaluate project impacts – from “level of service” (LOS) to “vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT). This all ends up being somewhat insider, and very wonky, but the implications for transportation spending are actually very important.

Investing in Place, in an article earlier this week, explains the differences between LOS and VMT:

LOS only looks at one mode–cars–and considers all vehicles the same, whether they have one driver or a bus full of 50 people. Instead, VMT measures the efficiency of the transportation system and recognizes how high-capacity modes, like transit, can move more people more cost-effectively. Even worse, LOS is based on faulty assumptions that ignore how people actually respond to changes in the transportation system. It favors the types of projects that induce more congestion, like roadway widening, rather than those that improve mobility, like transit and ExpressLanes. Using VMT enables project planners to consider the overall capacity of the corridor rather than just the capacity for vehicles.

Streetsblog readers may already be aware that state legislation, S.B. 743, requires that California municipalities end use of LOS, and transition to using VMT for environmental analysis. Pasadena and Santa Monica have already transitioned away from LOS; the city of L.A. is working towards it.

Metro’s proposed Measure M guidelines had specified that “highway category” projects (which includes projects not just on freeways, but also on surface streets, especially arterials) could be eligible if they “improve mobility/level of service.”

motion by directors Robert Garcia, Mike Bonin, Hilda Solis, and Janice Hahn, replaced LOS with VMT “so that these funds may be spent on operational improvements for movement of people traveling on foot, by bike, or by transit, in addition to automobile travel, in order to optimize the movement of people by all modes, not just vehicular travel.”

The board approved several other motions modifying the guidelines:

  • A Hahn motion eliminated a restriction that mandated highway funds be spent on streets within one mile of a state highway
  • A Garcetti motion allowed for private organizations to receive “Visionary Project” seed funding
  • A Garcia motion directed that Metro identify non-local-return funding sources for local jurisdictions’ three percent match for major transit projects
  • A Solis motion, made from the floor, clarified that relinquished state highways were eligible for highway funding
  • A Krekorian motion, made from the floor, clarified percentages for ADA paratransit and student and senior pass discounts

One other item not explicitly discussed but determined by the adoption of the guidelines: a possible annual “floor” for local return. Cities receive Measure M “local return” funds on a per capita basis – proportional to that city’s population. Some boardmembers had argued that cities with small populations – Vernon, Hidden Hills, Irwindale and others – needed to received a minimum allocation each year. Other boardmembers pushed back against this, citing that more money for small cities would come at the expense of cities with larger populations. The Measure M guidelines were approved with no annual floor – so local return will be a straightforward per capita allocation.

Overall, as Measure M represented a significant step toward funding a multi-modal spending program, the Measure M guidelines support Metro’s mission to build, in the words of Phil Washington, “a balanced transportation system.” Investing in Place, the non-profit arguably most heavily watchdogging Measure M and its guidelines, gave the new guidelines a grade of B+; see their report card for further analysis.

L.A. County taxpayers will begin actually paying Measure M’s half-cent sales tax in one week – on Saturday July 1.

  • D Man

    Because we all know the two most efficient forms of transportation are walking and riding a bike.

  • Correct.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    I don’t understand the VMT metric. Are we trying to minimize or maximize it (I suppose minimize, but you could most effectively minimize VMT by closing all the roads to vehicular traffic, which is a stupid idea)? And a bus on a route is the same VMT as a car. How does it distinguish between them?

  • The Overhead Wire

    I invite you to listen to this podcast explainer as to why VMT is a superior metric, and why CA is trying to move away from LOS. http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/12/12/talking-headways-level-of-disservice/

  • joshua blumenkopf

    VHT is obviously way superior (as clogging all the roads indefinitely so cars just crawl in traffic is not good) and VMT is just a f- you to cars for no reason.

  • The Overhead Wire

    Sigh. It’s not a f- you to cars for no reason. VMT is a better metric if you want to increase mobility and stop building more sprawl. Driving a car really fast shouldn’t be the end goal, or else you’ll get endless sprawl and the need to expand freeways forever. Increasing shorter trips is the only way to solve a larger mobility issue. You may disagree on this basic idea, but this is why VMT is being used.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    Explain to me why driving a car for 20 minutes 20 miles through no traffic is worse than than sitting in traffic for an hour to go 10 miles. VHT says increasing shorter trips is good, using transit, walking and biking is good, and not being congested is good. VMT says being congested is good for its own sake.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    Infill development will have shorter trips, thus less VHT than sprawl. Bicycle lanes will cause people to drive less, thus less VHT. Congestion pricing will cause people to drive less, thus less VHT. Expanding freeways is probably neutral in VHT as more people drive, but quicker, so it is not favored or disfavored.

  • The Overhead Wire

    But those aren’t the choices. Travel time is not a good metric because you’re prioritizing mobility over access. You can read more about it here. http://cityobservatory.org/another-tall-tale-from-the-texas-transportation-institute/

  • The Overhead Wire

    But that makes no sense. A 3 mile 10 minute car trip is not better than a mile 10 minute bike trip. They have the same time, but one is less distance.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    See here http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/03/29/how-much-driving-is-avoided-when-someone-rides-a-bike/ bikes are not counted as VMT which is the correct move.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    No, TTI is computing speed or travel time over fixed distances, which is why it is wrong. VHT is computing actual travel time, allowing distance to vary.

  • The Overhead Wire

    It says that a measure for bikes is counted as VMT averted so counted as VMT though in a crude way. Also the reason for these measures is for mitigation during CEQA analysis, which meant building new facilities during the LOS regime. If you’re talking about a time based metric VHT/LOS etc, that is going to lead to more expanded intersections and widened roadways because measuring hours is ultimately a time metric.

    We can argue about this until we are blue in the face. But over 150 meetings were held with experts and many bits of digital paper were sent arguing the benefits of VMT vs LOS, VHT, multimodal LOS and more.

  • joshua blumenkopf

    My point is that both under vht and vmt bike replacing a car trip is good. And induced demand means that widening intersections may not decrease VHT. I think that the public is not aware of the VMT decision, which is essentially saying cars are bad regardless of their emissions traffic, etc. and when they find out the fight will be ugly and I hope to be on the right side.

  • Joe Linton

    Using VMT for CEQA analysis doesn’t mean that no projects will proceed that increase VMT. What VMT does, much better than LOS (or VHT) is give a relatively accurate picture of impacts to the environment. CEQA has been gamed (skewed in favor of cars) for decades… this needed change will allow for truer analysis when choosing between alternatives.

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