Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A More Sophisticated "Level of Service" Needed

The Florida legislature repealed Florida Statutes § 163.3180(10), which required the Florida Department of Transportation to adopt rules for Levels of Service on highways and thoroughfares maintained by the FDOT.  FDOT is in the process of repealing the regulations that implemented the repealed statute.

In Florida, the concept of Level of Service grades thoroughfares on a scale of "A" though "F," based on standards set by the Transportation Research Board Highway Capacity Manual and the FDOT's Quality/Level of Service Handbook.  Level of Service "A" generally means free-flowing motorist traffic while "F" means gridlock.  The concept seemed like a good idea in 1992, when the Florida adopted the statute.  However, along with other factors, including transportation concurrency, the concept of Levels of Service resulted in ever-widening thoroughfares that have become incredibly expensive to maintain.  In fact, Levels of Service became a measure impossible to attain in many instances, based on available financial resources. Interstate 4 is an "F," while the cost of raising its grade to a "D," much less an "E," as required by the Florida Administrative Code, reaches into the billions. 

Walking and biking have become increasingly unpleasant and hazardous, with hundreds of Floridians (including dozens of children) killed each year.  The wider thoroughfares ironically made driving more stressful and generated increased traffic.  A simple crossing of the roadway became hazardous, if not in a car.

The goal of enabling traffic to pass through an area quickly--think Pine Hills--facilitated economic disinvestement.  Access to properties at corners became more difficult, resulting in gas stations and other corner businesses closing and creating highway slums. 

While Florida remains on a deregulation streak at the State level, I am not aware of any local government with plans to discard the concept of Level of Service.  A more appropriate measure of Level of Service would incorporate all modes of transportation--motorist, walking, and biking--with differing weight to each mode depending on the context of surrounding development.  In a compact urban area--think downtown--walking and biking would have greater weight than on a suburban or rural highway.  The existing model, however, gives no weight whatsoever to walking, biking, or the context of surrounding development. 

As FDOT repeals these outdated regulations, I can only think, "Good riddance."