Do We Really Want Our Streets to Make the Honor Roll?

An interesting question that I believe requires exploration in towns and cities is in the priority of level of service. Level of Service (LOS) is a term used to describe the quantity of congestion and velocities for any given street. Letter grades are given for each level of service. The problem is that a high grade in one subject often leads to a low grade in other subjects. As stated in the EVstudio blog post, Inverse Relationship of Level of Service and Pedestrian Propulsion, free flowing vehicular traffic often results in a negative experience for the pedestrian.

So the question is when the priority should be for free flowing vehicular traffic. Generally speaking, free flowing traffic is helpful when traveling long distances. Lets say for instance, when you are driving across a state of corn fields. Free flow traffic at the regulated speed limits is desirable to get through as fast as possible.

I have touched upon the undesirable consequences of our desires for faster travel speeds. Let’s go a step further and consider the installation costs for increasing the LOS. There are financial costs involved for putting the infrastructure in place. They could include additional asphalt, concrete, curbs and new sidewalks. The more expensive and regional LOS fixes include additional land, bridges, concrete cloverleafs, and so on.

In addition to the direct costs, there are also indirect LOS costs… Ironic to have LOS costs to improve the LOS, right? But yes, there is often a great amount of time to add lanes, etc to a corridor which royally messes up the level of service during construction.

This is often a very expensive endeavor, but wait… that is only for the installation. We also need to consider the maintenance of these new roads that increase our levels of service. Local and state governments are buried with debt for the maintenance of their existing street, road and bridge maintenance. There is really no light at the end of the tunnel of the maintenance debt…

The other side effect for cities and counties is the stretching of a municipality to the point that improvements to LOS often benefit the next city or county rather than the government who pays for the infrastructure and its maintenance.

So… How important is it really to increase the level of service? Shouldn’t we really be talking about the integration of services, residents, offices, and institutions to decrease the need for highways, arterials, and collectors? Shouldn’t we be talking about the finer grain detail of our transportation palette?

Can we accept D’s and F’s for our streets if it means that there are places to walk and bike safely?

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