On Wednesday night the task was to learn. What is at stake when we plan how to move people around an area? Well, according to a consulting traffic engineer, the issues range from happiness to social equity, not to mention economics and regional responsibility.
Santa Cruz Avenue, for example, may score an F in traffic through flow, while scoring an A in economic viability. These two ratings often go together, as does the inverse...light traffic equals light patronage. Obvious, right? This only gets complicated when asking what people like. Less business and lighter traffic or more business and heavier traffic? What about fairness? If less affluent people frequently have longer commutes, do they need better transportation? What if the latter requires sacrifices from more affluent commuters? Similarly, what if speeding traffic through Menlo Park shifts congestion elsewhere?
Wednesday, I learned what every good urban planning wonk already knows: the metric for traffic flow is 'level of service' (LOS). Thing is, the yardstick is contradictory and outdated. For example, LOS only counts vehicles. It doesn't measure human impact. A 1000-vehicle traffic jam might delay 1000 single-occupancy drivers or if it includes 12 buses, upwards of 1500 people. That's why LOS is a poor metric for environmental impact. California is redefining LOS, and the public comment period is still open.
I left Wednesday's meeting after an hour. The presentation was splendid, but it came at the end of a long day. Still, next time I hope to hang in there a little longer. Democracy is a do-it-yourself affair. We are all amateurs but we can be informed amateurs. In fact, we must be. Next time.