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Level of Service Standards

This page provides an overview of level-of-service standards for local governments in Washington State.

What are Level-of-Service Standards?

Level-of-service (LOS) standards are measures of the minimum amount of a public facility which must be provided to meet that community's basic needs and expectations. LOS measures are typically expressed as ratios of facility capacity to the number of users. For example, a community may set a standard for how many park acres are needed per 1000 population. Once a community establishes LOS, they are used to measure whether existing facilities and services are adequate to serve its citizens, or whether there are deficiencies that should be corrected. They also serve as yardsticks to measure whether existing capacity is adequate to handle new development, or to determine what facility improvements will be required to avoid overloading existing facilities. As the community grows in population, LOS assure that facilities and services will keep pace with that growth.

The definition of "adequate" facilities and services will vary even among similar-sized communities. For instance, "adequate" park acreage will vary depending on the percentage of seniors or youth, the natural assets such as lakes or beaches, and other factors. If the existing ratio of park acreage to population seems adequate to residents, those ratios may serve well as standards for the future. If there are waitlists for the use of playfields and swimming pools, residents may want higher standards.

LOS as Applied in Washington

The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires jurisdictions to establish LOS for transportation-related facilities (RCW 36.70A.070(6)(a)). The GMA requires denial of a proposed development if its impacts on the local transportation system would result in LOS dropping below adopted standards. To receive approval, new developments must provide improvements or strategies to handle the new demand concurrent with the development (or provide a financial commitment to complete them within six years). Local jurisdictions also must have a program to bring existing facilities up to adopted standards. If meeting adopted LOS is not feasible, local jurisdictions may need to revisit comprehensive plan goals and LOS to consider how they may be adjusted while still implementing the community's vision. Communities may not require a developer to pay for improvements to correct existing deficiencies. Although the GMA does not require denial when facilities other than transportation facilities are inadequate, the subdivision statute and other laws may require improvements (see RCW 58.17.110).

Many communities have focused almost exclusively on road capacity standards to address traffic congestion. However, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian paths, may meet a significant portion of a community's transportation needs. Programs to reduce demand or shift traffic away from rush hours, may reduce the need for new facilities. As a result, lower LOS may be justified for street capacity in dense urban areas even if streets are congested, if overall mobility is adequate.

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Last Modified: April 02, 2021