Default Values for Highway Capacity and Level-of-Service Analyses

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - capacity, operations - traffic, infrastructure - track, infrastructure - vehicle, infrastructure - bus/tram lane, planning - route design, planning - service quality, place - rural, mode - rail, mode - bike, mode - bike, mode - pedestrian


Traffic operations, Traffic capacity, Streets, Signalized intersections, Signalised intersections, Service quality, Sensitivity analysis, Rush hour, Rural highways, Quality of service, Pedestrians, Peak hour traffic, Passenger service quality, Multilane highways, Motorways, Level of service, Highway operations, Highway Capacity Manual, Highway capacity, Heavy vehicles, Freeways, Default values, Cycling paths, Cycle tracks, Controlled access highways, City streets, Bikeways, Bicycle trails, Bicycle routes, Bicycle paths


The "Highway Capacity Manual' (HCM) is the authoritative source providing state-of-the-art methodologies for evaluating highway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities. Default values are used to represent input parameters when the input parameters are difficult to measure or estimate. A default value is a representative value that may be appropriate for estimating an input parameter in the absence of local data. Before this study was done, no nationwide research effort had been conducted to assemble field measurements to determine whether the default values in the HCM represent typical field conditions. A sensitivity analysis was conducted for the input parameters in HCM 2000 that influence the service measures calculated in the HCM methodologies. Nineteen of these input parameters were determined to have a high degree of sensitivity in influencing the service measure results. These sensitive input parameters influence the service measures for the following HCM chapters: Urban Streets, Signalized Intersections, Pedestrians, Bicycle Paths, Multilane Highways, and Basic Freeway Segments. Based on the assembly of a nationwide database, specific default values were recommended for heavy vehicle percentages and peak-hour factors for uninterrupted flow facilities (freeways, multilane highways, and rural two-lane highways). It is recommended that default values for some input parameters continue to be developed based on existing HCM guidance. Other input parameters should be based on field measurements obtained from design plans. Additional guidance is provided to aid in the selection of default values based on the review of recent research documents.