Houston's Traffic Pain Is a Slow Burn Thanks to a Lack of Vision

Categories: Traffic

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for traffic.jpg
Photo by Texas Dark Horse
This is our fault.
One of the toughest things to deal with besides daily traffic in Houston is the prolonged traffic nightmare faced by Houstonians over years and years and years thanks to poor planning and a lack of foresight. While most cities struggle with similar issues, ours feels like its own special brand of hell because Houston has so much physical area. Getting from one extreme end of the city to another would be like driving between multiple towns in some parts of the country.

But more than size and planning, there has been an inherent lack of vision from our city's leaders and its citizens for a very long time.

We could spend hours discussing the insane tangle of freeways that snarl traffic thanks to an inability to predict development or the non existent zoning laws and restrictions on growth that turned vast expanses into strip mall-covered wastelands that act as not much more than landmarks for people on the way home from work to the 'burbs. We could talk about the problems and corruption that have plagued public transportation for decades or how builders have somehow owned every political argument seemingly in Houston history often to the detriment of the city practically and aesthetically.

But none of that would matter if we had a collective vision for what we wanted from a city and from the transportation in and around it.

Of course, it is tough to develop a vision when your city's demographics have so markedly changed. In the last 40 years, Houston has undergone a massive shift from blue to white collar, industrial to technological, and we are struggling to keep up.

For decades, growth beyond the Beltway on Highway 290 was speeding along. From Jersey Village to Copperfield, the northwest corridor was exploding, yet the primary artery for getting people to and from there was ignored. Finally, construction is proceeding that should transform the entire freeway and areas around it, but it took nearly 20 years to see it happen.

On Wednesday, I wrote about proposals to do something about the North Freeway and possibly the Pierce Elevated. God knows how long that will take, but at least the powers that be are discussing it. The drive from Bush IAH to downtown Houston is abysmal. The only follow up question is when will the Gulf Freeway get its turn?



Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
40 comments
Gayle Davis
Gayle Davis

Get rid of HOV and turn them into rail lines

Kathryn Link
Kathryn Link

Lock a bunch of people out!! Hahaa not really. But seriously houston, there are many other big cities and we see how they handle their human traffic, I.e. Better public transportation and vertical living instead of the sprawl.... But we are houston and we MUST be different.

DivineGoddess Oshun
DivineGoddess Oshun

Encourage and educate employers in this city to allow for employees to telecommute. Give them some kind of reward or recognition for being green. Allowing telecommuting is great for reducing traffic and the city's air.

Norm Rowland
Norm Rowland

Since Houstonians are genetically incapable of walking the short distances required of users of arcane conveyances such as trains and buses, the only solution is to widen and double- and triple-deck all existing major arteries as well as a few minor ones. Following the lead of the cruise lines, I would expect the tolls for the upper decks to be somewhat higher than for ground-level travel but the view would be better and the air possibly a little less polluted.

Derek Klopp
Derek Klopp

Lots of forward-thinking, progressive opinions on offer here. It takes a quality, engineering mind to say "Move away" and "Kill everyone."

Douglas Mangum
Douglas Mangum

If politicians had not resisted light rail at every turn until just recently we'd most likely have a robust and busy system that was built more organically to fit the city. Now is the time for us to bite the bullet and start building such a robust system that goes all the way out to the primary suburbs. Hell, make those lines free for the first few years to draw ridership in and suddenly we'd have thousands and thousands fewer cars on the roads.

Douglas Mangum
Douglas Mangum

Actually the red-line is always busy/full and plenty of development has happened along it because of its presence. Every one of those riders is one less car on the road and every apartment/house along the route is one less person living in the far suburbs and driving their SUV 30 miles to get to work. I'd call that a rousing success.

Gary Wilson
Gary Wilson

ask everyone not born in Texas that has moved here in the past 25 years to get the hell out.

George Zoes
George Zoes

We are too car happy in Houston and too spread out. We will never be New York or Chicago

TexasForever
TexasForever

Houston's traffic issues have been legendary since the birth of the city and its not going to change for the better anytime soon.

As a matter of fact things will be getting worst by the day.

With our southern border obliterated by Obama and his DemocRAT sheeple you can not only expect more vehicles on the roads but also people whom have never drove a car before in their entire life before entering your country ILLEGALLY. Just think how much more fun traveling down Highway 6 South  and Hillcroft will be.

But to quote Mayor Annise Parker....." Si se puede"!

Geoffrey Lord Geiger
Geoffrey Lord Geiger

They would use it if it were highly developed and extensive. The rail in Houston is a joke, I agree.

Marco LopeZ
Marco LopeZ

Reliable public transportation. More than metro busses we need trains that go out into the surrounding counties.

Josh Webster
Josh Webster

Traffic is not unavoidable. People CHOOSE to commute. Don't like traffic? Don't live 20 miles from where you work.

Bianca Golden
Bianca Golden

Restore the railroads and make commuter trains. That HOV lane could have been used as some light rail transportation. And, somehow, make it safer for cyclists to commute to work and back. And maybe give incentive (like tax breaks) for lower mileage on vehicles, to encourage people to use public transportation.....just some ideas and thoughts.

Eric Kagan Adams
Eric Kagan Adams

You can keep building highways, but the fact is Houstons population is going to keep growing. Along with the population growth will include an increase in traffic that cannot keep up with the amount of new roads that are being built. We cannot expect our transportation system to improve if people clog the highways every morning and afternoon to drive across town to their job and then back home. Using a rail system and other forms of public transportation can alleviate the problem, but nobody wants to give up the comfort of driving in their own vehicle. We can blame the city officials all we want, but unless we do something about our willingness to use public transportation, nothing is going to change.

Jeff Berlat
Jeff Berlat

No govt can just raise gas prices to force people into PT. this town is too big for real PT.

Vaughn Chung
Vaughn Chung

Either you actually build an efficient public transportation system that you promised in 2003 or you raise gas prices to 50 dollars a gallon so no one gets to use your highways. Your choice, Houston. Oh, and you too LA.

Chelsea Goode
Chelsea Goode

They need to finish the construction they started upwards of 30+ years ago *coughsouth45cough* before they even think about starting anything new.

David Alan Turchen
David Alan Turchen

I saw a similar story about 35 years ago in the Houston Post. Many politicians with promises since then yet the problem remains.

George Zoes
George Zoes

How about not spend billions on a rail system that nobody uses.

lithiumaneurysm
lithiumaneurysm

I think something like this should be built:


http://i.imgur.com/y7Kyk3A.png

http://i.imgur.com/yh3TKon.png


These lines use existing rights of way, including HOV lanes, and tie into the bus, transit center and park & ride system METRO has already established. Houston needs a single grand, comprehensive vision to make commuter rail a reality. The current light rail scheme is not enough. The current proposals for one or two commuter lines are not enough. If this city wants real transit, it needs a system that truly serves the entire metro area and aims high (even if it'll take 30 or 40 years).

Armando Sanchez
Armando Sanchez

Just returned from Chicago. They have a great mass transit system. You would think that would alleviate street traffic. Took us almost two hours to go about 20 miles to a White Sox game on a Saturday night. You might ask "Why not take the L to the game?" I would reply "On a Saturday night? With my kids? In Chicago?" That night, 40 people were injured or killed in various shootings around town. Bitch and moan all you want about Houston traffic. But it's nothing compared to some other places.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

Rail works when density is high. Houston is low density and spread out - we'd need too many stations (and too many time-consuming stops) to service enough passengers to make a dent in the traffic situation. A significant number of Houstonians walking to the train just isn't likely to happen.


What could work is commuter rail, with suburban residents driving to the stations. But it's expensive compared to bus-based Park-and-Ride solutions, and you still have to get to your job from the remote station.


My big hope for Houston long-term is personal rapid transit - aka self-driving cars. That only requires a cultural shift, not a shift in the architecture of the city. Still not likely, but not nearly as expensive to implement.

Jonathan Alonzo
Jonathan Alonzo

but but Annise Parker! she's supposed to be so great or something...

Kevin Lacobie
Kevin Lacobie

Rail is a real estate development strategy, not a mobility strategy.

BrianThomas
BrianThomas

@Bobette Binkley Bisbee Austin tried the "if we don't build it, they won't come" approach.  It failed miserably.  They're suffering the consequences, and trying to dig themselves out of that hole but it just put them further behind the curve.

Ian T. Komouss
Ian T. Komouss

So.... Is Houston awesome or not awesome? I'm so confused about what Houston Press is trying to say these days....

BrianThomas
BrianThomas

What good is light rail at grade with street traffic really going to do in a city with half the population density of LA? Not much.

Traffic is an issue in one of the most spread out cities in the US, much less the world? Color me shocked. This column is heavy on complaints and light on solutions, like most hollow rants on the subject. If traffic were that big an issue people would move closer to work.

Light rail at the same grade as road traffic is a joke; buses are much more cost effective and flexible. Adding rails to travel on doesn't make public transit magical.

If it matters that much, pontificate less and get involved more. But stop pushing solutions that are shiny but not functional.

John Richard
John Richard

When did we vote down rail??? The problem is the areas that need it most HAVE to pass thru areas that don't need or want it...that university line would be a catalyst for everything else but a few Nimrods along Richmond and Culberson aka Tom Delay Jr have made it damn near impossible...another case of money,means,and powerful pols over powering democracy/voters

Danny Noman
Danny Noman

Self-driving cars are coming soon - 10-20 years soon - and freeway capacity will increase dramatically. Since they're robotically controlled, they'll be able to go bumper to bumper at freeway speeds and be much safer than human drivers. Hopefully in 50 years we can get away from the car-and-freeway model entirely.

Susanne Marie Black
Susanne Marie Black

I always thought it would be awesome to have an elevated express lane along Shepherd from 59 to I-10. I can't begin to think how horrible it would be to build though.

Bobette Binkley Bisbee
Bobette Binkley Bisbee

Need to quit building outer loops like the grand parkway that just encourage people to move further out. We cannot build ourselves out of this mess with roads. Need to quit putting so much towards making it easier for people in BFE to drive in (which just messes up traffic for those that do live close to town & jobs).

Veronica Carr
Veronica Carr

Virgil Dunn, it's not just Houstonians who complain about traffic yet oppose public transit. It's Americans in general. The same problem exists in Austin, which has a "good" public transit system. Cars are a symbol if many things in America and have been for so long that people can't even use logic to overcome their desire for them. Studies have indicated that the millennial generation is much less interested in car ownership so maybe in 50 years we will start to see real changes.

Virgil Dunn
Virgil Dunn

"But the biggest hurdle to smart, organized development in Houston is its citizens. We constantly stand in the way of progress. We vote down light rail options. We shun public transportation." This entire article can be summed in a few word: Houston residents are fucking morons. Have a nice day.

paulaner
paulaner

'Cause we all know it's a black and white world out there. Awesome or not awesome. Newsradio and tv tells us so.

Now Trending

Houston Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...