Conroe Lawmaker Wants to Kill Houston-Dallas Bullet Train, Even if It Doesn't Touch His District or Public Money

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Photo of the N700 bullet train, courtesy of JR Central
Imagine a train that could whisk you from here to Dallas in 90 minutes flat. Texas Central Railway, a private company working with a Japanese train manufacturer, wants to make that possible by 2021. A ticket to ride, the company says, would be "very competitive with those of airlines." And, on top of that, the company promises the whole multi-billion dollar endeavor will be privately funded and ultimately operate as a private for-profit business without taxpayer subsidy.

So of course leaders in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth love the idea. "If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times," Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference touting the project last year.

And as you'd expect, the main opposition to the estimated $10 billion project has come from rural landowners along the proposed route. Well, landowners and Conroe state Rep. Will Metcalf, a Republican who wants to kill the thing, regardless of whether the train takes any public money or crosses his district, which spans the northern half of Montgomery County.

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Don't Take U.S. 290 at 610 This Weekend. Just Don't.

Pretty much what 290 is gonna look like this weekend...
Stay away from U.S. 290 at I-610 this weekend, because the area's bound to be a big fat steaming mess of an interchange.

Starting tonight (9 p.m. to be exact), TxDOT will shut down all lanes on 290 at the 610 interchange. Drivers passing through will have to either hop on the new I-10 connector ramp or jump on the feeder to make a U-turn.

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Houston Will Get Its First Bicycle Master Plan in 20 Years

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Michael Barajas
The City started building a dedicated bike lane downtown along Lamar earlier this month
While the death of Chelsea Norman -- hit by a driver in Montrose while biking home from her Whole Foods job and left to die in the street -- helped raise awareness about the pitiful state of bike safety in Houston, bicyclists keep getting hit by cars here. At least eight have been struck and killed since Norman's December 2013 crash, according to local advocates.

When it comes to large cities, Houston's still at the bottom of the pack when it comes to being bike friendly, says Michael Payne, executive director with BikeHouston. "Houston is in bottom quartile compared to our peer group, in terms of investment and in terms of things like collisions between people driving cars and people riding bikes," Payne says.

A development out of City Hall yesterday could finally change that. For the fist time in 20 years, council members have voted to craft a bicycle master plan for the city of Houston.

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Texas Central Railway Settles on Route for Houston-Dallas Bullet Train

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Photos of the N700 used under permission of JR Central

The private company hoping to build a bullet train connecting Houston and Dallas says it has opted for a route that will ultimately impact as few landowners as possible.

In a statement yesterday, Texas Central Railway officials said they've told the Federal Highway Administration that the company has chosen the so-called "Utility Corridor" option, which the company says would run along high-voltage transmission lines and "reduce the project's impact on communities and landowners." The route would stretch from downtown Dallas to Cypress, then follow U.S. 290 into the Loop.

Rural landowners along the rail's proposed routes have become the main source of contention surrounding the estimated $10 billion project, which Texas Central officials insist will be paid for with private funding and not public subsidies. Some rural county leaders and politicians claim the rail line could divide ranch land and tank property values in some patches along the route.

Although the route chosen by Texas Central Tuesday would bypass Montgomery County altogether, Conroe Republican state rep. Will Metcalf reiterated his criticism of the project in a statement: "We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways. We do not need a High Speed Railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path."

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The City Started Painting a Downtown Bike Lane Saturday

Michael Barajas
At Lamar, just east of Sam Houston Park
City workers began slapping some green paint on Lamar Street just east of Sam Houston Park Saturday, marking what will ultimately be the city's first dedicated bike lane.

Over the next few weekends workers will build the lane in tiers, ultimately ending at Discovery Green. The lane will be painted a bright, electric green, with plastic humps separating cyclists from the remaining three lanes of car traffic.

It's long been time the city add a bike lane bridging the east and west sides of downtown. As it stands, there's currently nothing connecting the Buffalo Bayou trails to the west with the Columbia Tap trail that runs along the east side of downtown, which ultimately connects to the Brays Bayou trail that runs past the Med Center. Cyclists that currently want to hop from trail to trail have to cross downtown on the street, navigating traffic in Frogger-like fashion, or take the sidewalks and risk being harangued by cops.

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Shrapnel-Shooting Airbags May Have Claimed First Houston Victim

Chris via Flickr
Last year, when the New York Times started to break stories about airbags exploding in cars, sending metal and plastic shrapnel into drivers that made them look like stabbing victims, the issue was particularly concerning to anyone living along the Gulf Coast.

As the recalls began to mushroom -- in the United States alone, ten automakers have now issued recalls on some 12 million vehicles that carry faulty airbag inflators from the Japanese company Takata -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began to issue targeted notices to humid regions in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana.

The problem, agency officials say, is that these faulty, shrapnel-shooting airbags are more likely to malfunction in humid climates. Prolonged exposure to high humidity can make the airbag inflator propellant burn too fast, officials say, causing the propellant canisters to blow apart, sending bits of metal and plastic into drivers.

And, according to senate testimony on Thursday, Houston may have seen its first victim this month.

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The Everyday Hazards of Life in Houston

Photo by William Michael Smith
Pothole Patrol

One of the most widely-understood gripes about this city is the deplorable condition of our streets. Those of us who drive (and since we're dealing with Houston-level public transit here, that's most) swerve to avoid craters like this every day.

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Greater Houston's Biggest Speed Traps

Don't radar me, bro
We all know the gut-churning mix of frustration and confusion that washes over us whenever we see those blue and red lights flashing in our rear-view mirror. Assuming you're not running from warrants, some version of this song and dance probably follows: A cop will ask you why you're in such a hurry, whether you didn't see that school-zone sign, or if there's any particular reason you rolled through that stop sign back there -- as if any explanation or justification really matters by that point -- before handing you a traffic ticket.

As you drive away, you sigh (or, if you're the angry type, pound on the steering wheel) knowing your bank account is about to get a couple hundred bucks lighter.

People who've lived in a region long enough swear they know the stretches of road where cops lurk with radar guns at the ready. But to help you better navigate the sprawl of Greater Houston, we give you hard data on our region's greatest speed traps.

Those who have to pass through places like Montgomery, Spring Valley Village, or Magnolia on the regular probably already know what we're about to tell you: Cops will ticket the hell out of you in some of the small towns around here. Montgomery, for instance, has a population of 676 at last count, yet cops there wrote 2,515 traffic tickets last year -- a stunning 3.72 tickets per resident. Traffic cops in Spring Valley Village, population 3,715, wrote over 13,000 tickets last year (3.54 per capita).

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Please Stop Packing Your Guns in Your Carry-On at Bush Intercontinental Airport

Not that we needed any further proof that Texans love guns, but here it is anyway, courtesy of the TSA.

As of last week, the TSA had discovered a record-breaking 1,855 firearms in carry-on bags at airports across the nation, and two of the top five airports for those discoveries were -- surprise-- in Texas, including Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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UPDATED Lyft Threatens to Leave Houston, Because $62 Is Just Way Too Steep to Make Sure Its Drivers Aren't Criminals

Alfredo Mendez
Your commute's about to get a little less mustache-y.

See below for comments from Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager.

Citing "expensive" new citywide regulations that mandate drug testing, fingerprinting and background checks for drivers, Lyft, one of the two app-based companies operating in Houston, says it would rather close up shop than comply.

The city's new requirements, set to take effect November 4, will require Houston applicants to use a state fingerprint-based background check company, rather than the online background check system that Lyft currently uses. Drivers must also submit to a warrant check, be drug-tested and give the city their personal information.

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