Self-Steering Cars in Texas? As If We Didn't Already Have Driving Problems

Is Will Smith's I, Robot self-steering car the future of driving in Texas?
A bill making its way through the Texas Senate that would create a pilot program in the Lone Star State encouraging the development of cars that drive themselves. This very first sentence sounds like something read on a news broadcast during a flashback in a futuristic film about machines taking over the world. Oh, sure, it started innocently enough. We wanted to spend more time fixing our hair and texting while driving, so we invented autonomous cars to handle the driving for us. Little did we know they would TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

The truth is that this is more science than science fiction. The technology to assist drivers with something many Texans find sacred -- steering a giant pile of metal while hurtling at breakneck speeds down a concrete road filled with other giant piles of metal driven by people more interested in Facebook than the highway -- is already part of many vehicles that have assisted parallel parking (finally, no more failing that on a drivers' test) and warnings when other cars are in your blind spot.

But, having the whole car drive itself (as Google introduced a couple years ago to help them expedite and save money on those crazy cars that drive around mapping every street for Google Maps) could be a thing of the future. Still, is that a good idea?

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There's a Fireball Near the 290/I-10 Split...So You Might Want to Avoid It

Categories: Traffic

Monica Fuentes
If you're about to take 290 into town this morning...well, don't.

It's not clear yet exactly what happened, but there appears to be a truck billowing flames near the I-10 interchange. As of 9:30 a.m., it looked like all inbound lanes on 290 were closed.

According to Houston Transtar, there were two vehicles involved, but we don't know much more than that at this point.

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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.

Categories: Traffic

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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9 Hazards That Come With Parking in Houston

Photo by Friends of San Jacinto
Do as the sign says and no one gets hurt...probably.
There's only one thing worse than driving in Houston, and it's parking in Houston. It's bad enough that we have to weave our way through a million cars every day, but then we have to locate a place to park and hope it isn't ten blocks away from our destination when it's raining. We also don't have the strongest parallel parkers in the world here, which is why so many spaces in downtown have been converted to slant.

But there are numerous parking hazards around town that have little to do with our own driving problems or with getting lost in a massive parking lot à la Seinfeld. Our issues could get you towed or worse.

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Houston Will Get Its First Bicycle Master Plan in 20 Years

Categories: Traffic

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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

Categories: Traffic

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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

Categories: Traffic

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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The 8 Worst Spots to Try and Park in Houston

Categories: Traffic

Photo by Cortney Martin
If only we could drive paddle boats to the zoo.
As much as we all seem to hate valet parking in Houston, there appears to be a good reason for it: parking here can be an adventure wrapped in a nightmare. It's remarkable for a city that tears down as many buildings as we do only to leave empty lots in their place that parking would become such a cluster.

Yet, it is. Still, there are certain places that are worse than others.

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Seven Transportation Projects That Could Dramatically Change How Houston Drives

Categories: Traffic

It could happen
Traffic sucks. It's a way of life in Houston, a fact of living in a city that is simultaneously one of the most populous and one of the most spread out. The city limits alone cover 600 square miles. Tack on the suburban areas and you have the stuff of nightmares for urban planners. Through the years, we have attempted to patch the problem, curb it (if you will) and expand to fit it. Some of it will absolutely never be fixed because Houstonians remain almost genetically linked to their vehicles, some for substantive reasons and others just because they can.

Unfortunately, we will always suffer from traffic issues in the same way New York City will always be crowded -- try to squeeze 10 million people into an area roughly the size of the space inside the 610 Loop, but ONLY west of I-45, and you'll understand. But, there are ways to improve it, projects that could change the way we think about driving in certain areas of town.

Not all of them would be designed to improve the flow of traffic, mind you. Some would be to make life easier for pedestrians or to change how we see the city. But, all of these suggestions -- many of which have been or remain on the table as possibilities considered by the city and state, or recommended by transportation experts -- would change how many of us view driving in Houston.

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