Bill That Could Kill Houston-Dallas Bullet Train Moves to Senate

Categories: Texas, Traffic

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for KU6E2968.jpg
Photo of the N700 bullet train, courtesy of JR Central
We're used to seeing votes fall along party lines out at the biennial circus we call the Texas Legislature. But in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a bill that would effectively stall the project to build a high-speed train connecting Houston and Dallas split largely along urban/rural lines.

Senate Bill 1601, authored by Brenham Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, would specifically deny firms developing high-speed rail projects from using eminent domain -- the process by which government or businesses can force property owners to sell their land for projects that (ostensibly, at least) benefit the public. However, judging by Kolkhorst's narrowly-tailored bill and her comments in Wednesday's hearing, her bill has little to do with actually reforming how private companies wield eminent domain in Texas and rather stems from her flat-out opposition to high-speed rail.

"While I think in some countries it has worked, I just don't see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States," she said Wednesday. "I just don't see it, and I'm not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this."

More »

Dear Houston: Bike Lane ≠ Parking Spot

Categories: Traffic

Michael Barajas
If you're the kind of person who regularly rides a bike in or around downtown, the grand opening of Houston's first protected bike lane last month was a momentous occasion.

As part of the effort to make Houston a more bike-friendly place, city workers last month painted a strip of Lamar Street green, installed plastic humps on one side of the bike lane to separate it from the remaining three lanes of car traffic, and installed some nifty bike-signal street lights. The dedicated bike lane stretches from the Buffalo Bayou trails to Discovery Green on the east, making it much easier for cyclists to cross downtown safely.

I've taken the lane a number of times since it's opened, and while it's certainly a welcome improvement, riding it back and forth for the past week has made it abundantly clear that, while a nice gesture, a downtown bike lane isn't a silver bullet that will suddenly make Houston more bikeable. Here are a few cautionary tales from my past week riding the Lamar Street lane.

More »

Traffic in Houston Sucked Even More Last Year, Says Report

Categories: Traffic

Thumbnail image for poopfreeway.jpg
Monica Fuentes
Yes, it is taking you longer to drive to work.

The folks at TomTom, a tech company that feeds mapping and traffic data to smart phones and other GPS devices, came out with their annual traffic congestion study yesterday. And for the first time in a few years, congestion on Houston roads actually got worse in 2014.

More »

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?

More »

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.

More »

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

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for KU6E2968.jpg
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.

More »

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.

More »

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.

More »

Houston Will Get Its First Bicycle Master Plan in 20 Years

Categories: Traffic

Thumbnail image for lamarbikelane.jpg
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.

More »

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

Categories: Traffic

Thumbnail image for KU6E2968.jpg
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."

More »