Houstonians Hate Traffic, Have No Desire to Change

Categories: Traffic

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Photo by TexasDarkHorse
Sure, traffic sucks, but what do you want ME to do about it?
Those of us who live in Houston are a diverse lot. We have members of our community from all over the world, never mind the state of Texas. Yet we can all agree that traffic here is god-awful. But what we can't seem to agree on is why or how to fix it. A recent study from Texas A&M University's Transportation Institute points out some rather bizarre discrepancies between how we feel about the traffic we encounter every day and what we want to do about it.

There are a few things that are certain when one peruses the data, however. We all think traffic is awful. We agree more money should be invested in transportation issues. We should not raise taxes to do it. Public transportation is both inconvenient and under-utilized. And, as cute and quaint as the notion of cycling and walking might be, you can pry the keys to our big cars from our cold, dead hands.

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Worst Freeway Interchange in Houston to Get Partial Makeover

Categories: Traffic

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Photo by TexasDarkHorse
Traffic at every interchange in Houston, but will it improve with a new change?
In February, I wrote about what I considered to be the three worst freeway interchanges in Houston. One of them, the 290/North Loop/Interstate 10 mangle that came in third, is undergoing extensive renovations slated to be completed in January as part of the larger project to widen and improve Highway 290 out to the Grand Parkway. Now, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle, the number one worst interchange on the list is about to be given a two-year, multimillion-dollar makeover.

The Texas Department of Transportation has decided to change the way traffic merges onto Highway 59 from Interstate 45 South as it moves north into downtown, creating elevated lanes parallel to the existing raised stretch of road that deposits drivers in downtown. The project is meant to ease the awful traffic that occurs when drivers, unclear about how or where to be so they can merge onto 59, weave all over the road.

It is certainly a serious problem, but will the change make a substantial difference to the entire interchange?

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YouTube Channel Spotlights Houston's Dumbest Drivers

Categories: Traffic

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YouTube screen grab.
One of Houston's dumbest hard at work.
We see them every day, especially if we have to spend any time at all in traffic. They are inconsiderate. They are dangerous. They are inattentive. They are Houston's dumbest drivers and one man started a YouTube channel recently to highlight people behind the wheel in our car-obsessed city.

"I see a lot of crazy driving on my drive from Clear Lake to Downtown every single day," says Ian Henderson, a legal word processor who started the Houston's Dumbest Drivers channel in August after a discussion about road rage on Reddit. "I just wanted to start a channel to sort of publicly shame some of the erratic and sometimes downright scary driving tendencies that a lot of people complain about."

Henderson, 22, began collecting videos from willing participants and now has a handful of snippets of drivers going in reverse on city streets, driving the wrong way on a one-way roads and creating near misses with other drivers, all captured via mounted dashboard cameras. "I do not doubt the normal Houstonian driver's intelligence, rather the drop of intelligence once they get behind the wheel," he told us via e-mail, recounting a story of a Ford truck that flew past him this week doing way over the speed limit and nearly causing him to crash into another car. Unfortunately, his camera wasn't on at the time.

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Texas Has Fastest Average Driving Speed in the Country

Categories: Texas, Traffic

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Welcome to Texas!
Setting aside for the moment that Cars.com referred to Texas as the "Longhorn State" (some Texans might fight you over that one), they do paint a picture of the LONE STAR state as a place for wanton speeders in a report about speeding in America. In their report, Texas ranks higher than any other state at 78 mph. Not all that surprising when you consider the 80 mph speed limits on highways, also the highest in the nation.

On the other end of the spectrum were Alaska and the District of Columbia coming in at a modest 55 mph. Of course, in Alaska there are probably more off-roads than roads. And does D.C. even have a freeway?

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Uber, Lyft Now Legal in Houston After Council Vote

Categories: Traffic

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Now all new and legal!
A friend who is coming over for dinner this weekend included the phrase in a response e-mail, "Uber!" Another responded that he recently used Uber and got a date...with the driver. Such positive experience from an essentially outlawed form of transportation until now. On Wednesday, City Council voted 10-5 to allow car services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Houston. It took five hours of deliberation over a series of amendments, but they did finally get it passed.

Amendments that made it through included some protections for citizens with disabilities including requiring five percent of fleets must be wheelchair-accessible within three years. Companies must provide equal access or face suspension of licenses. Key insurance provisions were also included requiring insurance on passengers from beginning to end of trips. There had been some concern over insurance for passengers of Uber and Lyft.

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When Will Houston's 290 Traffic Nightmare End?

Categories: Traffic

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TXDOT
Map of construction sections along 290...or Death Alley as we refer to it.
The short answer is 2017, but that doesn't really begin to cover the mangled mess that is Highway 290 from the 610 Loop way out to somewhere near Hempstead or maybe Austin. According to TXDOT, the 38-mile stretch of Highway 290 being currently destroyed and rebuilt will be completed by 2017, but portions of it will be done much sooner, as soon as early next year.

From 2920 all the way to the Loop, 290 is undergoing the kind of massive overhaul necessary to both fix a badly congested freeway and bring misery to anyone who lives and works in the area...at least in the short term. The good news is that the section that impacts more people than any other -- the 610/290/I-10 interchange -- is slated to be finished in early 2015.

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

Categories: Traffic

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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.

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Proposed I-45 Redo Includes Option for Replacing the Pierce Elevated With Parkway

Categories: Traffic

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TXDOT
A re-imagined parkway along Pierce Street (left) is one proposed option.
Imagine downtown Houston with a wide parkway right down its southwestern edge no longer blocked by a massive elevated freeway which currently highlights a giant neon cross and a ton of traffic at all times of the day. This is one proposed option being offered by TXDOT as part of a massive overhaul to one of the city's most thoroughly trafficked freeways and also one of its ugliest. For years, the blight along one of two arteries leading directly to our largest airport -- from strip malls and abandoned car dealerships to strip clubs and decaying apartment buildings -- has been a sore spot for residents, but a plan is getting underway to change the scope of Interstate 45 from downtown to the Beltway.

Typical freeway expansion plans are of course part of the concept, but perhaps the most intriguing options include how the Pierce Elevated is handled.

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Man, 34, Charged in Beltway 8 Accident That Killed Five, Including Child

Categories: Traffic

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Google Maps
Near the intersection of fatal accident.
An accident in the early morning hours Monday claimed the lives of four adults and one child traveling near Wilson Road and Beltway 8. The Harris County Sheriff's Office has charged Efraim Carmona, 34, with five counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of intoxication assault in the incident.

Authorities say Carmona was allegedly traveling intoxicated while driving in the wrong direction when he struck the vehicle. Carmona, who was injured, was taken to Ben Taub Hospital.

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Trees Along Highway 290 Widening Project Set to Be Chopped

Categories: Traffic

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Photos by Monica Fuentes
Half of the tree population in decline along this section of 290 widening plan, called Project I.
Update 4:50 p.m.: This post was updated to include the cost for the road project and street names.

Call it arborcide or call it progress. The 290 widening project has claimed several large trees along the Highway 290 feeder road near Pinemont Drive. Pinemont to West 34th is known as Project I, which is expected to cost around $116 million once complete.

A contractor working for the Texas Department of Transportation has been removing killing the trees by chopping off the top halves and then removing the bottom halves later.

"We have so much right-of-way that we have to acquire for that project," Karen Othon, spokesperson for TxDOT's U.S. 290 program, said.

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