Comment of the Day: A Different Approach to the Future of Downtown Approaches

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN APPROACHES Cars in TrafficAn alternative that I would heartily recommend would be to work on nearby crosstown routes that may serve to relieve pressure on downtown-area freeways. Those would also be expensive and controversial, but also they are the low-hanging fruit; for example running a toll facility along the north-south Union Pacific ROW. Or completing SH 35 and then creating individually-tolled grade separations from there up Scott St. or Lockwood. OST is a very good candidate for this, as is the N. Shepard/Durham corridor. Do anything possible to speed up thru-traffic along Bayous by removing signalized intersections, especially along the Braeswoods, the T.C. Jesters, and of course Memorial Dr. and Allen Pkwy. These are all things that we would want to have around later on during the course of construction, anyway — but also, decentralized improvements have the advantage of being less subject to economic obsolescence resulting from…say driverless cars and rideshares…which place a big question mark on the near-term utility of mega-projects that required perhaps a decade to finish.” [TheNiche, commenting on TxDOT’s Plans for Freeway Expansion Around and Below the Newly Protected Cheek-Neal Coffee Building] Illustration: Lulu

33 Comment

  • As someone who lives near the “T. C. Jesters” and a block away from White Oak Bayou near 43rd – what would you propose instead of “signalized” intersections? If you have ever been caught at intersections along the Jesters when the lights have been blinking red or not in operation at all it would be obvious that stop signs would not be the answer. Same with the Braeswoods. All of these are main thoroughfares that are heavily used during the morning and evening commutes as routes to super congested 610, 59, 1-10, but also serve as main thoroughfares for local traffic at all times of the day.

  • Ah, the old take a huge dump on the neighborhoods solution. Spoken like a true resident of the burbs. Screw those suckers who want to be able to walk across Allen Parkway or TC Jester to use one of those communisitical “hike and bike” paths. I need to get my SUV from my sprawl mansion in Magnolia, TX to downtown in an hour and fifteen minutes instead of the hour and thirty it currently takes me. Of course any traffic engineer would tell you that removing the lights on any of these thoroughfares would just have the effect off dumping a huge pile of traffic down stream at a rate that cannot be handled by current infrastructure. So, you will be able to whip down N. Shep in a jiffy only to spend 15 min trying to get through N. Shep and Washington. Zero sum game when it comes to traffic and major loss of quality of life for all those who actually live in Houston and whose tax dollars would be used to make our neighborhoods more miserable for marginal traffic improvements for people living just south of Huntsville.

  • god no. this post reads like it was written by a TxDOT consultant. When will people realize making it easy as possible to drive as fast as your can through the middle of an urban area isn’t the only goal we should care about?

  • as you said it yourself, this would be an incredibly expensive path to traffic improvement and much more so than simply expanding freeways due to the lack of city owned right of ways and “eminent domain” abilities. the city would pay a fortune to acquire private property throughout most all of these thoroughfares. and it wouldn’t be worth it. in the end they’d all have to dump into the 610 loop at best and serve no real purpose as you couldn’t cut through town with them.

  • I prefer to cross at the new streetlight at Allen Parkway @ Dunleavy than to play ‘froger’ against the speeding traffic of Allen Parkway to get to the new $45 Million Buffalo Bayou Park.

  • You do have a point about traffic that needs to be re-routed when traveling ‘through’ Houston on a daily basis on I-45 and I-10.

    TXDOT needs to suggest using Loop 610, Beltway, or Grand Pkwy with Signs to get around the city center when traveling through Hosuton. Maybe this could ease some of the burden.

  • There are ways to speed up intersections which are scientifically proven and sound but rarely implemented.

    One way to reduce accidents, improve traffic flow and decrease left turn times is to prohibit left hand turns altogether. Left hand turns would be completed by driving through the intersection and making a u-turn before the next intersection, followed by a right hand turn. The same lanes would flow faster and more traffic could be carried with no increase in infrastructure. Left turn times are actually decreased by this method which seems counter intuitive. Traffic engineers recognize this but neighborhood activists and politicians frequently oppose it as being inconvenient for drivers.

    Flyovers like the type you see at Hobby Airport can greatly increase speed and throughput without adding overall lanes or requiring much additional ROW. Again, this is frequently opposed because corner businesses at major intersections fear a loss of revenue.

  • Perhaps people could live closer to where they work? Even I who love the city have decided to move because my job location has moved 30-35 miles away from where I currently live (still with the same company, they just relocated). No sense in commuting my whole life for no reason.

  • Does The Niche work for Metro? Is this “driverless cars and rideshares” solution the future Metro lines?

  • @ matx: I have endured situations like that on TC Jester and I commiserate. Grade separations similar to those along Allen Pkwy at Wagh and at Montrose or at Wayside and Lawndale. Grade separations at railroad tracks should also be a priority.

    @ Old School: I haven’t lived in the burbs at all ever since I graduated from high school. There is nothing gained from baseless ad hominem attacks. You are partly correct; alleviate one bottleneck and you make the next one more severe. This occurs due to stacking as well as because traffic has been induced from alternate routes, however the stacking effect only occurs with traffic that is traveling the entire length of the corridor and induced traffic is the predictable result of an improvement to the system and also takes traffic away from nearby parallel routes (making the anti-neighborhood criticism something of a wash). Also, I can’t imagine why improvements to North Shepard should stop at Washington. Taking them through to Allen Pkwy and Memorial and also improving both of those thoroughfares would seem to be fairly obvious. It takes some systematic planning, yes. Obviously. Thats the whole point.

    @ eastwoodresident: I DID NOT suggest raising speed limits. Speed limits are not the problem, congestion is the problem. Grade separations in and around your neighborhood, especially(!), would be effective at improving traffic flow, bus scheduling, and emergency response times. Look at Polk Street just west of Cullen. Is that infrastructure, complete with paths for pedestrians, an afront to urbanism somehow? Don’t you wish that there was one of those over on Cullen? As a former resident of Eastwood, I sure know what its like to get blocked by a train on Cullen and have to cut over through the crappy neighborhood behind Kroger to get to the Polk underpass in order to get home. If what I am talking about is somehow anti-neighborhood then we need to classify that crappy neighborhood as not-a-neighborhood, because it sure would stand to benefit…and so would Eastwood. Its a win-win scenario.

    @ joel: No, I don’t see everything dumping onto 610 as you suggest. Not on any of these corridors. I really don’t understand that criticism and I don’t understand the downside even if that is what happens; yes, obviously a network of roads delivers its users between various interconnects… The concept of toll-based financing is what makes this stuff actually worth consideration. I don’t know where the money would come from otherwise. However, about eminent domain for ROW acquisition, thats a good reason to use corridors with already-wide ROWs such as N. Shepard or SH 35 or the bayous. Intergovernmental transfers are possible.

  • As a counter proposal, perhaps we institute a $.01 toll booth (one lane, cash only) inbound at the city limits. This will slow input into the system and solve the congestion all over the city. It will also have the nice side effect of letting the suburbs eat the same shit they are constantly trying to serve us.

  • @CB To that end, once they reconstruct the 45N-610 interchange, I’m going to strongly suggest they add control cities of Beaumont and Galveston for the 610 E ramp, particularly since it can divert traffic during the downtown reconstruction period.
    @Jardiner01 – you’re absolutely right, and I was thinking the other day why jughandles and/or Michigan lefts are not more popular, but most drivers hate any sort of solution that isn’t immediately intuitive, even if safer or more effective.

  • @Niche: funny that you consider being from the suburbs a personal attack (as funny how pot/kettle your indignity is). I was merely highlighting the competing interests and how people from the suburbs have no incentive to consider their impact on the inner city.

    Your proposal of flyways and ripping out traffic lights will do nothing to improve things for neighborhoods. The bottlenecks at the end of the line will be so bad that people will go streaming through neighborhood streets trying to avoid the bottleneck. Shep/Memorial Drive/Allen Parkway would stack up all the way back to Washington Ave. if there was a flyway or greatly reduced number of traffic lights (just look at what 610 and Woodway are like during rush hour). And fewer traffic lights through dense areas just means more traffic accidents as people trying to cross the major thoroughfares have not protection from all the angry SUVs barreling in from the burbs.

    I am with Frank. Charge a congestion tax/fee and use that money to make highway improvements. But inner city neighborhoods should not have to take one for the team because of poor planning and unlimited sprawl.

  • @ HouCynic: At this point, no, I have never knowingly done any work in any capacity for METRO.

    @ Fernando: I was able to migrate closer to my job (to within walking distance actually) without any hassle when I was single, childless, and renting. If any of those preconditions were unmet then my flexibility would be diminished and optimizing for my commute would probably have put me at odds with somebody else or some other higher-priority objective. I was willing to take it to an extreme that most people never will, but even then the nature of my job was such that I would often have to travel out of the office, and even then not to any large traditional employment centers; it kind of defeated the purpose, so I moved again to a nice inner-city neighborhood that was more pleasant and surprisingly had less expensive accommodations, and just dealt with the commute. I would posit that considerations like these are the norm (and in my opinion they are reasonable) and that its counterproductive to blow off transportation projects on the basis that the value system of the entire culture is flawed and therefore should not be self-serving.

  • Why are we ignoring roundabouts / traffic circles, which have been fixtures in other countries for years?

    These circles keep traffic moving and do not involve any traffic lights, with their difficult synchronization issues?

    On my last visit to the south of France I observed these wonderfully efficient circles going in all over, replacing traditional intersections.

  • why add new roads and disrupt more communities?
    make the loop wider, simple solution. the east and north 610 loop can be widened to 5 lanes in each direction, put 2 lanes for toll/HOV, boom. people will gladly bypass 45 through downtown if they can travel in style on the 610 loop.

  • Just wait till soon-to-be-constructed toll lanes down 288 are completed. They will terminate northbound at 59. The traffic there is a already a perpetual snarl. Once these 2 more lanes dump all that high-speed traffic into the same limited number of through-lanes, it will be even worse.

  • Whenever you increase traffic flow through one segment of road, it will create more congestion at the next bottleneck. See: the expanded Katy Freeway outside the Loop, which created more congested conditions inside the Loop and at the exits to the West Loop.

    While reconfiguration of interchanges and similar improvements can lessen congestion at a micro level, a congestion-free automobile system in a thriving urban area like Houston is a unicorn, unless folks are willing to consider congestion pricing for all roads.

  • Revive the Hempstead Tollway and extend it all the way to Memorial Drive…or at the very least to the roundabout at Washington/Westcott. That would solve a lot of problems for anyone stuck in the Uptown mess heading to any point on the N side of the compass.

  • @ Old School & Local Planner: As I already mentioned, yes stacking is a problem (although not to the degree previously described by Old School). It is a problem in any scenario, including the no-build scenario. It is inescapable. Whatever are the best local routes under any setup are going to attract traffic from elsewhere in the system (a net benefit to neighborhoods elsewhere) and induce stacking. That cannot be used as a justification not to make net improvements to the system (and note that I’m looking at this from a regionally systemic perspective, not hyper-local), where certainly there do exist opportunities. This is one reason that I tend to favor improving corridors that are already commercial in character, that are impacted by railroads, or that have plenty of ROW to work with. That is not perfect and its not ever going to be perfect, but the perfect is the enemy of the good. There is plenty of low-hanging fruit out there, and much more that can be done than financial constraints allow.

    The thing that really bothers me in Old School’s and Frank’s tone is a provincial sense of municipal-ism or neighborhood-ism which is underlain by Fernando’s flippant attitude toward outsiders. All of this smacks of elitism. It implies that people who aren’t willing (or simply aren’t able) to make sacrifices in order to be members of “our” group have a limited right to move about in “our” public domain. “We” don’t want “them” being here. “We” are commuters, just like “they” are, but when “they” are here it hurts “us”. If “they” won’t pay to be like “us” then they should pay a fee to access “our” public domain… “They” are lesser members of the public than “we”.

    Toll roads and gas taxes and vehicle registration fees are one thing and I like them in principle, each serving a similar but different function, and blind to social identity or class. Walling off a municipality with toll gates, however, or pretending that a few neighborhoods ought to be off-limits to change even as they themselves are actively changing along with everything along their near and distant peripheries, all to protect “us from “them”…this is a convenient and lazy and radical breed of populism and I denounce it.

    @ Ray Hankamer: Traffic circles are hell on pedestrians and are land-intensive, not really ideal for urban areas that are already built up. There are probably some worthwhile opportunities in the suburbs, and possibly on a small scale on neighborhood collector streets where they could serve as an aesthetically pleasing traffic calming device.

    @ toasty: The region’s existing and future population will be impacted with or without adequate infrastructure to serve it. The externalities cannot possibly be entirely resolved. Cannot! Its impossible to build our way out of having big-city problems. That doesn’t mean that it is in any way shape or form wise to ignore the problem.

    @ Superdave: I agree, the 288 toll lanes are going to be a mess. Another example of poor systematic planning. Worse still is that that disaster would be preserved in a reconstruction of the downtown loop as it is currently planned. Perhaps this will serve as a foil for why we ought to be looking more closely at the connections between the surface streets and big trunklines as well as for opportunities to improve surface streets as components of the regional system.

  • @TheNiche I don’t know if it’s elitism. I think it has more to do with Inner Loopers constituting only about 1/5 of COH’s population. As a result, it’s much more difficult to advance policy changes that enhance the urban environment. This can lead to a sense of frustration, since changes that would go through with little difficulty in other cities get held up due to traffic concerns. After a while, it raises the question whether we’re arranging traffic around the way we want to live our lives, or whether we’re arranging our living environment around traffic.
    You’re right that after a certain point, we can’t build our way out of big-city traffic problems. However, I think this speaks more to a no-build mindset than anything. Once the downtown project is complete, what’s the point of expanding the system further, so long as commute times are predictable?

  • I think I like this. If I had a better idea of what TheNiche meant by “grade separations” it would help. I think it’s obvious that Houston would benefit from migrating from the current system of spokes and rings to more of a grid.

  • The elitism is coming from the suburbs where people expect inner city residents to lose their quality of life because suburban residents made bad decisions to live too sprawled out with no alternate forms of transportation (like a choo choo train that people in the suburbs think are the preferred mode of transportation for Satan himself). You do not get to cleanse suburban residents of their bad decisions by using fancy linguistics to turn this into a “regional” transportation issue. It is not a problem where we are all in it together. It is a problem where one group has acted irresponsibly (suburban residents) and are looking to the group that acted responsibly (urban residents who took themselves off the overcrowded highway system by moving close in) to make huge sacrifices. You insistence that things like flyways and limiting traffic signals are somehow a “net benefit” smacks of the idiotic rhetoric of “urban renewal” proponents of the 70s who would drop an interstate through a neighborhood and tell everyone that it will be a win win when businesses pop up along the interstate to reinvigorate the neighborhood. Neighborhoods were ruined by these developments and only got a few gas stations for people in the burbs to go pee if they could not hold it until they got to work. If you were dumb enough to buy a house way out in the burbs, you will have to look to the State of Texas for transportation solutions not inner city residents.

  • @ Niche: I didn’t mean for my comment to imply I was against road improvements. Even high-speed roads can be designed to better minimize impacts to adjacent areas and pedestrian connectivity. I just don’t like it when municipal leaders and the populace in general put forth the idea that certain improvements will make congestion disappear. It doesn’t disappear, it just moves around. Congestion, as you correctly noted, is an inescapable impact of an unpriced roadway system, it is part of the machine. A lack of big city congestion means you are…Detroit. On a related point, the argument that transit will remove congestion is also false, it is just a congestion alternative (if the transit is separated from traffic).

  • @ TMR: Well, for sure there’s elitism in the local politics and in the subculture of each neighborhood. What is the civic influence of an average adult persons living in Denver Harbor or Pleasantville or South Union or Magnolia Park per average adult living in the Houston Heights? How many dozens to one!? And in a forum such as this, well thats a calculation that returns as Undefined. There is no denominator to speak of. And what of Independence Park, what of Manchester, what of Sunnyside, what of Gulfton? Why is 610 the boundary? What makes it such a badge of honor if not elitism? How is that not thought to be absurd and arbitrary?

    I don’t see this in terms of inner loopers per se. The xenophobic interests of an “inner looper” as we seem to be discussing them seem a lot more closely aligned with living in Kingwood than in the majority of the actual inner loop.

    @ Memebag: I provided several examples already if you go back and read through the comments.

    @ Old School: Do consider that suburban residents do not all commute into the inner city. Many of them live in the suburbs because their jobs are in the suburbs. IIRC, only about 50% of jobs are inside of Beltway 8. And as I’ve covered already, other people have spouses that work elsewhere or kids that are already established in schools or circles of friends, and some even have extended family living in a cluster. Also, there is no way in hell that all the suburbanites could be crammed into whatever you want to call “urban”, have them be able to afford it, and preserve the quality of life that you ostensibly hold dear. Your thoughts are of some fantastical realm that is not Houston in its as-is where-is condition.

    Moreover, if you bought a home in the suburbs then you are contributing to the State’s tax base. You probably still live or commute within the jurisdiction of at least one toll road authority. You pay sales taxes wherever you go, a substantial portion of which goes back directly or indirectly to Harris County. And after all, all of these entities are chartered by the State government, of which you are a resident the same as all other residents in the Houston region. Yes, you are entitled to demand representation for your interests. Nobody deserves to be disenfranchised!

  • Ahh. It did not take long. No ad hominem attacks? Elitist xenophobic inner loop residents. Pot meet kettle.
    The idea that people have no choice but to live in the suburbs may be true for some residents of the burbs, but for many it is not. There are plenty of people living in the burbs who have chosen the homogeneity of the burbs over the inner loop crawling with people of color and different socioeconomic backgrounds (ha! right back at ya!). And the people the suburbanites have elected have been virulently anti-rail, pro-sprawl, pro-road building and anti-planning. They cannot push there externalities on inner loop residents just because some inner loop neighborhoods are too expensive (many are not) for middle class residents.

  • @ Old School: Your logic is twisted.

    1) I am not saying that inner-loop residents are elitist, but I do challenge the conceptualization and attitude that inner-loopers are a meaningful sub-category of people and I do believe that to be a fair example of elitism among some.

    2) An ad hominem is a personal attack that serves as a premise to further an argument, for example, “Your ideas are invalid because you are a poopy-head.” In fact, one’s ideas may be either valid or invalid regardless of the personal attack used as a premise. Good criticism attacks the idea, not the speaker. I realize that there is a fine line between attacking your ideas as being elitist and attacking you as a person, and maybe those two things are inseparable; but there are two good and reasonable ways that you can respond here without harboring cognitive dissonance and one way is to explain to me how my ideas are wrong and the other way is to revise your ideas.

    3) Your observations about politics in the suburbs are not too keen. There again, I think that you are grossly overgeneralizing the interests of a vast number of people. Houston’s suburbs are diverse! You’re throwing in people living in massive foreboding apartment blocks in Sharpstown and Pasadena and Greenspoint and so many points in between with the affluent immigrants of Fort Bend County, the poor whites of Highlands and Crosby and Santa Fe and Porter and Angleton (and about these, driving out of Houston in any radial direction and you’ll find several different flavors of redneck as you go, and they are not a monolithic population), the poor blacks in La Marque and Galena Park and Inwood, the poor hispanics in Rosenberg and Pasadena and Aldine, and the bastions of mostly-white affluence that are The Woodlands and Kingwood and the Memorial area and League City. There are even places in the suburbs that defy easy descriptions, like southwest Harris County, pockets of northwest Houston inside BW8, and…perhaps most of all in my mind, Bacliff. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be any more precise than is needed to be to attack your assertions. You’re paving over all of that, a rich tapestry, with wildly innacurrate and imprecise generalizations.

    4) To provide an example, look at what keeps happening in Montgomery County, of all places. Voters keep shooting down road bonds for the whole county, some projects about which are desperately needed just to catch up with growth thats already happening in their own jurisdiction, and this is because the affluent mostly-white constituents in The Woodlands object to extending and expanding Woodlands Parkway on over toward Magnolia (a suburb-to-suburb connection). Get into it and its not hard to see why… These suburban constituents are motivated by the very same concerns as you cite, Old School, keeping outsiders from imposing externalities on “special” portions of the public domain (not that locals aren’t already imposing externalities themselves). They want a Woodlands for the Woodlanders. They are averse to regionalism, just as you seem to be, Old School. So what makes them special? Well…they are more politically enfranchised than other populations. Its not just that they have money, its that they feel that they have a strong voice and their place is exceptional and special and worth protecting as-is where-is, but about other places they are fairly ambivalent. Is that not a strong analogy to Heights politics? Is that not a manifestation of elitist attitudes?

  • All y’all bad-mouthing “grade separations,” go drive around Washington DC. TxDOT specs for surface streets are oriented towards rural and suburban contexts (i.e. the vast majority of Texas), so they eat a lot of land. But for a city street like Shepherd, who cares? Drop it down quick, narrow lanes, vertical walls, good looking bridge rail. Design it right and you can actually reduce the pedestrian crossing distance, since some of the lanes are buried.

  • Well, however they build this place out, I hope they do it with a lot of texture and nooks and crannies, etc. By that I mean Houston can and should be constructed in a way that alleviates traffic but without idiot-proofing the whole place (which is what almost all of the purported “improvements” really are).
    A serious learning curve wouldn’t kill this city, would it? Especially if it makes things move a little faster without compromising QOL for any group irrespective of their transportation mode. It may even improve QOL for previously-neglected groups.. Everyone uses Google Maps, Waze, etc. to get around now, it seems, and as has been noted self-driving cars are on the horizon. Anyone who desires to move about the city without naviational help would then find their experience to be explorational – a conscious decision on their part.

  • I agree that some corridors need to be improved and traffic flows improved to take some stress off overcrowded freeways. Shepherd, Hempstead Highway, and West Airport come to mind. But in the end these are band aids. Name a metropolitan area in the world with 6+ million people ( not in Africa) that does not have some form of commuter rail. We’re 25 years behind where we need to be and increasing congestion will end up putting the brakes on the regional economy.

  • So, if only SOME inner loop residents are elitist xenophobes, you are not making an ad hominem attack. Yeah, that makes sense. The reality is that you cannot get through any argument about the rights of people to control the quality of life in their neighborhood without sliming them as being rich snobs who spit on the poor common man. From Walmart to historic preservation to roads, it always ends up the same. Substantive arguments give way to ad hominem attacks on who you perceive as privileged. it is not such a fine line the way you constantly resort to the attack.
    This discussion started with the proposal to put the main N/S highway in downtown underground. The majority of the stress on those highway comes from the sprawl to north. Montgomery County is so crazy right wing that they actually hate taxes so much that they are willing to sit in traffic for 20 minutes just to get from their homes to the highway in the Woodlands. But if they are not even willing to upgrade their own roads to support their sprawl, we in the City should certainly not be doing them any favors.
    Local roads are there to provide safe and efficient access to nearby addresses. They are not intended or designed to be alternatives to freeways. Making them more suitable as freeway alternatives has load of externalities that local residents do not deserve the burden of bearing. If anything, the rampant road building tendency in the inner city the 1970s is what started the sprawl mess in the first place. If you rip up neighborhoods to make way for better access for people from the burbs, people affected in the City will just move out to the burbs starting the whole retched cycle over again.

  • @ Purple City: Thanks for bringing that up. I am curious, do toll road authorities have similar discretion? What you’re talking about is certainly relevant, but possibly less so if you consider the CoH’s finances.

    @ Shady Heightster: I’ve seen some research that suggests that ridesharing and commuter rail are complementary, but that was out of Europe and Asia. It wasn’t entirely clear what would happen if a CBD only harbored something like 5% of regional employment. The low-density polycentricity issue is a vexing challenge, especially when you get into opportunity costs. Even in a radical case such as that the Houston region establishes an urban growth boundary and puts its next 3 or 4 million people from the next several decades inside of itself, you still have to service this gigantic and already very chaotic land area. Decentralized transportation solutions, I think, are going to be critically important, very challenging, and probably will have the biggest bang for the buck in most instances.

  • @ Old School: Yes, I frequently come to the conclusion that the neighborhoods and communities in our region are differently-enfranchised within the scope of society as a whole, and also that there’s a push-pull going on where on the one hand people sort themselves by identity and on the other hand those with the means enforce the sorting with policies that facilitate exclusion of the “others”. I don’t think that thats a radical statement at all. There’s a deep and dark history about that which in my opinion manifests itself in myriad ways. If I sound like a broken record, well yeah, exactly. There is a pattern and its a feature and not a bug.

    You’re missing a lot of the finer points that I clearly made though, and I would ask that you go back and re-read what you replied to. Otherwise I don’t really see the merit in very much further discussion.