Comment of the Day: A Few Remedies for Those Traffic Problems You’ve Been Having

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A FEW REMEDIES FOR THOSE TRAFFIC PROBLEMS YOU’VE BEEN HAVING CarsNumber one. Eliminate dead ends inside the loop. Every neighborhood in Houston has blocked off 99% of its streets. There are times when I need to wait multiple cycles at a light because it’s the only ingress into the development. Houston is a CITY. Number two. Learn how to merge. There is construction at Mid Lane at San Felipe eastbound, and traffic is backed up to 610 because everyone is terrified of being in the barren empty right lane, which in turn is because they know people will be hostile to allowing them to merge. This is the single most stupid driving behavior I can think of. You need to queue AT the point of the merge, and alternate left and right lanes, quickly, cleanly, efficiently and politely. A whole mile of road empty? Come on people. Number three. Get out of the way of people behind you who want to be in the left-turn lane. Many of those turnlanes have sensors, and will not give a left arrow if no cars are at the line — AT THE LINE — when the other side’s light turns red. Or yellow! There are multiple examples of lights where you don’t get an arrow unless you beat the other side’s yellow. So every time I see a driver with two empty car lengths in front of them, and a driver with their left-turn signal behind them, I just wonder. (The reason I stressed ‘at the line’ above is that I was once behind someone who was a car’s length away from the line. I asked myself, should I honk or shouldn’t I? I wasn’t sure about this light, so I bit my lip. You can guess the rest). Number four. Make all streets one-way. Every single one. Even Westheimer. In residential neighborhoods you can only get one car through anyway, because everyone is parked on both sides. Just get it over with already. The left and right turns will also be that much easier.” [J.V., commenting on Comment of the Day: We Have Met the Traffic, and It Is Us] Illustration: Lulu

30 Comment

  • I am not sure how I feel about the dead ends comment. My neighborhood does not have many blocked off dead ends, but I get why some wish to keep some traffic off their streets. I do very much agree with the left turn issue. However, the one thing that drives me truly crazy is when somebody is going down a street and passes a street with a no left turn (lets say Southbound on Shepherd at Westheimer) then sits ten feet in front of the intersection holding up cars to cut through the Verizon/Mattress Firm parking lot thinking that they are being the good Samaritan who follows traffic laws. I’m pretty sure it is just as illegal, but somehow people never get ticketed for it.

  • I drive Shepherd from 59 to I-10 during rush hour many days and I’m amazed at the number of people who are coming from neighborhood streets without a light attempting to make a left on Shepherd when it’s packed. Please do us all a favor and go to that traffic light nearby to make your left — it’s safer for you and us!

  • As a way to improve traffic, the “other people need to drive less dumb” plan, while emotionally appealing, is probably not going to be all that effective.
    One thing I’d like to know: when was it that the city’s traffic engineers decided we should only be allowed to turn left with a protected arrow. I, for one, am perfectly capable of yielding to oncoming traffic when making a left turn without a green left arrow. And for decades, it has been universally understood, that when the light is green, you can turn left as long as you yield to oncoming traffic. Now it seems like every intersection in Houston has been equipped with red left turn arrows.
    Of course, this would be bad enough. But now the city has installed the most confusing traffic signal I’ve ever seen on eastbound Washington at Yale: a flashing yellow left turn arrow. This apparently indicates that eastbound traffic on Washington can turn left onto northbound Yale after yielding to oncoming traffic. The problem with this is that there’s ALREADY A SIGNAL THAT SERVES THAT FUNCTION. It’s called a green light. When people see the yellow left turn arrow, they apparently read it as “I better hurry up and make my left turn before it turns red”.
    Please CoH, can we get back to treating drivers like adults and get rid of the red left turn arrows?

  • How about #5: Make light cycles consistent throughout the city, or at least for a given intersection. At the Westheimer-Montrose intersection, the cycle used to always run:

    1. Montrose protected left turns in both (north to west, south to east) directions
    2. Straight ahead in both directions (with non-protected lefts)
    3. Westheimer protected left turns in both (east to north, west to south) directions
    4. Straight ahead in both directions.

    Now, during morning rush hour you get:

    1. Montrose southbound with protected left (south to east) while all Northbound is red
    2. Straight ahead in both directions
    3. Montrose northbound with protected left (north to west) while all Southbound traffic is red
    4. Westheimer as above.

    Then during non-rush hour, it changes to the first pattern.

    I suppose that keeps drivers on our toes.

  • We have lots of dead ends because there is no reason to spend a trillion dollars to build thousands of bridges over bayous and drainage ditches to connect one residential neighborhood to another.

    Turning left at an intersection where it is not permitted is a huge cause of traffic. The reason the city has restricted left turns at so many intersections is because there is too much traffic coming the other direction and every time someone wants to make a left turn, they effectively cut the road capacity in half on a four lane street.

    You can toy with some traffic pet peeves all day, but the fact of the matter is that Houston’s inner city infrastructure was designed for a City of one million people who had commutes that were typical of 1950s. There has really been no meaningful expansion of road carrying capacity on the City’s street grid in decades while the highways just get wider and wider. Even if you make improvements in traffic flow, the growth in the number of vehicles on the road in Houston will quickly devour any improvement. The only way to improve or at least mitigate traffic is to get people out of their cars and making more trips on foot, bike or via public transportation. Everything else is just a finger in the dyke.

  • How about maintain the roads and fix potholes. Cruising down [Insert One Name of Many Here] Road at 45 mph and the person in front slams on breaks slams on avoid a pothole.

  • “The reason the city has restricted left turns at so many intersections is because there is too much traffic coming the other direction and every time someone wants to make a left turn, they effectively cut the road capacity in half on a four lane street. ”
    That statement is hogwash. The city could have invested in upgraded traffic signals years ago that allow better traffic flow and used the existing right of way to make dedicated left turn lanes. For example, there is more than enough right away room for Shepherd to have a dedicated left turn lane from Richmond to W. Gray . Restricting left turns only dumps cut through traffic onto other streets. So we are just supposed to be stuck with 60 year old ideas because COH Public Works cannot bring anything to the table? Making a left turn lane either by expansion of the right of way or cutting into our ill maintained esplanades would be a start. The no left turn without arrow in a city as flat as a board with 98% of the intersections having full sight lines is archaic.

    And don’t even get me started on the half empty Metro buses clogging the roads and wreaking havoc with the already shoddy pavement…….

  • I love how this writer thinks drivers can read each other’s minds – “Get out of the way of people behind you who want to be in the left-turn lane.” ….. If only the people in front of me ACTUALLY KNEW what I was thinking, only THEN would they get out of my way. Quickly.

    As for courteously merging one-by-one-by-alternate lanes … we ALL know that won’t happen. People ARE hostile towards allowing someone to basically CUT IN LINE when they have been observing the warnings 2 blocks back.

  • It there some magical urban area out there somewhere without traffic congestion? Just deal with it. Houston traffic isn’t nearly as bad as many here like to think. There are no panaceas…. although a gondola system flying overhead on every major thoroughfare would be nice.

  • I like the posts that suggest “the city should” when in fact the city has to react to the most pressing issues unless “the citizens” pay more taxes. I think “the city” should put a highway between my house and my job and I want all of you to pay for it!

  • I would just be happy if drivers on Studewood would learn how to use the turn lane in the middle of the street. Hint: if you’re slowing down to a near stop in the traffic line, then inching into the turn lane, then sitting there with the ass end of your car in the travel lane, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Honestly, how freaking complicated is it?

  • As for Shepherd in Upper Kirby/River Oaks – left turns anywhere there’s not an arrow just need to be illegal during the day. Someone decides to turn into a shopping center, the road capacity is halved, and then everyone manically starts changing lanes. Just go around the block so you can make a right. It’s easier and often faster and gets you out of everybody’s way.

  • I won’t disagree with any of the pothole remarks but any comment that more unprotected left turns would help traffic is so misguided. I don’t always agree with Old School, but he made some pretty sound arguments above. Also, I would love for somebody to pull the ROW maps and help post a story on where these extra lanes would fit on Shepherd without removing sidewalks. If it was possible then businesses East of Shepherd would have been lobbying for such changes for years.

  • JV, you obviously haven’t been to every single residential neighborhood in Houston. My ‘hood has wide streets with plenty of room for two cars to pass.

    And, just so you know, there are a good number of neighborhoods with wide streets right here inside loop 610. You should venture outside the Washington/Heights area sometime.

  • It seems to be that the comment thread is really about ‘things that that other motorist must stop doing to improve traffic flow and not annoy me’. The issue may be that the city is in the inevitable transition to a mass transit city due to population density and part of that will inevitably be the gradual increase in discomfort of motorists in single passenger vehicles. The answer may not be forthcoming in the near term but has to be building up the city core with employment centers as well as residences. The key infrastructure ingredient will then be an efficient and extensive public transport system via buses and light rail, as well as cycle routes and sidewalks. If one accepts this premise, it follows that adding more roads, retasking traffic flows, and adopting ‘LA left turns’ are really temporary fixes with a relatively quick half life. A final observation that at least in my commute I do see some buses that are not empty at all. This is a hopeful sign I believe.

  • @Quantam. Check the buses Number 82 buses that run down Westheimer inside the loop every 10 minutes. Or
    the busses that runs down Fairview, or Feagan. or Memorial Drive. Mostly empty most of the time. The LA turn, as you call it, would certainly improve the southbound cluster$%^& at Shepherd and West Gray. So many cars are
    stuck in the left turn lane waiting for an arrow that traffic stacks up and blocks the regular lanes. And this is not just during rush hour. The way the traffic is sequenced, there is more than enough time for cross with no danger from Northbound traffic. This situation is evident all over West Houston as well as the inner loop and any of the 4 lane divided roads. Will it be a panacea? No, but it is something could be done in lieu of absolutely nothing. It is obvious that those in charge of Streets at Public Works have never traveled elsewhere to see other ideas.

  • The existing surface street grid inside the loop if perfectly capable of handling the amount of traffic we have. The issue tends to be poor intersection management, and this is only really at a relatively small number of choke points. An investment in a relatively modest quantity of intelligent traffic lights could resolve a lot of the problems on the surface street grid.

  • Totally agree with Angostura re: protected left turns in Houston. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Ft. Worth and Corpus Christi all allow people to turn left on green after yielding to oncoming traffic. I don’t understand why the COH public works department decided that Houstonians are just to stupid to be able to yield like people in other Texas cities.

  • “The existing surface street grid inside the loop if perfectly capable of handling the amount of traffic we have. The issue tends to be poor intersection management, and this is only really at a relatively small number of choke points. ”

    Absolutely this. If the COH would invest a fraction of their road budget towards technology to actively monitor and change traffic signals to adapt to changing traffic patterns, a lot of congestion issues could be solved. A good example is the brand new I-10/Studemont underpass – northbound traffic on Studemont regularly backs up to Allen, all because the light timing is completely ass-backwards and is favored towards non-existent southbound traffic. I see similar issues time and time again in my daily commute out to Tanglewood from Downtown, whether via I-10 or Memorial. Uptown is basically a hotspot for all the issues the OP brought up. The inner-loop has the street grid to support plenty more development and densification (with the right management), but the Galleria area is a lost cause with its suburban style grid.

    Oh and people that leave multiple car lengths between themselves and the next car, especially in rush hour, are the scum of the earth.

  • Does anyone remember when Bill White pressed for a bill that would spend I think it was $2MM to have a study done that would come up with a new light timing schedule for the downtown area? I don’t think there has been a traffic problem in downtown since that point even with an ever increasing number of cars.

  • It seems like we’re talking about two different things: traffic on surface streets, and traffic on highways. Traffic on both plays by similar rules, but fixing them requires different ways of thinking. Surface streets are easier to fix. The City’s in control. They can float a bond to upgrade traffic signals, for example, or rework left turns. If this is important enough to you, you can lobby City Council and the Mayor to make it happen.
    The highways, on he other hand, are the purview of TXDOT. Trying to get them to take local concerns into consideration can be difficult to impossible. Just ask Bellaire Mayor Phil Nuart about the 610 Flyover. If a Mayor has to “raise a little ruckus” to get them to listen, what hope do you think us little people have?

  • And then there’s the Harris County toll Road a Authority. In general be careful of Toll Road Authorities. Read “The Power Broker,” a biography of Robert Moses to see why.

  • I wish the CoH would invest in more intelligent traffic lights. There are times when I am by the Main St./Wentworth exist (heading north on Main St.) where I sit at a red light watching for 1, maybe two cars to exit the freeway.

    In addition the San Jacinto/Fannin St. lights are terrible as well since they’re mostly timed (due to the rail). I wish they would increase the number of hours that sensors run because I can’t tell you how much time residents of the Museum District waste trying to cross those two streets. Another terrible intersection is heading east/west on Wheeler Ave. across Main St. The light rail effectively shuts that intersection down. Fortunately, I know every little shortcut to avoid this horrific intersection.

  • I just ‘love’ how this guy’s idea of merging properly is to fly past all the cars dutifully waiting their turn to navigate the merge and pull up to the front of the line with his blinker on. This is a pet peeve of mine. Is that how he acts at the grocery store? Does he get in line at the back or does he ram his cart into any available hole toward the front of the line? So assuming he doesn’t behave that way in the grocery store, why is it ok on the road? I suspect it’s the anonymity of being in your car and relatively low risk that you are going to get punched in the mouth for it. Seriously, I can’t stand this kind of a$$hole behavior.

  • Number 5. Green Means Go. Self-explanatory. Amazing that it needs to be said, but there it is.

    Number 6. Let other people go. Just, for pete’s sake, let them go. You are probably causing more traffic by not letting that one person go across your lane, or enter traffic, or take the merge, or whatever it is, than whatever you think you’re saving by cutting them off. Just let them go. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

    @ StatingTheObvious : You don’t need to read other peoples’ minds. If there is more than 4 feet of empty space in front of you, then you are blocking someone. Period. (Unless the road is empty). Let me put it this way: You should always drive as if you are blocking someone, and always act accordingly. The point of my whole rant was to lessen traffic, and I stand behind it all. If you act as if you’re blocking someone, and you’re not, then hey, bonus. I could easily throw the same argument back in your face: You must be psychic if you can tell that there’s nobody who’s coming down the road within the next two minutes who will need that lane. And, frankly, optimistic about your own skills if you think you’ll notice when they arrive.

    @ PYEWACKET2 : I don’t get you’re talking about. My regular drives are Bellaire, West U, Southampton, Museum district, Galleria (e.g. St George Place), Heights, Tanglewood, Memorial, Piney Point, and all kids of points in-between. I know all those neighborhoods and more. Streets in all those areas are narrow, and would benefit wildly from being one-way. But notice that I said even Westheimer should be one-way. Which leads me to ….

    @ Nuke Laloosh : I think your comment about left turns supports my comment about one-way streets. If every street in Houston were one-way, we wouldn’t need to put such restrictions in place. The left-most lane would be a left-turn lane on every other block, the right-most lane would be a right-turn lane on the remainder, and the middle lane would be generally clear-going. Also a lost driver could (in theory, assuming they think about it,) instead of scootching from the far-right lane to the far-left lane to take a turn, just make a turn around the block, assuming all the one-ways were in the right order.

    @ Jack : I was waiting for the inevitable comment like yours. My behaviors are always polite. But I’m not going to poke out my eyes if the other drivers are blind, either. If I see a car at a merge, and if I’m in the main lane, I always let it go, assuming that it’s taking its correct turn (left lane, right lane, etc). See my “number six” comment just posted above. If you use the roads as they’re intended, and stop denigrating honest people who, y’know, actually care where they’re going, then everyone might all get there faster.

  • @Jack – so YOU’RE the guy that comes to a dead stop at the beginning on the 610 entrance ramp because 610 has heavy traffic, instead of utilizing the half mile of merge lane ahead of you? YOU’RE the traffic, I’m the guy driving by you on the shoulder to properly merge half a mile down the road.

  • No, I believe in using the lane provided in situations like you describe. I’m thinking of situations like 59 S turning onto 610 N (toward the galleria). There is a single dedicated lane for making that turn and it usually has a line. And the line is worse because there is a steady stream of cars that remain in the main flow of 59S traffic until the turn lane starts to peel off. Then they turn on a blinker and drive across the rumble strips where NOBODY is supposed to drive and jam their car in front of the 40 cars who were in line. Those line cutters deserve a special place in hell.

  • @J.V. : Really? First of all: NOT all neighborhoods have dead end streets. Do your research. Points 2,3,&4: Never gonna happen. A lot of people drive like inconsiderate a-holes here in Houston because they think they pay taxes and are entitled to drive however they want,regardless of the laws and common manners. And the streets will never all be one way. This is Houston,land of the imbecile bureaucrats who couldn’t think their way out of a problem if it bit them on the ass !!!

  • Downtown traffic is some of the easiest traffic of any US city downtown I have ever been, and actually some of the best traffic in all of Houston. Why? As near as I can tell, it’s because: (1) street parking is virtually not allowed or limited to one site of the street which prevents people from aimlessly circling around looking for that one free spot (2) one way streets. People complain about one way streets as confusing but when there is a good grid like downtown or midtown, they work perfectly. I can’t ever recall sitting through more than one cycle of a light in midtown. There are other areas of Houston where this can easily be done. And ban street parking completely on major roads after 4pm. It’s just valets making money off blocking traffic after a certain hour.

  • Number 7: Stop slowing down to 2 miles per hour to make a right turn. It’s crazy annoying and causes people to have to slam on their brakes.
    Number 8: If you missed your turn, you can go around the block and try again. This crazy turning left from the right lane nonsense is dangerous and stupid.