Comment of the Day: The Drive Home

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DRIVE HOME “I work in the Galleria. When I leave work, all of the main roads near my office and pretty much gridlocked. The first leg of my journey home (from the office to passing under the West Loop is 2 miles, and can take me as much as 30 minutes. (The rest of the trip, once I’m past 610, is a lot better.) That’s 4 mph, or the speed of a brisk walk. I’d get home faster walking. But I have no other choices. The bus sits in the same traffic and then would involve transfers and take about 2x as long as driving. That’s a normal day. Bad weather? Worse. And what happens as Houston grows and more and more people are using those roads? Where do you build more street capacity in the Galleria? We have a non-scalable system in a growing city, and our needs have already surpassed our transportation model in places. It’s only going to get worse. And what if you don’t have money? What if you have a disability that keeps you from driving – so much for being productive, you can’t get to work. What about when you get old and can’t drive? Sorry, go sit and rot. That’s freedom?” [John (another one), commenting on Comment of the Day: Parking Lot City]

23 Comment

  • I’m a fifth generation native, and I’ve heard this very valid argument for better mass transit many, many times before. I can remember in the late 1960’s the paper had a contest for people to design a mass transit system for the city (I was about 13 and I entered a design). Of course nothing ever happened. We had a trolly rail system until WWII and the rails were then dug up. I’ve been to Paris, London, Sydney, New York, LA and they all are very spread out yet manage to have extensive mass transit systems any way. I’ve never understood why this seems impossible to do here.

  • I wish everyone who thinks transportation in Houston is just fine (read “I drive my own stinkin’ car.”) would be REQUIRED to use mass transportation to get to work and home. Just one day. Presently I car pool with my husband because we are the one-car family. But I live three miles from work, inside the Loop. There are no cross town bus options. Even though a bus route passes RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE, public transportation is not an option for me. For the 3 miles mentioned, I would have to take that bus to the train in the medical center, ride the train to Westheimer, get off the train, wait for a Westheimer bus and ride back another 3 miles or so to work. Lord knows how many hours that would take. In good weather and good traffic. Inclement weather, forget it. I do not see REAL public transportation in Houston in my lifetime.

  • Park your car outside the loop and ride your bike back and forth those 2 miles that would normally take you 30 min to drive.

  • This pessimistic rhetoric about the future of automotive-based mobility in Houston ignore the reality that Houston is a decentralized city that’s only decentralizing further. Inner-loopers aren’t the only ones who want to live close to work – and employers recognize this. Some of Houston’s biggest companies are shifting workers to suburban campuses where land is cheap and plentiful and employees can live 5-10 minutes from home. The new ExxonMobil campus alone will take thousands of commuters to Greenspoint and Downtown off the roads.

  • “I’d get home faster walking.”
    “But I have no other choices.”

    Is it just me or are these two statements mutually exclusive?

  • Anyone who has traveled to other large or larger cities has undoubtedly seen they have a rail system of some sort. Elevated rail is ugly, grade-level rail is dangerous and sub-surface rail is expensive. Take your pick. Houston has chosen grade-level, so far, and while the route to/from DT and MedCenter seems gimmicky, once all the construction is completed for the current phase I think the pubic will see we might be on to something. I’m still hoping we’ll bite the bullet and go sub-surface. If bloated and expensive British/French govts can cooperate to build a rail *under the English Channel* then surely we can do it while still being a few dozen feet above sea level. Come summer, the habitable parts of DT are underground, so surely we can manage to dig tunnels and lay some track.

  • Most people have two options:
    1) “Live where your life is” and move to a house that’s closer to work and play (and more expensive for what you get, or smaller.
    2) Suffer as a commuter but get a big cheap house in the burbs.
    I can’t stand rotting in traffic. I do drive around from time to time but not enough on the commuter paths to know exactly what times each direction is busy. When I do find myself on the bad side/time of the commute path I fume and wonder how people could do this every day. But then I remember that giant nice home my friend bought in Katy for next to nothing that was 1/2 the price of my much smaller and older Montrose pad.
    Everyone has choices…

  • TXDOT needs to build a second deck for 610 between 290 and 59 for “through” traffic. Anyone needing to exit in the Galleria area would simply get on the bottom/current 610. Only going to get worse.

  • For the 3 miles mentioned, I would have to take that bus to the train in the medical center, ride the train to Westheimer, get off the train, wait for a Westheimer bus and ride back another 3 miles or so to work. Lord knows how many hours that would take.

    It would help if we had a Metro board that used the system it imposes on the rest of us. They may think it makes sense to have to go from Point A to Point C in order to get to Point B but it doesn’t. Maybe on a Power Point Presentation. But not in real life. But then we have a Metro system headed by a man who spends most of his time on the internet. Cruising as they say. Maybe he should be out and out about. Riding the wonderful bus system as well as the rail. Rail is wonderful. If you live close to it and only have to go to the Med Center or downtown. If not, well, after you figure out which busess to take, you spend an hour or two on the buses. A lot of people walk. Not because they want to. It’s just quicker.

  • The problem is that Houston allows neighborhoods to block all their streets. The Galleria area is horrible in this respect. I gave been stuck in traffic in the Galleria, and even tho it is my intent to visit someone who lives in the St George neighborhood — just at the southwest edge of the mall itself — it is impossible to enter the neighborhood without proceeding to the purposely engineered bottleneck. Someone wake me when Houston realizes that cities are SUPPOSED to have full grids.

  • Ok DC, so when traffic gets worse on that, will they add another deck on top of that second deck? If that deck becomes more congested, will they add another deck? I’m sorry but even adding a second deck is just ugly. It’s ugly in San Antonio and it’s ugly in Austin. Bottom line, there’s only so much you can do with freeways and Houston is slowly but surely finding that out. Well in the areas that are increasing in density. Too bad the suburbs still believe they can drive their way out of congestion when in reality, it does the opposite.

  • I’m with Cody. Those who pay the price to live in the city don’t expect to get sympathy if they cry about small yards or expensive houses. They could be commuters and have big houses and big yards, but waste hours driving. There’s a price for both choices, for sure. I can think of better use of tax dollars than to connect rails to suburbs for people who expect the best of both worlds to be handed to them. Enjoy your square footage and enjoy the ride.

    Grant is spot-on about the decentralization of Houston and I hope more companies continue to build further out, like the Energy Corridor and Exxon’s new campus.

    I also don’t think it’s a matter of not being able to afford living in the city, it’s a matter of living within your budget in the city and making peace with what you can afford. Since I moved from the burbs to the city at 19 I’ve been happy to live where I work and play, but at times it’s been cozy and tight and I’ve loved it anyway. And as congested as it can get in the city, the burbs are getting pretty consistently congested as well without the perks. No thanks.

  • I agree that traffic is horrific around The Galleria. I work in the Galleria Tower II, so I would know. It gets worse around the Holidays, too.
    That said, on a city-wide scale, neither more roads nor trains are going to save us. An overhaul of our bus system would probably help, but the biggest thing we can do is to rediscover close-in neighborhoods. This is easier said than done, but vital if you want to avoid hours-long commutes and ever-worsening traffic.

  • DC, TXDOT tried to double deck I610 between US59 and 290. But people like ron complained that esthetics weren’t to their liking. I guess a parking lot of vehicles on a freeway every day is OK.

  • The problem with the original comment is that it is either total BS or it’s written by a driver without a map.

    If your office is 2 miles west of the West Loop, you’re at Fountain View. Why does the “first leg” of your commute take you from there to the West Loop? Why not so south on Fountain View to 59? Why not go north on Chimney Rock or Voss to I-10?

    And I don’t buy the 30 minute claim either. I drive these streets all the time. Are they congested at rush hour? Yes. 30 minutes to go 2 miles? No.

  • I agree with the comment about traffic in the Galleria area. My solution – Stay the Hell away from there at all costs. It has worked for over 30 years now.

  • If one considers driveability / parkability of Houston, including its “urban core,” central to its quality of life appeal and competitiveness, there’s some public policy actions that would be logical to pursue – especially as further densification / intensification of land use threatens to degrade it:
    1) Explore widening major thoroughfares and collectors in the core, especially “undersized” ones like Westheimer, Alabama, Shepherd, Yale, and Washington. Prevent any building setback variances so these streets can be more cheaply expanded.
    2) Increase on-site parking requirements, perhaps beyond what is being proposed. Remove the “Parking Exception Area” covering Downtown and parts of EaDo and Midtown. Take actions to preserve parking lots in Downtown and elsewhere.
    3) Reduce interference from transit. Re-examine the at-grade light rail plans. More importantly, reduce bus service along major thoroughfares or require all stops to be in pullouts.
    4) The above measures are really window-dressing with limited impact – the real gold is in limiting or capping density and intensity of land use that produces more traffic congestion and pushes parking availability lower and pressures “free” supply. For example, new large-scale development in Uptown (like the new office projects underway) would probably be prohibited. Other growth like the thousands of new multifamily units and large commercial developments (Regent Square, Walmart and grocery stores for example) would be at least re-thought. This would represent a much greater regulation of land use than has ever been done here, but would probably be worth it.
    (FYI – I personally absolutely do NOT support this point of view and think its pursuit would make Houston worse off. But I figured I could present some thoughtful and hopefully logical recommendations for those who do see things this way.)

  • Not only do we need a total revamp of public transit, we need to get a larger, regional transit system going. I live in Pasadena, and for a while had to take the bus to work from my home to my job in North Houston. At the time, we had a Park and Ride at Pasadena Town Square Mall which made it a bit easier on my commute. Now it is gone. From what I understand, the county initiated a local bus system but its hours don’t allow me to get downtown to take the local bus to my job when I need to and doesn’t run late into the evening nor on weekends.

    Public transportation is just a mess in Houston and Harris County. If we had a workable system, a truly workable system, I would consider keeping the car at home and riding a bus from time to time just to save gas money, wear and tear on the car, and my nerves.

  • let’s not forget one of the most important parts of all this. the main reason i still reside in Houston (after having grown up in the burbs and watched everyone desperately try to escape the city for more scenic and younger locales) is because it’s cheap. this also plays with texas, i love living here because it’s cheap. note that nobody lives in texas becuase it’s cheap AND we get good public services (i can’t name one that isn’t abysmal).

    if you haven’t noticed, houston has already adopted the trend of exchanging mass transportation resources to those willing to pay in order to subsidize our basic highway and transit costs (see HOT lanes) and has no qualms with making people sit in gridlocked traffic while another 4 lanes goes by horribly underutilized.

    i see very little evidence of this city lacking in desire for mass transit plans or further development thereof. however, i see mountains and palatial divides in our desire to fund anything outside of our own residences and i certainly don’t see that changing in Houston or Texas anytime soon, or say the next 50yrs.

    at the end of the day, i’m just glad Houston is cheap and allows me the option to choose my lifestyle and traffic options. i’m also lucky in that i’ve never had family or disability issues that made me dependent on mass transit, otherwise this city would be nothing more than a festering hellhole to me. am i ok that this city imposes a horrible lifestyle on the less fortunate and metro-dependent, no, but as a houstonian it’s the choice we’ve all made.

  • @Jimbo – good catch on some sloppy writing. I could walk those first two miles faster than driving. BUT then there would be the remaining 7 miles home which go pretty quickly.

    Yes, I live 9 miles from home, so please no lectures about living too far from work.

    It’s all well and good to say “yes, but Houston’t decentralizing,” but guess what? That means numerous dense clusters, not an even distribution of destinations. So you just get highly congested mini-gallerias scattered about. No matter how well connected those clusters are, if you are exiting a freeway into gridlock a mile from your destination, you’re still not there.

    My larger point – that one option that works really well sometimes, and horribly other times, isn’t “freedom” – seems to be lost some people.

  • John, you live 9 miles from home? (jk, I know what you meant)

  • @ John: What might enlightment thinkers say about this, “freedom” of yours?

    I know what I’d say. You made it up.

  • @Cody This is what I get for making comments from my phone!