Comment of the Day: Why There’s So Little Traffic Downtown

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THERE’S SO LITTLE TRAFFIC DOWNTOWN One-Way Streets“Downtown traffic is some of the easiest traffic of any US city downtown I have ever been to, 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 side of the street, which prevents people from aimlessly circling around looking for that one free spot; and (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.” [John Chouinard, commenting on Comment of the Day: A Few Remedies for Those Traffic Problems You’ve Been Having] Illustration: Lulu

21 Comment

  • Your proposals are the exact opposite of current recommendations for downtown streets. If you want a dense urban, walkable environment, car traffic should actually be quite slow. Nothing ruins a pedestrian experience as much as cars flying by at 50mph. Now, if the downtown streets are meant to be nothing more than a freeway onramp, then your recommendations to have one way streets without parking and sequenced lights are spot on.

  • Heck, I don’t like when I can’t get across ALL of downtown in a single light cycle. Wherever possible, we should build as close to a grid like this as possible.

    While our suburbs can’t have a grid like downtown does, aiming for a grid like suburban North Dallas/Plano/Richardson would be an achievable goal and take some stress off our freeways.

  • Great system of lights downtown. Only traffic I experience is getting to the Y downtown to try to find parking. I trained my girlfriend how to ride a bike downtown on Sundays because the streets were so empty

  • Wrong about the on-street parking. Why do cities like Los Angeles have sidewalk-fronting retail while Houston doesn’t? They have on-street parking on thoroughfares. Parked cars also provide a good buffer for pedestrians from traffic. Especially streets that otherwise have 5 lanes, as many of Houston’s do, shouldn’t remove on-street parking. Removing it hurts the city more than it helps.

    One-way streets in a good grid can be effective, and don’t have to lead to 50 mph speeds. Timing lights to allow progression at less than 30 mph, like on the north-south streets in Downtown, works well. Plus one-way streets have much less complex turning movements at intersections, which can help pedestrians too because they have fewer directions of traffic to watch out for.

  • The reason there is no traffic downtown is because it is DEAD downtown. The wife and I spent a day going to the Sundance Cinema and having a nice lunch and I was appalled at how utterly dead it was. It was a work day, and a pretty nice day at that, and the streets were virtually empty. Houstonians need to get over their anti-downtown bias. A city as booming as ours ought to have a 24 hour downtown seven days a week.

  • I don’t know what downtown you people are referring to, downtown traffic during the day is awful. When the traffic lights were in synch with each other, traffic flowed much better downtown. Now, you are lucky if you can get across downtown in 15 minutes. Also light rail has screwed everything up as well since any light at Main switches to red if a train is approaching, I can only imagine how bad it’s going to be once the east end rail opens. You combine all of that with the people who drive 5 miles an hour because they are not familiar with downtown, the taxis putting down the center of the street so they can swerve over fast if they spot a customer, and the out of control buses you have terrible traffic downtown.

  • Gosh, I’m not sure of the ‘downtown with no traffic’ you are speaking of, but the one I drive daily and have driven daily for 30+ years has turned into a twice-a-day nightmare commuting to and from work. The past 10 years has gotten progressively worse. Maybe it’s because I’m coming in from the very near west side and have to cross that toy train track to get to my garage and cross it again when I head to my home. Forget about cycling lights (when they are truly synced – which seems to be never), that train will throw a wrench in the flow of traffic and creates gridlock that on most days can cost 20 minutes (repeat, 20 MINUTES!!!) just to get across Bagby onto Allen Parkway after coming from offices just east of the toy train. Can’t wait for the newest toy train line coming in from the East (sarcasm)! It too, will cross my possible commute path and will no doubt bog down the north/south travel. Okay, I’m done complaining, but the downtown I drive daily is horrible.

  • The staging buses in midtown/downtown is awful. At peak times you have buses lined up on both sides of the streets, in every direction for block after block.. I guess it cant be helped and the reward is worth the cost.

  • Downtown can be pretty rough, especially in the evening. Intersections almost constantly get blocked by buses so you sometimes miss an entire light cycle because a bus was blocking all 4 lanes of traffic (this is at intersections where it already takes a several light cycles to get through). I have another issue with the buses… wouldn’t it make more sense to have their loading/stops to be in the beginning or middle of the block instead of the very end? This causes them to not only block anyone else from turning right, but they go from a complete stop and try to cross all the way to the left within the intersection and the light turns red on them.

  • Comments like this and some of the responses perfectly illustrate why our downtown is an embarrassment among U.S. cities that we can’t take visitors to because it’s so dead. The suburbanites who work in our office buildings essentially view going to work like they view going to Wal-Mart – they want to get in fast, park, do their thing, then leave and get out fast.

    Cars parking on the streets so people can shop or eat? What a nuisance! Lowering the speed limit to create a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere? This must be fought! Sharing the streets with mass transit, a single rail line in each direction? Oh, the horror!

    Imagine putting one of these folks in one of America’s great downtowns, like Boston or New Orleans, and they discover it takes them more than five minutes to get across the whole thing – they’d be like Gollum losing the ring.

  • Yep, Mike. I gave Houston 10 years, then decided it will never have the urban density and environment that I want. Having a blast in CA. And the weather is wonderful as well :)

  • For the Gollum reference alone, Mike gets my vote for comment of the day.

  • While Mike may or may not have directed his comments to me or MC, I personally have lived between 1 1/2 miles to currently 4 1/2 miles from Downtown over the past 30+ years and can attest to the growth on the west side of town and its density’s impact on traffic. But the sports stadiums and the train have truly impacted traffic. Above-grade or below-grade rail at least in downtown proper would have been so much better with regard to traffic IMHO. And for as long as I’ve lived inside the loop, I’ve enjoyed what downtown can offer and look forward to what will come for pedestrians – not just commute to and fro. But commuting is part of my daily life. And for the record, I NEVER go to Walmart and pretty much the only time I travel outside the loop is to go to San Antonio. Also have friends and family in Boston and New Orleans – but I generally will fly to get there (the other times I go outside the loop).

  • Er-mer-gerd. People, until Houston’s weather improves, we are never going to be a walkable urban dense blah blah community. Fer realz.

  • Ellie Mae, your comment was one of the less irksome, but the term “toy train” is a red flag for the mentality of a certain group of people who listen to/broadcast on a certain AM radio station, and frankly it does not mark you out as someone who lives on the near west side and looks forward to a pedestrian-friendly downtown. Certain phrases leave certain impressions on people, in this or any other situation in life. I agree, it would be great if we could have had grade separated rail, but it cost more than people were willing to pay, and I for one don’t mind it if a train carrying 100+ people at rush hour forces an extra light cycle on all the individuals sitting one to a vehicle in their separate toy cars.

  • “Er-mer-gerd. People, until Houston’s weather improves, we are never going to be a walkable urban dense blah blah community. Fer realz.”

    New Orleans says hello.

  • My parking garage at work has its only exit onto a street pointing at the rail from less than a block away. As a result, I’ve gotten up close and personal with how the rail in Houston impacts traffic.

    People may recall that back when the rail got started, there were a tremendous number of cars running into the trains. As a result, over the years we’ve had a number of measures taken to prevent that. They started with a dedicated train lane from the outset, and include the innocuous but probably ineffective blinky red crosswalk pavement buttons, giant red neon rectangles around the traffic signals, no right turn on red onto Main, and finally, gigantic headway in front of the trains. As in, while the train is stopped at a station two or three blocks away, all the cross streets are also stopped until everybody gets on and off the train and then they must continue to wait until well after the train passes.

    From the looks of things, the train/car interaction on Rusk and Capitol is going to be more like it is in the Med Center. IIRC, that far more congested area never had anywhere near the number of car/train accidents (or train/bus – how DO they do that?) downtown has. I’ve got to wonder whether having the train more fully integrated into the streetscape actually helps the safety issue.

  • Too many cars on the road, why not come up with a solution that does not involve the car…oh I forgot I”m in Houston, the fourth largest city in America, that provides its citizens with one, maybe 1.5 ways to get around an area basically the size of New Jersey… I feel like my native city is 100 years behind the other top four. Quality of life, you build it they will come, and progressive thinking, things we play with but other cities have taken on as a dogma. No need to emulate other cities, but develop our own reasonable solutions for future oriented growth, not what can benefit us now, which in terms is not working…(I-10)…

  • I actually agree with the comment of the day. Rush hour is tough, but bearable and relatively short. The rest of the time, there is very little traffic down town. I am looking out my window at three different intersections on the east side of main downtown at 2:50 pm. At best, 4-6 cars stack up when the light turns red in either direction. If get lucky and time the lights downtown just right, I can get to the Heights in less than 15 min if I leave work after 6 pm. The only non-rush hour sticky spots are around the Wortham when everyone is trying to cram into the same garages on Texas Ave. for shows/concerts. Potentially, the Astros can tie up traffic when incoming traffic for weekday games ties up with the end of rush hour. But, I work pretty close to Toyota center and have never had problems getting out due to Rockets games or concerts over there. While the lack of traffic is a bad thing because it shows the lack of interest in downtown after hours, it is also a good thing in that it shows that downtown has a tremendous amount of room to grown while still maintaining manageable traffic levels.

  • What kind of rail we have, what its capabilities are, and what its negative effects are are all unimportant.

    What is most important is that we have rail, right?

  • @outtahere: Were are you driving at 50mph in downtown?