The latest 18-wheeler to drive into the Houston Ave. bridge didn’t make enough of an impact to force repairs yesterday, although it did stall I-10 traffic all the way to T.C. Jester while TxDOT closed 2 lanes to clear the debris (including the truckload pictured above pinning a sedan) and inspect the overpass to ensure its integrity. (The last round of bridge maintenance in March — to repair a strike in December — couldn’t have come at a better time: “Just as crews were putting barriers in place,” for an overnight closure to fix the damaged structure, another truck drove into it — reported Houston Public Media’s Gail Delaughter.)
Over the last 4 years, the 14-ft.-3-in.-high bridge has been hit 22 times — reports Click2Houston; historically, it’s struck “more than any other bridge in the Houston area,” says a TxDOT spokesperson. Not a great track record — until you factor in how many trucks aren’t hitting it as a result of TxDOT’s high-tech warning system. In 2015, the agency installed infrared sensors at Mercury Dr. and Wirt Road that detect oversized vehicles and — if spotted — flash a warning message to get off the road on an electronic billboard. Between January and June 2 of this year alone, the sensors transmitted 13,477 warnings.
Photos: Emily Black
Chronic Drive-By Zone
Here’s the rundown of all the locations where vehicles injured (purple) or killed (black) cyclists and pedestrians in 2016 and 2017. Transit-focused organization LINK Houston used TxDOT reports to create the map, which plots out 85 percent of all the 641 major walk-and-bike crashes that occurred within city limits during those 2 years. (Locations for 15 percent couldn’t be nailed down.) Of all those collisions, just under a fifth involved bikers; the rest impacted pedestrians. Click on a dot to reveal more about the specific accident that happened at that location.
Even more data shows up here on the full-screen map, which tallies up demographics like the ages, races, and genders of those hit as you move around different neighborhoods. Citywide, one of the brightest constellations is an elbow-shaped one that stretches from Montrose through Midtown and into Downtown — where 22 crashes occurred over the last 2 years. But despite its dimmer glow, Sharpstown had the highest hit rate of any Houston neighborhood: 29. Throughout the entire city, 158 people were killed and 389 were injured.
Map: LINK Houston
Water levels from Harvey have made the underpass just north of Center St., where Houston Ave. tucks under the rail lines, impassable. But there are consequences to trying to drive around the underpass structure, as this photo taken yesterday afternoon by a Swamplot reader attests: The ground drops off sharply on the south side of the tracks to the west of the street, and that’s not so easy to see if you’re driving south.
Photo: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
Avoiding High Water
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DESTROY MY SEMI TRAILER ON N. MAIN ST. ONCE, SHAME ON ME “I’d bet that the signage, 12′-9″, is probably literally correct, in that the distance from the road deck to the bottom of the bridge measures 12′-9″. However, that doesn’t mean that a truck that’s 12′-8″ high can pass through. More to the point: that doesn’t mean a truck that’s 12′-8″ high can exit the other end. Problem is that since there’s an up-slope on the exit of the underpass, the longer the truck, the higher the effective height as it climbs up the slope. [And] with respect to the alternate route, the northbound signage is terrible. It seems to indicate that the driver should turn left into a chain link fence. Where they actually should go looks like its one-way the other way. If this happens once, I understand blaming the driver. If it happens frequently, it’s probably the result of poor design and poor signage.” [Angostura, commenting on Latest Semi To Get Stuck in that N. Main Tunnel by Hardy Yards Gets Top Shredded Off, Too] Photo: TransitCtrActivity
Not to be outdone by last week’s midday plug-up of the Alfred Hernandez Tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and the Burnett TC Red Line stop, another semi making its way through the passage got lodged in the tunnel late this morning — getting torn open end-to-end in the process. But that’s not even the first truck stuckage incident at the underpass in the last 24 hours, according to a reader who’s had both a camera and a Twitter account trained on the recently retooled intersection for at least the last few months.
The reader tells Swamplot that another truck got stuck briefly last night, and that it happens about 6 times a week: “Our camera system auto-wakes when it hears something beyond a certain threshold; most drive away, presumably nervous[ly] on their way to have a talk with the boss.” Some work on the tunnel has been on the city’s docket this spring, and was approved at a mid-April meeting; that’s likely to start around the end of the month.
Here’s the scene from above as of early this afternoon:
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Near-Daily Grind in Near Northside
The light at the end of the N. Main St. tunnel beneath the Union Pacific Line was obscured for a bit this morning where the northbound side of the road re-emerges into tossed-coffee-cup range of the Burnett Transit Center light-rail stop (atop the topmost overpass in the shot above.) The semi that briefly plugged the hole looks to have scraped its way through the entire length of the tunnel before getting stuck at the northern exit. Transtar pinned the stopup to about 10:38 this morning; not much had changed as of 40 minutes ago (see below), but the road is now marked by professional traffic-watchers as cleared.
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Yards from Hardy Yards
Michael Morrow (that’d be the -morrow in kinneymorrow architecture) sends along this update from his latest visit to Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware’s showroom at 3600 Kirby Dr., which turned out to be still closed in the wake the February incident that shut it down temporarily. (You know — the one where a driver hit the wrong pedal and fell off the 7th story of the nextdoor River Oaks Tower’s parking garage, landing on and through the roof of the strip mall.) A somewhat incredulous but friendly note on the door from the hardware store’s owner says that, though the 17-year-old driving luckily sustained surprisingly little injury, the showroom has been pretty roughed up, including severed water, sprinkler, and electrical lines (not to mention the hole). The note says that the business is currently operating out of its warehouse on E. T.C. Jester Blvd., and will be back in its spot on Kirby as soon as possible. (Neighboring sugar pusher Dessert Gallery, however, reopened just a few days after the accident in early March.)
The damage to the parking garage itself is still visible from ground level:
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Upper Kirby Progress Report
HOUSTON LIGHT RAIL BEATS THE COMPETITION IN PEDESTRIAN, BICYCLE COLLISIONS PER MILE Following 2 deaths over the course of Super Bowl Week and Weekend resulting from cyclist-vs-light-rail collisions, the Chronicle‘s Dug Begley takes a look at how Houston stacks up nationally in terms of train-related accidents. The verdict, after a look through some National Transit Database data: Houston’s rail system has more walker and cyclist hits per mile “than any other major line in the country.” Houston breezes in at less that 100,000 train miles travelled per collision (compared to more than twice as many miles traveled per collision in Dallas, and more than 17 times as many in Boston). Metro CEO Tom Lambert tells Begley it may have to do with Houston’s high number of at-grade crossings and relative lack of barriers to keep people off the tracks. Begley says that the original decision to build the train at-grade isn’t itself unusual given the cost of elevated rail, but notes that “few places outside Houston have built their lines in some of the most congested and pedestrian-heavy areas of their respective urban regions.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of light-rail train dressed for Super Bowl Week: Christine Wilson