TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY Pending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock
A new lawsuit was filed yesterday against TIRZ 16, the Uptown Development Authority, and the city, alleging that the creation of the reinvestment zone in the Galleria area was in violation of Texas law, since the zone can’t reasonably be considered “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted.” Rather, the filing claims, the city ordinance that originally created the TIRZ used the justification that the Uptown area needed traffic decongestion to avoid losing its status as one of the wealthiest districts in the city, and to avoid draining business to the city’s ever-expanding suburban fringe. A hearing is going on today over a possible injunction on further spending or work on Uptown projects, and Mike Morris says that city council delayed a vote yesterday on allowing Uptown an additional $65 million in debt.
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Uptown Up for Trial
An essential addition to the growing list of guides for Houstonians on where not to go this weekend: the above map of road closures around the George R. Brown Convention Center district. Both red shading and cross-hatching mark the temporary carless zones, while a dashed black line shows the location of the perimeter fence for area events. Meanwhile, miles away at actual Super Bowl location NRG Stadium, other street closures were planned to go into effect yesterday evening (and are scheduled to last through Monday morning):
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Lines of Scrimmage
FINDING CHEAP HOMES AT THE 20 MILE COMMUTER SWEET SPOT Data type Scott Davis tells Paul Takahashi this week that the average commute distance among Houstonians with a $265,000 home is 30.5 miles, according to his company’s real-estate database. The middle 2 thirds of that price group makes a slog of anywhere between 15 and 47 miles to get to work; Davis says some folks in that range drive as far as 60 miles. He does note to Takahashi, however, that the homes closer in — say, within 15 or 20 miles of a major employment hub — tend to sell much faster; HAR even rolled out a tool last year to allow searches for housing by commute time. [HBJ] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S REALLY STALLING HOUSTON’S DRIVE FOR SMOG REDUCTION ” . . . The serious ways to improve air quality in Houston are 1) to pass California emission standards for all vehicles, and 2) to install traffic light road sensors at intersections. I can’t believe how long we sit at intersections with no one moving.” [KB, commenting on Building for Baby Boomers; Revamping the Briar Club in Upper Kirby] Illustration: Lulu
Replacement work on the Yale St. bridge over White Oak Bayou now won’t start until the 25th, according to an update from TxDOT. The original planned construction start drifted past in the middle of Monday’s deluge; no changes have been mentioned yet for expected 2018 reopening date.
Meanwhile, TxDOT’s Yoakum office says it’s keeping an eye on US 59 in Wharton County to the southwest of town, though that highway is not closed at the moment according to the agency’s interactive mapping system (pictured above). The map shows areas of road closures, flooding, and construction, with written descriptions for each site clarifying which lanes are affected, by what, and how badly. Zooming in further gives a clearer picture of the extent of some of the closures — below is a view of west Houston, showing the stretch of Hwy. 6 near the Addicks reservoir that could be closed for the next 4 to 6 weeks:
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What’s Under Water
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TWO WRONGS AND A RIGHT MAKE A FASTER LEFT “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. . . .” [Jardinero1, commenting on Comment of the Day: A Different Approach to the Future of Downtown Approaches] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN APPROACHES “An 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
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS “The love affair with trains by a certain group of urbanists in the US is a ‘grass is greener on the other side’ mentality; they always point how wonderful public transport is in Europe. Well, if you actually lived in you Europe (and I have for many years), you realize that public transport is a horrible pain in the ass to live with every day. It’s inefficient if you have to go anywhere that is not on direct route, you have to make plans days in advance if you need to be across town at a particular time, you have to go to the market every F-ing day to buy food because you can’t carry more than a couple of bags at a time. You eventually give up after a while and end up confining your life to within a couple of blocks of your house. Don’t even get me started when the weather is bad. There’s one thing everyone in dense European cities dreams of: owning a car.” [commonsense, commenting on Which Came First: the Traffic or the Freeway Lanes?] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CYCLING THROUGH TRAFFIC JAMS ON THE ROAD TO THE AMERICAN DREAM “The real crux of the issue here is that Americans are constantly sold on the idea that cars represent ultimate freedom and prosperity. That image breaks down when crowds of commuters start forming giant, slow-moving, panic-inducing trains of automobiles. The cognitive dissonance causes automobilists to latch on to the only solution they can imagine: ‘wider roads will restore that feeling of freedom.’ Of course, it never really works out that way.” [Derek, commenting on Which Came First: the Traffic or the Freeway Lanes?] Illustration: Lulu
WHICH CAME FIRST: THE TRAFFIC OR THE FREEWAY LANES? “Population growth doesn’t happen independently of transportation infrastructure—it’s profoundly shaped by it,” writes Daniel Hertz over at City Observatory this week. Hertz’s commentary comes in response to pushback following an article in which the blog weighed the outcome of the Katy Freeway’s 2008 expansion (calling out 30- and 55-percent increases in morning and afternoon commute times between 2011 and 2014). Pro-expansion readers purportedly commented that while travel times along the corridor did actually get worse, those same slowdowns would have been even stickier had the expansion not taken place when it did. But that’s backwards, argues Hertz, or at least a simplification: “In fact, research dating back at least to the 1950s has found over and over that highway construction in the urban periphery is associated with more housing construction there—and the depopulation o[f] urban neighborhoods. . . . Part of the way that highways fill themselves up with cars is by creating demand for housing near them.” [City Observatory, previously on Swamplot] Photo of I-10 West: Andres Lombana [license]
For a few early hours this Sunday, the Southwest Freeway will be the only conduit into or out of the box of land framed by Kirby Dr., Montrose Blvd., Bissonnet St. and W. Gray St. (give or take a traffic peninsula leading up to Allen Pkwy., which will also be closed for much of the morning).
The Houston Marathon will launch from 4 corrals leading to Congress Ave. at San Jacinto St., and loop through the city along the route outlined in black above. The Half Marathon route (outlined in yellow) will pant alongside until just before mile 8, when it will skive off north back toward the shared finish line at Discovery Green.
A larger version of the map is show in 2 parts below, complete with start and end times (in red and green respectively) of each mile marker’s street closure:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE’S OUR MEMORIAL PARK BYPASS? “This ramp will now allow more traffic to use Shepherd as an alternate to the freeway system. Thus creating longer delays for those who use surface roads to travel. What is sorely required is a road that would flyover Memorial Park adding a much needed way to travel from the inner loop north. Currently, the only options are the West Loop and Kirby/Shepherd. Both of which are overly congested at most times of the day. It doesn’t help that Shepherd is down to two lanes from four in stretch from Westheimer to Dallas while the city installs much needed storm drainage.” [jgbiggs, commenting on Your Upgrade from Shepherd Dr. to the North Fwy. Will Be Much Smoother Starting Today] Illustration: Lulu
ONE WAY TO GET RID OF THAT PESKY TRAFFIC: TAKE AWAY THE STREETS Signs are up around the Memorial City Apartments at 872 Bettina Ln., immediately south of the Memorial City Mall and adjacent to Frostwood, announcing a request that the city abandon portions of Bettina Ct., Strey Ln., and Kimberley Ln. (where the above photo was taken). The request was submitted by the limited partnership that owns the apartments. Its purpose, according to the city’s public works department, is “to reduce the amount of cut-through traffic in the neighborhood.” If granted, the complex would grant the city utility easements over the existing right-of-way. There’s more to it, according to the public works department: “Right-of-way will also be conveyed back to the City for a cul-de-sac to be constructed at the new terminus of Kimberley Lane, which will provide a connection to the driveway in to Bunker Hill Elementary. The cul-de-sac will also contain a 911 emergency gate to allow emergency vehicles to access the apartment complex from Kimberley Lane. Access to Bettina Court and Strey Lane will remain open from Barryknoll Lane, but any traffic turning on to these streets after the abandonment will only be able to access the apartment complex. Signs notifying the public of the subject request were posted April 3, 2015 and will remain up for 30 days.” So is everyone on board with this? So far, only 9 calls have been made to the city in response to the signs, with just one objecting to the deal. Photo: Swamplot inbox
Occasional downtown parker Monica Savino notes the recent traffic signal now operating outside the north exit of the Hobby Center parking garage facing Rusk St. just west of Bagby (pictured above and at left), and wonders how other midblock parking garages with difficult exits might be able to get in on this kind of automated car-stopping action: “I’m sure it’ll be very helpful for that mass exodus after an event but was wondering about a couple things. How does a parking garage get its own traffic signal? Also, who funds this infrastructure? Is this a private initiative or a CoH move? I imagine that there are several other downtown parking garages that would like a signal of their own especially if the City’s providing them.”
Photos: M. Kusey