The Swamplot Award for Special Achievement in Traffic: The Official 2012 Ballot

And now, a very special category in the 2012 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate is open for voting! What makes it so special? Well, the word “special” is in the name of the award, for one thing. It’s our Award for Special Achievement in Traffic. And we need your judgment, your comments, and your votes to determine the winner.

The official nominees in this category — as advanced and presented by Swamplot readers — are listed below. Now’s your chance to vote — which you can do up to 4 times if you follow our rules: once in a comment below, once in an email to Swamplot, once using Twitter, and once by scribbling on the wall of Swamplot’s page on Facebook. That not enough for you? Then recruit your friends to vote, too! But make sure you get all the votes in by the deadline: 5 pm on Wednesday, December 26th.

And now, the official nominees for the Award for Special Achievement in Traffic:


1. The West Alabama St. Reversible Center Lane. “Sometimes it flows west. Sometimes it flows east. Sometimes it’s a turning lane. Make sure you know which way it’s headed at the moment, and that everyone around you does too.”


2. Feeder Road Construction Along I-10 between Washington and Taylor. “For years, this area managed to get around just fine without freeway frontage roads, and to avoid the car dealerships, furniture stores, topless bars, and fast food restaurants that clutter so many of our other freeways. But thanks to the stimulus, federal funds for highway reconstruction suddenly became available, and this project, which had been languishing on TxDOT’s back burner, met the definition of “shovel ready.” After 3 years of construction, it still is not finished; the Shepherd and Durham bridges have been reduced from 4 to 2 lanes, the westbound Shepherd exit and on-ramp are still wacky, there’s an extra traffic signal on Yale, and trees that once lined that section of the freeway are gone. Exits and entrances are so close to each other that motorist conflict — usually in the form of regular games of chicken — is pretty much guaranteed. This was an ‘improvement’ in search of a problem.”


3. The Yale St. Bridge. “Neighborhood group Responsible Urban Development for Houston discovered, then began drawing attention to problems with the 1931 bridge over White Oak Bayou as part of its campaign opposing the Washington Heights Walmart — using the findings to bolster its argument that the big box store would strain the area’s already aging infrastructure. But by the time TxDOT lowered the bridge’s load rating to just 3,000 lbs. per axle (below the weight of some SUVs and pickups), Walmart and the locals had become de facto allies, both pushing for improvements or a replacement. RUDH still wants the deteriorating bridge shut down, but at least it’s now scheduled to be rebuilt — in 4 years.”


4. Ashby Highrise Bissonnet Park-In. “During rush hour on August 28th, neighborhood opponents of the Ashby Highrise parked their cars bumper to bumper along Bissonnet, filling just about every street parking space from Shepherd almost to Montrose — with the intention of causing a traffic jam in front of the site of the tower they were protesting. They stood on the sidewalk with signs reading, ‘If you think this is bad, just wait’ — as cars whizzed by. It didn’t actually cause a traffic jam; even at 5:30 pm on a weekday, there isn’t much traffic on Bissonnet. I drove right through it at nearly the posted limit and hardly touched my brakes once. I even doubled back just to make sure the result was the same in the other direction. It was.”


5. Free Tuesdays at the Houston Zoo. “This monthly event regularly caused gridlock and parking catastrophes for everyone stuck in a car on the northern end of the Med Center, but the chaos reached a fever pitch during a single 3-hour period on June 5th, when approximately 12,000 animal-seeking visitors arrived at the Hermann Park attraction. Out-of-towners desperately trying to navigate the area’s maze of streets ran into wandering hordes of families trying to find their way to the zoo. Med Center employees who showed up a little later than usual to their contract garage parking space found spots snatched up by zoo-goers. Ambulance drivers trying to manuever patients to Ben Taub or Memorial Hermann were stuck in immobilized traffic. Police began improvising roadblocks to manage safety concerns. A few days later, zoo officials announced their decision to suspend the program.”


6. Low Speed Limits in Unincorporated Harris and Northern Brazoria Counties. “They’re all over the burbs: Shadow Creek Ranch, Silverlake, even 288. Five, often 10 mph below what traffic is reasonably going — and aggressively enforced by HPD, Pearland Police, BC Sheriff’s department, and the occasional DPS trooper. It’s quite obvious — when you cross into the Pearland city limits and the speed limit on the same major road jumps by 10 mph. Sure seems to be making somebody a lot of money. Not from me, I’ve never gotten a ticket.”


7. HOT Lanes. “The High Occupany Toll Lanes introduced to 3 more Houston freeway segments this year are often hailed as great revenue generaters. But they also seem to generate traffic complications too. You’re expected to zip into a special lane at 70 mph in order to pay the toll and then hope that the person that was going 71 mph right behind you and at half a car’s length away is then going to let you back in? Really? If you’re willing to pay the toll — or enough other people are — the HOT lanes will afford you special achievement in beating traffic. But to me, they’re also a celebration of waste, inefficiency, and inequality on our roads.”


8. Ella Blvd. between 43rd St. and Loop 610. “Call it the ‘Boomtown crush.’ With the recent growth of Oak Forest, Garden Oaks, Shepherd Park Plaza, and Candlelight Plaza, this stretch of road has become impassable at certain times of the day. Is it the increase in people, or the increase in fast food establishments to feed those people? Ever headed north on Ella at 34th? Fugetaboutit. You will be held up by the seemingly permanent supply of stopped cars turning into Shipley’s Donuts, who completely block the right lane. Are any other roads in town experiencing these kinds of growing pains?”


9. Private Traffic Cops. “Throughout the Galleria at rush hour, off-duty cops hired by office buildings stop traffic so people can pull out of lots and garages, causing huge backups through multiple intersections on the main roads. Why is this even allowed?”


Which one of these nominees deserves to break through and win this award? The voting line starts here!

Photos: Candace Garcia (West Alabama reverse lane, I-10 exit); Patrick Feller (bridge [license]); Nancy Sarnoff/Houston Chronicle (Bissonnet sign and cars); Jack Shaw/Houston Zoo; Flickr user chevyposey (rear view mirror); abc13 (Southwest Fwy. HOT lane); Flickr users samstreet and lc_db (Ella); Michael Coté (Galleria traffic [license]) and Mary Benton (officer)

50 Comment

  • #1 by far. The thing is, though, that even with all the traffic snarls, people slowing down to turn from the flow lane *across* the turn lane, people stopping oncoming traffic in the contraflow lane when they try to use it as a turn lane, & etc., Alabama still tends to get you west across that section of town nearly as quickly as taking 59 at rush hour.

  • I live in the area between Washington and Taylor and really appreciate the new feeder roads. The construction is a bit of a headache, but really hasn’t been that bad all things considered. Don’t really understand the complaint.

  • Ashby park-in, because the best way to get your point across is simply to ruin everyone else’s day. Bravo Southampton, bravo!

  • #1 The politicians at the time looked the camera right in the eye and SWORE they would restipe and return that stretch of road back to normal after Spur 527 improvements were complete. Right.

  • I vote for No. 9. How dare they? Galleria surface streets and 610 loop is completely botched. Absolutely impossible at Christmas. Just crass commercialism. Maybe we need rail to get all those folks in/out of that location. (Oh, you say rail carries riffraff, not shoppers. Yeah, heard that in Malaysia, too). And, by extension, ditto for all the private “baptist” police at that large multi-campus video church. All these people come to huge facilities to watch on screen. Then, have exit in concert only to snarl traffic to get out. Really? Sunday morning traffic jams? Maybe need a bigger screen at home. And a credit card reader for donations. God’s work, lah.

  • #9. Same thing happens in the medical center and I am regularly caught by it. A few of the cars that the cop lets out then try to make an illegal U turn on Main so all the cars behind them have to sit and wait again. Cop does not seem remotely interested in this law breaking happening right in front of him.

  • #2. Seemingly botched the shepherd overpass timing and messed with the traffic for years, and yes the design work of those entrances and exits off the freeway will be attributed to an intern.

  • I routinely run into 2, 3, and 8. I am going to vote for #9 they also do that garbage in downtown. I find it odd how the needs of the few individuals in their cars trying to exit a parking garage should impede the needs of the many other individuals already on the streets.

  • Number 9 hands down. Nothing more aggravating
    than stopping a flowing line of traffic on our supposedly timed traffic signal roads to let 2 people cross the street at Highland Village, any church along Westheimer inside the loop. Let alone, one car pulling from a parking garage at multiple locations throughout the city.

  • Ashby park-in cause it’s the only one that actually began and ended in 2012; the rest of the nominees occur every year.

  • #8. i love that shipley’s!

  • #7. So innovative.

  • I vote for #9, how is this even legal?
    This past Saturday #2 and #9 combined to make a bad situation worse. Shepherd, Patterson,and all of the I-10 ramps were locked up because there were cops allowing huge lines to form that gridlocked other intersections (including the I-10 West ramp switcheroo onto Shepherd). Someone must teach an HPD class in how to most efficiently screw up traffic.

  • #9 I used to work in an office on Post Oak. What would normally take me 5 mins to get from said office to 610, would take me 45 mins from T-giving on. Those cops would let the cars in & out of the shopping areas, with no thought to the mess they were creating. Same thing in the Greenway area now. Edloe & Buffalo Speedway are a mess @ rush hour.

  • #2
    Eastbound frontage between TC Jester and Durham has had the inside lane closed for over 2 years and no construction has even been done. Why has it been blocked off?

  • Number 9. A problem all over town.

  • I like no. 8. It is so typical of Houston traffic that a poorly placed donut drive through can cause maddening gridlock when more than three people at a time want donuts but are too lazy to get out of their car to get them.

  • #9. An obnoxious practice along Holcombe Blvd. through Southside Place, where you must stop for both the Catholic and Episcopalian schools during the week, and on Sundays.

  • I vote #2: Feeder Road Construction Along I-10 between Washington and Taylor. In addition to that nightmarish westbound Shepherd exit, the traffic on Shepherd/Durham with the reduction of lanes has caused so much confusion and chaos this past year (and it never seems to end). Will it be the left two lanes shut down today or the right two? Or maybe just one?! Ahh, who cares, let’s run a train through for smiles.

    Though to be fair, as of yesterday, on Durham, all four lanes were open. However, will they all still be open today?

    I think what irritates me the most about this is that I saw a nicely paved sidewalk on the Durham overpass that curves along the I-10W frontage road. Yes, because people will be clobbering each other to use a sidewalk that abruptly stops before the freeway entrance.

  • Number 9. and I’ll vote for it again next year too, if it’s on the ballot!

    It’s not just office buildings and churches, but schools that do this too, and it’s just as bad.

  • Yeah, I’ve gotta go with #9 too. Another annoying misuse of off-duty police is the daredevil motorcycle cops from Harris County Constables’ offices who drive in the oncoming lane and force traffic on Cullen off the road when there’s a funeral procession down to one of the cemeteries in north Pearland. It got so bad that the city of Pearland actually outlawed the practice but it usually happens just north of the city limits.


    This was supposedly installed as a temporary solution to a predicted rise in neighborhood traffic during the closure of spur 527. The spur construction was finished a long time ago but this stupid counterflow lane remains. Before it went in, I attended community meetings (one I recall being at the Greek Orthodox School) where the city officials promised that removing the bike lanes from Alabama to install this lane was going to be temporary. Why is it still there? When will we ever get our bike lanes back?

  • #1. Alabama Reversible Lanes.

    Back in March, some idiot going the wrong way in center lane hit my wife and then fled the scene.

  • #9! It’s even a problem out in the energy cooridor. Shell’s cops are the worst! They routinely stop dozens of cars just to let one car pull in/out. I love Fridays when they aren’t needed due to 9/80s.

  • #1, the Alabama reversible lane. It gets particularly sporty when you have to weave around the three-inch high manholes and other assorted tire busters.

    Oh, and you might want to tell your recently licensed children to avoid that stretch. Just saying.

  • Alabama Street.

  • #2
    Frontage lanes are a scourge. What parking regulations and minimum setbacks have done to ruin inner-loop development, frontage lanes have done to ruin development everywhere else.
    Is 59 from Shepherd to downtown next?

  • #9. Except in cases where it’s a strange intersection and where all drivers are treated equally (e.g., Smith St. at Bell St.), I don’t understand how this is allowed.
    Marmer, I agree with you too on the funeral procession thing. Putting living people at increased risk of death is not a proper form of respect for someone who has just passed.

    #4 is a close second for me. The Ashby protest is a spectacular failure to grasp reality and thinking that people actually still give a ****.

  • #9 How can this be legal, it infuriates me to no end.

  • #9, it’s an overused privilege and disrupts traffic patterns.

  • I was going to go with #2 since I exit I-10 westbound onto Shepherd every day coming home from work, but the exit/entrance “zipper” effect hasn’t been as bad as I thought. No, I’m going with #9, when cops stop dozens of cars so one or two (meek?) drivers can exit a garage or parking lot. As Spock said, “The good of the many outweigh the good of the few.”

  • Easilly #1 W. Alabama reversible street. How there isn’t worse traffic on that street is a miracle solely due to that upgrade.

  • 1 – West Alabama

  • Sweet Home Alabama!

  • Definitely #2 (though #9 is quite egregious as well).

  • #2. I mostly appreciate how they close lanes or exits and then don’t perform any noticeble work on the area for a few months…did you really need to shut down traffic a few months before there was any construction.

    RE: #9…depends mostly on the cop directing traffic. When directed properly, flow isn’t impeded as much. And apparently none of the complainers have ever been on the beneficial side of this – in some instances without the cops people would never get out of their garages. Not to mention the dangers of pedestrians crossing in front of blind exits, etc. Definitely abused in some places, but on the whole is a necessary service.

  • Also re #9: It’s pretty much commonplace when there’s a large sporting event, right?

  • #9. I particularly like when they not only block traffic, but force everyone leaving a building to go into a turning lane… which they ignore, forcing their way back into the main lane through the intersection causing people to be stuck in the middle of intersection when the light changes. (people exiting Regency/Hyatt, 1000 main)

  • 9. And the worst thing about them is when you are actually trying to pull out, they get VERY angry with you if you don’t pull out incredibly quickly and into the exact lane they want you in. Coming out from the little road behind Yia Yia Mary’s, they will often direct people who are trying to turn right onto San Felipe so they can go either under 610 towards town or south on 610 into the left turn only lanes that feed onto 610 north. I’ve had that old man frantically wave his arms and yell at me for not going into the turn lane I didn’t want to be in.


  • 4. Ashby Highrise Bissonnet Park-In

  • #9 Private Traffic Cops

  • #9. Such a joke. I have seen so this fail so many times it is ridiculous. There are a couple of cops downtown that will tell pedestrians to stop walking as well as stop 200 cars from driving to let the one person come out the second that they pull up.

  • #2 – I10 Feeder Road Construction. This construction has been going on forever. To make things worse, every couple of weeks, different on ramps open and close, new lanes become enter on-ramp only or don’t exist at all. There is always a bunch of broken head lights and bumpers lying around. I try to avoid the area if I can.

  • Off Duty Cops controlling traffic have no legal authority to do so. You can ignore them if you wanted and they can’t legally write you a ticket. Not that I would try it because we all know Houston cops have illegally detained citizens before.

  • Regarding the necessity of cops directing traffic (my nomination!) – when it is necessary (& sometimes it is) it should be done by the city, and the cops doing it should be charged with keeping traffic moving, not slowing down hundreds of people to please the ones who are paying them. Private citizens should not be able to reroute traffic by paying a police officer to do it for them.