A Hush in Retail Traffic from the Washington Quiet Zone

Several retail outlets near the railroad tracks at the base of Heights Blvd. near Center St. are complaining that traffic changes accompanying the new Washington Ave. quiet zone have already hurt their businesses. Department of Public Works spokesperson Alvin Wright tells Channel 39’s Jason Volentine that Federal Railroad Administration requirements mandate that crossovers through the Heights Blvd. median near the tracks be closed off for the quiet zone to be implemented.

Without a quiet zone, train conductors are required to blast their horns at all at-grade crossings. The Washington quiet zone will extend from Sherwin St. north of I-10, to National, about a quarter-mile east of Studewood:


The owners of the Heights Station antique store, Wademan’s Flowers, and the Heights Food Mart tell Volentine they got a lot of business from drivers tired of waiting for trains to pass, but that getting rid of the turnarounds has killed most of it:

When cars back up, many would take the turnaround drives to swing into the businesses. Now that the turnarounds are closed, they believe those customers are gone for good because south bound traffic can’t get to the businesses to the east, and north bound traffic can’t go to the west.

The Heights Blvd. crossing will be shut down entirely for 3 days for beginning this weekend.

Photo of Heights Station Antiques, 121 Heights Blvd.: Heights Blog. Map: Public Works & Engineering, via Support the Washington Quiet Zone Effort

28 Comment

  • Sorry, I don’t buy for a minute that their business is cut 50% because of the closing of a median. If the business is worth going to, people will go. These are the same lame stories that bad businesses tried to blame Metro Rail for, and others tried to blame the reconstruction of Kirby for. “…cut their business in half”? Lies.
    The Quiet Zone will benefit thousands of people who will finally be able to sleep through the night without the obnoxious and mostly unnecessary blaring of train horns all night. Property values are already inching up with the approaching due date for the Quiet Zone implementation. Bring it on!

  • a new business model! retail next to train tracks drives business…

    lame, lame, lame excuse for low traffic at their business.

  • If 50% of there business came from motorist waiting for the train to pass, they have some serious issues. If your store couldn’t survive on its own, it probably shouldn’t exist.

    I’m still ambivalent about the necessity of quiet zones though and I live very close to the same active tracks.

  • Sorry, all: The part about overall business being cut in half was based on our own misreading of the 39 News story. The original story reads:

    “Some of these businesses have been in the same place for more than 20 years. They said they’ve always relied on turn-in traffic going both directions on Heights Blvd. They believe this project will cut that business in half.”

    We’ve corrected the first line of the story.

  • That makes a little more sense. It the same argument business make when a road with no median is converted to a road with one. Kirby drive is an example recently where this happened and businesses complained.

  • Lame excuse I’m afraid – especially since a cross street (Center St) is about 100 yds south of the railroad crossing and there’s another turnaround about 200 yds north of the railroad.

    Me, I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet of a 3 in the morning….

  • Yeah.. but those fantastic condos right on the tracks might get *more* business! And if people live within walking distance to those businesses who are being cut off from the “turnaround” business maybe they’ll be more likely to shop there.. maybe it’ll be a wash!

  • Why should people who are stopped at Heights Boulevard for a train crossing, and use that median cut at Center St to head up or down Yale Street have to lose that convenience because a bunch of people bought property right next to a railroad? What the hell do these people think trains do? If you want to live in a quiet suburb or a quiet neighborhood, there are hundreds of them in the 600 square miles of Houston.

  • Scott,
    That’s why I really don’t care about quiet zones. I bought near a railroad knowing full well I’ll have to deal with train noise and that it doesn’t bother me. If you buy near a train track and complain that it’s too loud, it seems you made a stupid decision.

  • @John

    I don’t know how often you drive on Kirby, but for me it’s part of my daily life, or rather–avoiding Kirby is part of my daily life. I wouldn’t disbelieve anyone who told me they lost an immense amount of business because people can’t get to their stores. It is a completely jammed up mess.

    That said, the reconstruction was necessary and will be a substantial improvement when complete. I have gone out of my way not to have any business on Kirby in the meantime, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  • The quiet zone will improve the quality of life in just about all of the neighborhoods in the Washington Corridor. One thing it will certainly do is eventually reduce crime by making the properties near the tracks more desirable for development pushing out the shacks and abandoned buildings criminals are so drawn to. This in turn will also improve property values over time.

  • I’ve never lived next to a rail line and maybe it’s just me.. Just because a train isn’t blowing it’s horn every block, it doesn’t seem like it would sound less than a gentle breeze. It’s still a friggin’ train!

  • Look, I’m not even trying to be smart about this, but what does medians/crossovers have to do with trains not honking? Okay, trains can’t honk, that’s cool with me. Why spend extra time and money filling in crossovers?

  • Quin, filling in a crossover prevents people that believe that the crossing arms are malfunctioning because they can’t see the train and don’t hear any noise from going around them and driving across the tracks diagonally to get across.

  • Scott B:

    NewsFlash: Some of us bought homes in the Washington Corridor only AFTER the city approved this Quiet Zone. Most people didn’t buy next to the tracks, but it doesn’t matter, the horns can be heard at full force for at least a mile in every direction. Should no one buy homes in the entire corridor, or in River Oaks, Oak Estates, or West U. because a train track runs through? Of course not, all of the train corridors that run through heavily populated neighborhoods should be quiet zones. Why should a private corporation be able to negatively affect so many people every single day?We along with four neighbors on our block about midway between the tracks and Washington have all moved here within the last 8 months. Every one indicates that the Quiet Zone implementation was the deciding factor.
    Our realtor tells us that since work actually began on the Zone a few months ago, home prices and sales have ticked up with most every buyer commenting on the Zone. Property values and the quality of life around here will be better by far once the Quiet Zone is in place.
    BTW, I don’t recall that the median will be closed at Center and Heights. If so, you’re right, that will be inconvenient for a few people every day, but they’ll learn to go another way. Just take Yale every time if having to occasionally stop on Heights for a train is so detrimental to you. The trade-off of allowing thousands of people to be able to sleep through the night, and have increased property values is more than worth it. If you can’t stand this particular inconvenience, I guess you can move to one of those suburbs yourself.
    The only thing about the implementation that I don’t like is that the tax payers have to pay the full $1.4 million to create the zone, while the private corporation that is disturbing people pays zero. I wonder if congress will ever curb the virtual free pass that railroads have in this country to do as they please? No other industry gets away with so much.

  • Bobby Hadley:
    Disruptions to businesses during construction is a completely different matter from loss business due to a median being permanently closed. Many businesses on Kirby also complained during the planning process that the permanent closing of medians after construction would put them out of business. I still don’t buy that argument. While I have avoided streets during construction, I’ve never decided not to patronize a business because I had to drive an extra block to be able to get to it.

  • Why oh why do people complain about the trains blowing their horns? Those tracks are over 100 years old, they didn’t just show up on a Tuesday last year. Maybe people should do a little research before they buy a house??

  • I lived at San Felipe and Kirby for a number of years–maybe 2 miles from the tracks and it was not uncommon to hear those trains at 4am blasting their horns in succession. Why should we all lose sleep because of it? If the City has encouraged high density redevelopment within the loop, then enhancement of quality of life issues should considered. This is probably the only good thing the City has done.

  • JT, I live within a mile of three different rail lines and a hump yard, all of which are highly active. I sleep with my window open. No lost sleep, here.

  • Personally, I find night-time train horns comforting and nostalgic. I mourned the passing of the 7th Street line, and I will mourn the quieting of the Center Street line. That’s why I objected to the quiet zone. Don’t believe that it was universally accepted!
    I also don’t buy any of the explanations put forth for why the crossovers had to be closed. If they were shown as being closed on the maps circulated before the changes, they were so small as to be invisible.

  • Mark W, feel free to play a CD of train horns every night when you go to bed.

    For the apparent majority of those who find such horns to be a blasted nuisance, all I can say is that the quiet zone cannot come soon enough.

  • Heck, I live on Hazard near Richmond and I can hear those trains all night long, so living closer must be hell.

  • Live just to the north of the Center St. Line near the proposed Sherwin St intersection (also near that hump yard). I was fully aware of both noise sources before purchasing the house and decided the annoyance would not significantly impact my quality of life. This afternoon two trains decided to play a little back-and-forth with their horns as they passed each other. For 5 minutes. Cancer-causing toxic waste it’s not, but still unnecessary.

    I’m glad the quiet zone is going in. Even though the noise is not a large disturbance in my life I’ll literally sleep better at night. The added benefit of potential increases to my property value is nice and has no adverse affects to the private rail company.

  • I think these quiet zones don’t make any sense. If you buy a townhome near the tracks you should already expect what’s going to happen I live in cottage grove and I love the sound of the trains pasing by,especially at night. For many of these new residents moving into the area they should understand that these trains have been blowing their horns in the middle of the night for years and just because they don’t like it dosent mean they should complain. If they don’t like it then they shouldn’t have moved into the inner city.you can take it how you want it but in the end honestly most of the people living in the townhomes on or near Washington avenue right now won’t be here for the next 5 to 10 years they will just move on to a different area just leaving behind bars that cause traffic on a Saturday night and changing the area that many generations have come to know and love.

  • Mark,
    As others have mentioned, the train noise can be heard beyond the confines of Cottage Grove and with the level of train trffic on those tracks, it is a welcome relief to those of us who were awakened with a 2-3 mile series of blasts in the middle of the night. As someone else mentioned, play a train whistle CD or have your wife, partner, roommate or sweetie blow a foghorn in your ear.

  • I just wanted to weigh in on a few things. Number one, it is my sincere belief that everyone who buys in the Washington Corridor is aware of the existence of train horns, and knows what they are getting into. Number two, this effort is spearheaded by a team of people who have lived in the area for decades, as well as supported by those who have just entered the community. These “new people coming in who want to change things on their own” simply don’t exist where the quiet zone is concerned. It’s been a coordinated effort with residents new and old. In a city survey, out of 944 submissions, 914 supported the quiet zone, so the community is overwhelmingly behind the effort. Number three, to say that horns have been blowing for 100 years, and they were here first, tells all of us living in the neighborhood that if we’re in a bad or disadvantaged situation, we have no right to try and change it using the tools the government has provided for us. Finally, the supporters and organizers of the Washington Quiet Zone have been nothing but positive about the process. Ask the City, ask the civic clubs, ask the residents. This griping and complaining that some think the residents have been doing has just not materialized. With that said, the entire team wishes you all the best.

  • One more thing, as always, the neighborhoods’ goal is to achieve implementation of the Washington Quiet Zone through through the entire length of Washington Avenue, through First Ward, all the way to I-45. Based on the latest information received, the Sherwin to National portion should be finished at the end of the month, and the First Ward portion should be finished at the end of June.

  • The shops in Highland Village don’t seem to have any problems attracting customers, despite the quiet zone there.