Comment of the Day: We Have Met the Traffic, and It Is Us

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WE HAVE MET THE TRAFFIC, AND IT IS US Traffic“. . . Next time you are stuck in traffic, remember that you ARE traffic. You don’t really have much of a right to complain about the traffic you are sitting in, because, well, you are part of the problem. And when did people think they could live in the urban core of the fourth largest city in the United States and not have to deal with traffic? Saying that a new development will result in ‘increased traffic’ really is the most ridiculous rationale that one could provide against such a development. I dislike traffic as much as anyone else, but I also like density and density means more traffic. Maybe if some of our representative politicians didn’t fight tooth-and-nail against alternative forms of non-automotive transportation we could all enjoy the benefits of increased density without increased traffic.” [thedudeabides, commenting on Grocers Supply Sale Will Supply 15 Acres for Apartments, Shops Across from Studemont Kroger] Illustration: Lulu

17 Comment

  • Right on!

  • Deep, man. Deep.

  • Good point, thedudeabides. Traffic is often brought up as a concern in unwanted developments, but few people actually understand it. They don’t realize that traffic problems have as much to do with the timing of lights, the placement of curb cuts and turn lanes, and other design factors as they do with the density on a site.
    I think traffic studies are a big reason for the hubbub about traffic. Traffic studies are often imprecise, and based on subjective factors. Usually they’re right, but everyone can see when they’re not; and if they are wrong, you won’t know until years after the study was done. They’re full of jargon and mathematical formulas that someone who’s not a traffic engineer won’t understand. And good luck trying to find an unbiased traffic engineer to review and explain someone else’s study for you. So Basically, if a developer tells you he’s gotten a traffic study and it says the impact will be minimal, you have no choice but to trust him on it.
    There are other reasons traffic is a go-to argument against development. It’s less obnoxious than saying “we don’t want THOSE people in our neighborhood,” and it’s less subjective than complaining about things like scale and neoghborhood’s character.
    Traffic and shadows really are the obvious go-to arguments of you want something to use to oppose an unwanted project in your neighborhood.

  • I agree with the premise that traffic is just part of the equation for living in the core of a big thriving city. It can even be an indicator of something to be proud of, such as that there is more economic activity, more jobs, and more amenities that attract people to want to come and visit or live in a community. All of this necessarily entails traffic, and (for most people) it’s better to have traffic than not.

    But to pretend that building the University Line might have blunted the impact (or shifted the development pattern) is just as naive. Transit advocates like to complain that if you build a freeway, people will only buy more cars and that the congestion never goes away; but it works that way for any project that is built to relieve congestion. If successful, then demand backfills the capacity; if not, then it was merely wasteful.

  • Where is all this traffic you’re complaining about in the core of Houston? I’ve lived in the inner loop west for 20 years. Other than a few specific bottlenecks that occur at rush hour, I see very little congestion at all. Best I can tell, it’s the people who work in the core, but live in the burbs that suffer in traffic.

  • Take your density to Katy.

  • Every time I visit a big, dense city like SF or Boston or DC I am reminded of how good we have it traffic wise in Houston. And by we I mean people who live in the city. Now, if you’re going to choose to live in Katy and work downtown, that’s a self imposed nightmare. Good luck with that, but don’t expect people who make different and arguably better choices to feel bad for you.

  • I would like to agree with this, but every time i’m stuck in traffic I can’t help but reflect on how much of it is a result of poor engineering choices, misallocation of taxable revenue and an intentional problem created by a disinterest in lack of funding. yes, i would love to easily sit back and enjoy traffic for being what it is, except that it’s extremely taxing to any society in terms of health and standards of living. how many accidents and deaths occur at the 610/59 west intersection every year? do we lack ways of fixing the problem, ideas to relieve the traffic? no, we just simply don’t want to pay for it. that great economic harbinger of good times, traffic, does kill people unintentionally yet knowingly great i can afford to raise kids in town and choose my commuting patterns; shame that a statistical majority will never be able to have those same options.

    when i’m stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on I10 should i just ignore the fact that we’re inefficiently using our public resources by imposing a tax to use the lexus lanes that is specifically intended to ensure those lanes are never used to their maximum ability? should i just ignore the fact that my freeway is at a complete stand still because HCTRA refuses to build a privately operated roadway at sufficient capacity impacting every other roadway in the city while stockpiling on our cities taxes to build roads in other parts of the states? could ignore it perhaps, but then i’d only feel a fool. i’d rather get frustrated and ensure everyone is as frustrated as i am. the battle isn’t dealing with the traffic so much as battling a society that doesn’t want to pay it’s fair share to accomdate the lviing standards it feels it deserves and is entitled to. fortunately density has a funny way of making the pain of commuting shared equally by everyone.

  • oh, guess i got sidetracked and missed the main point of where this comment was headed. i’d say it’s a fair comment, we need better forms of all transportation, but Houston has specific transportation needs due to a large and dispersed population in which more efficient trasnportation of personal automobiles will result in much greater commuter gains than tinkering with the bus routes and turning a couple into rails. i’d agree we need to take a new look at how we value mass transportation, but i’d be talking more about a progressive transportation scheme rather than one based on rails for those lucky folks that only have to commute in town and can choose where they can afford to live.

  • Ed Emmett would like to remind you that the inner loop is home to less than 20% of Harris County’s population, and therefore more road and transportation dollars need to be spent in the area outside the Beltway. It is very important that parents be able to leave their master planned community and drive to another master planned community for the kiddo’s Thursday evening soccer practice without encountering slow traffic.

  • Joel: I hear you. But when you’re stuck in traffic on I-10, remember that you’re there in large part thanks to your own prejudices. There are plenty of places closer in, that you could well afford. But deep down, you’d rather be stuck in traffic for 2 hours every day, than raise your kids in “that” part of town.
    Prejudice is actually a very big part of what drives traffic in our City. As I pointed out before, complaints about traffic are often cover for prejudice when neighborhood groups complain about unwanted development. And as I just mentioned, prejudice is a big part of what drives people to flee to the suburbs. More than that: lots of people are prejudice against buses – even though they would happily ride a train. And would even argue that METRO’s leadership is prejudiced against certain parts of town. Look how they’ve allowed Afton Oaks to kill the Richmond Light Rail Line – thereby cutting all of Southwest Houston out of light rail.
    I think we’d all have a better quality of life if we set our prejudices aside. Traffic would certainly improve.

  • @ZAW: so, basically, everything is about prejudices? Let me guess, you wrote that from the safety of your home in a gentrified neighborhood in the loop. You do know that prejudice against CRIME explains all that just as well as your alleged (and admittedly unstated) racial prejudices. And I say this as someone who lives in the City. I just think all this talk about everyone being prejudiced against certain people for immutable characteristics is getting old and says more about the person whose espousing it (projection) than those who are–in my humble opinion–fleeing for better schools and lower crime. Do you equate better schools and lower crime with certain races? If so, you may be the one whose prejudiced.

  • I’m writing from my home in Brays Oaks, Creole: the area formerly known as Fondren Southwest: south of Sharpstown and west of Westbury – if you’ve gotta know.
    Crime, like traffic, is a lot more complex than people think. But the two big things to remember about about crime are first: it’s local – it varies from street to street and apartment complex to apartment complex; and second – perceptions of crime and actual crime rates are two very different things. In other words, if you try to tell me “that part of Houston is dangerous,” I’ll first ask you, “exactly which street are you talking about?” If you answer “all of it'” I’ll call you on your prejudice.
    Then I’ll ask how you like spending two hours of every day stuck in traffic…. ;-)

  • The idea of moving to suburbia for safety is a great example of bad risk analysis. Yes, crime rates are higher in the city. Of course, they vary much more dramatically across different parts of a huge city like Houston than they do across different parts of, say, Katy (which has an incredibly high rate of property crime, actually). So while Houston has more crime, it really does matter where in the city you’re talking about.

    And of course, there’s risk trading that goes on. Your risk of being murdered in a suburb is lower (although it’s not exactly high in the city), but your risk of dying in a car crash is substantially larger if you spend more four times as long in your car every day. (That is, of course, a risk we find it easier to live with than the risk of murder, even if in statistically terms you’re more likely to be dead.) And don’t forget the fascinating study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine earlier this year that found rural areas were actually the most dangerous place to live, largely because of road accidents and the difficulty of getting prompt medical treatment in an accident.

    Does this mean the burbs are bad? Of course not. It does mean that people ought to think a little harder about real risks and the real trade-offs they make when they choose to live somewhere that is going to force every member of the family to spend a lot more time on the road. (Not to mention the utterly crappy quality of life the kids will have when they are old enough to want some independence, but can’t go anywhere without a car – they go from being basically prisoners dependent on their parents to drive them everywhere, to young drivers with the highest chance of killing themselves of anybody on the road.)

  • I’d venture to say that the fears of affluent parents regarding the intangible, not-necessarily-criminal risks of what will happen to their precious children if they have to share a school campus with lower-income students are as much or more of a motivation to flee to the outer suburbs as the threat of crime (the middle suburbs now having been declared taboo for this reason). Only select outer suburbs though – North Katy / South Cypress is now a no-no.

    It should be noted that those fears may be entirely justified. I don’t have the expertise on that to say.

    Regarding traffic, as I’ve said in the past, our urban core has for the most part not suffered bad congestion in recent decades apart from certain thoroughfares. This is because households and investment were generally leaving the core during that period, keeping it low density, and much of it has a decent street grid to better disperse what traffic there was. Now density and activity are increasing, so the lack of congestion will gradually disappear. Easy parking is likely to disappear before that. This will all happen however well we improve our pedestrian and transit infrastructure (or don’t improve it). To be perfectly harsh, if you can’t deal with traffic and difficult parking, you’re better off moving to a rural area or a dying city. Don’t bother with the suburbs, because traffic’s only worse there.

  • Planner: that is a good point. We’re lucky here in Houston to have some great Magnet schools, and some of the best Charter Schools in the country. We also have excellent private schools. But if you live in a place where the zoned public schools are not great, which sadly we do, you’ll need to do a lot of leg work (or spend a lot of money) to get your kid into a good school. It’s a lot easier from that standpoint to move to a distant suburb with good zoned schools, and not worry about it.
    (And when you’re stuck in traffic for two hours every day, just repeat over and over again “it’s for the schools; it’s for the schools; it’s for the schools….”)

  • Baloney and baloney. I am NOT traffic.

    Number one. Eliminate dead ends inside the loop. Every neighborhood in Houston has blocked off 99% of its streets. There are times when I need to wait multiple cycles at a light because it’s the only ingress into the development. Houston is a CITY.

    Number two. Learn how to merge. There is construction at Mid Lane at San Felipe eastbound, and traffic is backed up to 610 because everyone is terrified of being in the barren empty right lane, which in turn is because they know people will be hostile to allowing them to merge. This is the single most stupid driving behavior I can think of. You need to queue AT the point of the merge, and alternate left and right lanes, quickly, cleanly, efficiently and politely. A whole mile of road empty? Come on people.

    Number three. Get out of the way of people behind you who want to be in the left-turn lane. Many of those turnlanes have sensors, and will not give a left arrow if no cars are at the line — AT THE LINE — when the other side’s light turns red. Or yellow! There are multiple examples of lights where you don’t get an arrow unless you beat the other side’s yellow. So every time I see a driver with two empty car lengths in front of them, and a driver with their left-turn signal behind them, I just wonder.

    (The reason I stressed “at the line” above is that I was once behind someone who was a car’s length away from the line. I asked myself, should I honk or shouldn’t I? I wasn’t sure about this light, so I bit my lip. You can guess the rest).

    Number four. Make all streets one-way. Every single one. Even Westheimer. In residential neighborhoods you can only get one car through anyway, because everyone is parked on both sides. Just get it over with already. The left and right turns will also be that much easier.