Texas Governor Rick Perry Celebrates 18 Lanes of “Freedom”

project3.jpgTexas officials this week marked the opening of new lanes on the Katy Freeway, a stretch of Interstate 10 that runs 40 miles west from downtown Houston. The state has added 20 miles of interior lanes, including 12 miles of HOV lanes, which officials say will eventually be converted to variable-rate HOT use. The rebuilt Katy Freeway is 18 lanes wide.

The ribbon cutting for the $2.8 billion project was attended by Congressman John Culberson and Governor Rick Perry. The Houston Chronicle was there and got some choice quotes.

"This project, for all intents and purposes, is complete," announced
Delvin Dennis, interim director of the Texas Department of
Transportation’s Houston District. "Tomorrow morning the (high
occupancy-toll) lanes open. If you’re not doing anything, take a ride
on them."

Perry noted the roar of traffic below, above and around the crowd, which was gathered on a frontage road overpass.

"This is the sound of freedom we hear," he said. "These people need roads to get to work, to church and to school."

One kind of freedom Texans don’t need, according to the state and Rep. Culberson, is freedom of choice.

Despite its size, the widened freeway adds "just one new ‘free’
lane, a pair of toll lanes and no significant transit improvement,"
said Robin Holzer, chair of the grass-roots Citizens Transportation
Coalition.

"Too bad it does not have a space for a commuter rail like our
design did," said environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, who tried
unsuccessfully to force the state to revise its plans, add mass transit
and lessen the project’s impact on neighborhoods.

Some still hold out hope for the addition of light rail — the transit authority chipped in to have overpasses reinforced for train traffic. But the Chronicle reports that Culberson, "whose ability to get federal dollars was crucial to the widening
project, pledged not to give up a single freeway lane for Metro rail."

Culberson may not have much of a say after January, though, depending on the outcome of his tightening race for re-election. As it happens, Culberson challenger Michael Skelly made his fortune in wind energy.

Photo: Federal Highway Administration

  • 18 lanes?! It will be clogged in 18 months. The good news is that the Trans-Texas Corridor project–the superhighway from hell–may be dead.

  • J

    Q: Why do places like Texas plan exclusively for cars?
    A: Because everyone drives there.

  • Trafford noted the gentle whirr of freewheeling bicycles as they passed by the crowd, which was gathered by the side of a bicycle path.

    “This is the sound of freedom we hear,” he said. “These people have stopped being slaves to their cars by choosing to live close to work, to church and to school.”

  • J:”Q: Why do places like Texas plan exclusively for cars?
    A: Because everyone drives there.”

    Q: Why does everyone drive there?
    A: Because they have no other choice.

    Q: Why do they have no other choice?
    A: Because of bonehead zoning and transportation policies enacted after World War II that prioritized cars.

    Q: What happens now?
    A: Peak oil makes car-centric communities obsolete. They will either adapt or die. And the longer they wait to adapt, the more likely they are to die.

  • Sean

    As a New Yorker who moved to Texas (and consequently back to New York), I have driven on this stretch of this highway many times. Houston has, if you would believe it, literally no zoning laws. This, combined with it’s vapid surroundings, make for the worst type of sprawl and auto-centric development you can possibly imagine.

    Texas is the size of Germany and has the population of metro NYC. It has (effectively) no rail, and it is far too hot 75% of the time to cycle comfortably. This leads to off-kilter mentalities about what is “normal”, such as:

    – Statewide, the need to traverse long distances for routine tasks is compensated by multi-lane, 70mph county roads, even inside major cities. And, yes, people turn (left!) onto and off of these 70mph roads, accessing everything from 300-home neighborhoods to gas stations and office parks.

    – The 2005 proposition for Austin’s first train (one leg of light rail) was met with protesting mothers with signs that read “Waste of money! Who uses trains?”

    – San Antonio is a 4-hour 80mph drive from Dallas; my friend tried the Amtrak and it took 13 hours.

    – If people are running errands at more than one establishment in the same shopping center, they get back in their car and drive to the other side of the lot.

    – Even in immediate downtown areas of major cities, pedestrians are such a rarity that drivers are genuinely confused by their presence. When I used crosswalks, I would knock on the hood of cars waiting to “turn-on-red”… Without fail, the driver looking left for gaps in traffic otherwise starts into his or her turn before their head returns fully forward.

    – Living on the edge of Austin, (within city limits) I drove 3 miles at 45mph to leave my housing development. It was another 4 miles at 70mph to the first traffic light, which was an 8-lane wide mega-intersection with multiple left- and right-turn bays.

    – A business trip to downtown Dallas placed me at a hotel 8 blocks from where I was having meetings, yet *every* *single* person was amazed when I arrived on foot. Including a receptionist that could not fathom why I didn’t want my parking voucher validated.

  • mike

    I’m sure there are parts of Texas that are quite nice, but…

    I had the misfortune of having to be in Dallas for training once. Our hotel was across the “street” from the training center. When we got there, we found that there was literally no way to cross the street. We had to get in a car, merge onto a highway and then get off the highway again, all to get to a building that was probably a few blocks away.

  • vnm

    This is why it is places like Houston that hand New York City a competitive advantage for jobs, companies and people.

  • Anon.

    Many of these Texas cities are going to go bankrupt and turn into giant slums — the next Rust Belt. Well, Dallas is at least forward-thinking on transportation. Houston is toast.

  • Jaywalker

    Sean,

    Reading your description of Texas…omg….talk about an alternate universe!
    I seriously could not function there at all.

  • Peter

    Woah woah woah!
    Freedom of Choice?
    What do you think this is, a democracy?

  • Bob

    There are areas of Dallas that are quite bike friendly. The trick is set things up so you don’t live so damned far from work. I can tell you, having lived in Houston and Dallas, Dallas is by far more bike friendly. I have some good friends in h-town, and they are stuck in the middle of the most redneck mentality in the state.

    Gov. Perry is an imbecile.

  • jlm

    Within the city proper (within the 610 Loop), Houston is surprisingly easy to navigate by bicycle. I lived car free for over a year there before moving for work-related reasons.

    Inside the Loop, the city streets are one big grid, so there is always an alternate road to take to avoid highways and the busiest streets. The roads are mainly multi-lane with narrow lanes, the better to fit more cars but making it relatively straightforward to take the lane since the cars can pass in the next lane.

    The lack of zoning is actually beneficial for living without a car, since it means that stores are scattered throughout the city neighborhoods. For example, in the neighborhood I lived in (the Heights, just north of the Katy Freeway), there were two large Krogers+drugstores within 6 blocks of my apartment, a HomeDepot about 2 miles away, a new Target maybe three miles away, all accessible through side roads.

    The bus system is also useful. While not the greatest or brightest, it actually does work, with reasonable frequency and hours. I used it quite a bit, along with the baby light rail system.

    I do agree that Houston in extremely auto-centric. Being honked at by drivers was a common occurrence. The few bike lanes are just symbolic for all I can tell (some are only 18 inches wide!). But Houston is much more than its highways, which a cyclist can blissfully ignore, except when passing over one and snickering at the cars trapped in their traffic jams.

    Houston is also flat.

    I currently live in a small college town in another state complete with zoning and mostly two-lane arterial roads, and I very much miss the level of bike accessibility I had in Houston.

  • Bob

    I agree — inside the loop is great. They have also done a lot to reenergize the downtown area. It is very, very cool. In particular, the Heights area. Essentially, every area that is “old” is bikeable. It is the sprawling outlying areas that are so tough.

  • Texas sucks.

  • Streetsman

    Yeah – the sound of freedom? Having the access to the places your livelihood depends on be totally bound to the purchase, maintenance and operation of an automobile isn’t freedom at all.

    This is America and everybody has the right to their own opinion. But when I take my bike out to run errands, lock it up, walk around a shopping street, bump into friends, have a meal, see a movie, throw some groceries in my baskets and bike home, that is when I feel free. In central Brooklyn, I live within a 15 minute walk of 7 subway lines, a dozen local bus lines, four taxi companies, a LIRR commuter rail terminal, and there’s even ample parking spaces on my block. Heck, I’m a 25-minute bike ride from a boat basin that feeds onto the Atlantic and a 45-minute subway ride from an international airport. Now in my opinion, THAT’S what I call freedom.

  • Ace

    I’ve only been to Dallas and they do seem to be trying. While taking commuter rail (double decker cars) in from the airport we ran into a train full of hockey (who knew) fans on their way into the downtown from the suburbs. They also have a light rail / trolley system in the city proper. A very flat walkable downtown was, sadly, almost free of bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • Bob

    I think the problem with downtown dallas is lack of desirable destinations. Houston has made downtown a fun place, where Dallas has dropped the ball on that. But things will change. Old habits die hard.

  • “… everyone drives there.”

    I’m guessing that Jim was never the only person who got around without driving. No matter how car-dependent any region may be, there’s always a certain percentage of residents who are unable to drive or don’t choose to. They’re the ones that get screwed by this kind of system, of course.

    When I lived in Albuquerque there was the same kind of thinking. New Mexico has a huge DWI problem because a large percentage of the population can’t get home from the bar without driving – and because judges know that if they revoke someone’s driver’s license they’re basically cutting them off from employment.

    Perry built the Katy, and didn’t leave us room to ride.

  • anonymouse

    Houston has no zoning laws, that’s true. But it does have parking minimums. So you can build whatever you want, so long as it’s surrounded by a field of parking. Not quite the unconstrained free market some will have you believe it to be.

  • Mike Harrington

    It’s not all bad. Most of North America, including Canada, is an auto-centric clusterf***, to quote James Howard Kunstler. I live in the Houston metro area, and originally came from a mid-size city in the Northeastern US. My northeastern city of origin slashed 60% of their bus service in the past 25 years.

    Dallas is bringing 45 miles of light rail on-line in the next five years. They already have 45 miles of light rail, 3¾ miles of which is subway. That will make Dallas Area Rapid Transit one of the biggest light systems in North America. See DART Expansion Plans for details:

    http://www.dart.org/about/expansion/otherprojects.asp

    Houston’s light rail system is a different approach. Instead of using former railroad rights of way for light rail in rapid transit service, Houston uses light rail in express streetcar service, on city streets. Their existing line carries 45,000 people on a weekday, notso hotso in NYC, but fairly impressive in the USA as a whole. Houston Metro is moving ahead with new light rail lines with the same streetcar pattern. The MetroRail portion of this map details the routes:

    http://www.ctchouston.org/blogs/christof/wp-content/overall%20diagram%208-4.jpg

    It’s no coincidence that these Houston light rail lines are almost uniquely in congressional districts represented by democrats.

    Houston Light Rail Car at San Jacinto and Calumet:

    http://img58.imageshack.us/img58/7300/hmta408a105nbsanjacintocs3.th.jpg

    Most of the light rail transit expansion in the USA is occurring from the Mississippi River west, including Texas. It’s the eastern US, including Chicago and Cleveland, that is lagging behind. You’ve got aging transit systems that should have been completely rebuilt 30 years ago. The western US has brand new light rail systems with continuous rail that are state-of-the-art, with more new lines on the way. New electric light rail lines since 1988: New Jersey Transit, Charlotte, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento. Under construction: Phoenix and Seattle, and build-outs in Houston, Dallas, Portland and Denver.

    With the exception of Charlotte and NJT, all the new light rail is in the Western US. Facts are stubborn things.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Houston Mayor Calls for “Paradigm Shift” Away From Highway Widening

|
Newly elected Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gave a remarkable speech yesterday in Austin [PDF], calling on the state to change its transportation priorities and stop pouring billions into widening highways. Turner told the Texas Transportation Commission, the appointed board that leads Texas DOT, that the state needs a totally new transportation paradigm. The speech is phenomenal, and […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Meet the Rick Perry Donor Who Runs Texas DOT

|
Last week Streetsblog looked into the suburban real estate moguls who used their public offices to advance the country’s largest sprawl project — Houston’s third outerbelt, also known as the Grand Parkway. But even with all the cronyism and self-deal propelling this project forward, just a few months ago it looked like the Grand Parkway […]