Trapped: There Are No Simple Solutions to Houston's Traffic Crisis

The crazy, complicated conundrum of Houston traffic.

The only entrance solely for I-10 East is from San Jacinto Street, which traverses all of downtown heading north. If you live on the east side and are coming in for jury duty, this is a good option since San Jacinto runs right through the part of downtown with all the courthouses. Once San Jacinto reaches the freeway, make a right onto a kind of mini feeder road to get to the entrance.

U.S. 59 South

The same entrance that gets you onto I-10 East via San Jacinto Street will lead you to the 59 South exit less than a mile east of your entrance, but you'll have to plow through traffic on the elevated portion of 59 behind Minute Maid Park and the convention center. Your best option is to take Hamilton Street, which runs southwest along downtown's eastern edge near Toyota Center. It dumps you right into the nightmare that is 59 South.

The Patton entrance to I-45 South can be death-defying, which is why it's No. 6 on our list.
Google Earth
The Patton entrance to I-45 South can be death-defying, which is why it's No. 6 on our list.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

But if you want a slightly more adventurous route, you can take Smith Street under the Pierce Elevated and through Midtown, where it connects with Spur 527 and ultimately 59 South. Sure, it's one of the most terrifying entrance ramps in the entire city, but it probably is faster than wading through the 59/45/288 interchange from Hamilton.

U.S. 59 North

Getting onto 59 North is probably more chal­lenging than trying to enter any other major freeway in the downtown area. Perhaps the Eastex Freeway is disliked by city planners, but it's a far more convenient — and attractive — route to Bush IAH than 45 North is, so maybe it's worth the effort. The fastest connection to it is via Chenevert Street on the northern side of Minute Maid Park. Just don't try that the day of a ball game.

Chartres Street, with the complicated ramp that connects with 59 North and South as well as I-10 West and East, is also a safe bet if you can navigate like Magellan. But if you confuse easily or rely on medication to stay focused, taking the San Jacinto Street route to I-10 West as described earlier is an easy way to get to 59 North. Be prepared for the left exit off the freeway, though, because it appears out of nowhere.

Tx 288

As Pearland grows in popularity, so does 288, but there aren't many easy ways to reach it from downtown. In fact, there are technically only two that don't require a long trip down Fannin Street to damn near the Medical Center. The first is via Webster Street, which runs south just west of the Pierce Elevated. It's the safest and easiest way onto 288 that doesn't find you taking your life in your hands. The second is by way of Hamilton Street, the same street that provides the entrance to 59 South.

But beware: The ramp to 59 does not get you to 288, as ridiculous as that may sound. Instead, you must continue southwest down Hamilton until it essentially ends by magically turning into a ramp that merges with 288. I never said driving in Houston would be easy.

Non-Freeway Alternatives

If you're feeling like you don't want to deal with the freeway at all, or maybe you don't have to in order to get home (lucky you), there are alternatives that can get you out of downtown quickly. The most notable are Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. Memorial is reached via Prairie Street and will take you west toward the West Loop. Allen Parkway's easiest entrance is Lamar Street, and it takes you toward 59 South through River Oaks and Midtown.

One lesser-known thoroughfare is Elysian Street, which runs north out of downtown via Crawford Street. It snakes its way through the city's east side before reaching the 610 Loop very near the Hardy Toll Road. If you live in The Woodlands and work in downtown (God help you), this is your best bet. Don't say I never gave you anything.
_____________________

Lanny Griffith's 5 Traffic Hot Spots

The veteran of Houston traffic reveals the worst spots to be in rush hour...and otherwise.

By Lanny Griffith

Anywhere on  290  

I can't believe there hasn't been any road rage up there. I guess the folks are numb after four years of living hell from construction.

North Freeway between Conroe and The Woodlands

Wall-to-wall cars going in and out. With Exxon hiring 10,000 people at its new digs, for-sale signs must be popping up everywhere.

Southwest Freeway at the West Loop

You know it's bad when the Texas Department of Transportation puts a permanent sign up telling you how many people have died on that stretch on 59 out to Beechnut.

The West Loop

It SUCKS, period.

Tx 288

Forty-five minutesto an hour every day to the Medical Center from Manvel. Where's that proposed toll road?

And if it's raining, multiply the above comments by 100.

Lanny Griffith is a traffic reporter for KROI 92 FM, the former Bureau Chief of METRO Traffic Control and a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.

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40 comments
notanimby
notanimby

No one has mentioned the lack of zoning. Remove zoning from a city and developers get to build what they want where they want, and most of their intercity residents have cars. Sure they have parking garages, but the drivers bring the cars out of those daily, clogging up streets. Everyone wants to cater to the car mentality. but the cars are only part of the equation. When we stop playing fast and loose with zoning, you will see change, and not before. I grew up in a city with zoning. There were never traffic issues in the inner city, because developers and business owners had to play by strict rules -- the most important of which was you can only built / operate certain businesses in certain places and you better make damn sure you have adequate parking. Houston has a traffic issue because Houston has a no-zoning issue, and because the NIMBY-minded are not about to let anything about that ancient, out-of-date status quo change.

ashleighelizabeth35
ashleighelizabeth35

God what a bunch of whiners this city holds.  Traffic here is actually quite moderate for such a large city.  New York, Los Angeles, Washington and even Atlanta all have far worse rush hours.  All of those cities also have much more extensive metro rail systems as well.  Rest assured that even if the light rail system were greatly expanded here (and it definitely needs to be) there will still be traffic problems in Houston.  Bad traffic is just part of living in the city.  Don't like it?  Move to the country.


What really amazes me about Houston though is how God awful the roads are.  I have never in my life seen streets and high ways so poorly maintained as they are in Houston.  Every time I visit Atlanta (where I lived for 2 decades) I marvel at how smooth and quiet the roads are.  I certainly didn't ever expect to say something like that while I was living there either.  And those roads are built and maintained without the benefit of multiple toll highways.  Deferred maintenance, poor planing and lack of funding are the biggest problem with transportation in Houston metro.  Until those problems are fixed the commute in Houston is not likely to improve.

yllennoc
yllennoc

Why does the myth that Houston is the largest city, by area, in the U.S. keep circulating?  I have heard this misinformation at least three times in the last month.  The top four U.S. cities by area are all in Alaska.  If you count only the cities in the 48 contiguous states, Houston is fifth on the list.  In the lower 48, Jacksonville, Florida is the largest U.S. city, by area, and with a population of 800,00+, they more than exceed your criteria of a population over 500,000.

aggierose
aggierose

It's not the "Texas A&M Traffic Institute."  It's the "Texas Transportation Institute," known at TAMU as "TTI."  I know.  I worked there.

adambevo
adambevo

Maybe if Mr. Kovacik and hundreds of thousands of other commuters would actually try to live closer to their jobs, they might not be spending much time in traffic.

Nina Afrique
Nina Afrique

High speed trains. enclosed hov lanes then having a cop stand watch does not help much. neither do the ones on 45 downtown area. pls whoever watches the freeway cameras should send assistance quickly to stalled vehicles in the middle of the freeway.

Leigh Ann Salyers
Leigh Ann Salyers

I say subway system I know it's a hell of a long shot but hey.

2askjoe
2askjoe

Kingwood-downtown, Woodlands-downtown, Tomball/Willowbrook-downtown, Cypress-downtown, Katy-downtown, Sugarland-med center, Pearland-med center, Friendswood-med center Channelview-downtown are the heavily-utilized commuter corridors and therefore where light rail should go. Proposing any other routes without those is a waste of time and resources.

2askjoe
2askjoe

Under the subheading Where the Streets Have New Names, FM 1960/Highway 6/Addicks has also been known previously (and old-timers still refer to it) as Jackrabbit Road, and FM 1960 is now Cypress Creek Parkway.

Robert541
Robert541

Streets didn't have problems when they were made of brick. Bricks move and adjust independently of each other. Perfect for the water sucking Live Oaks planners insist on putting in street medians.

Tim Dugan
Tim Dugan

Rail is a good idea but it's not the total solution.

Kim Carter
Kim Carter

That is because Houston has essentially for decades acted like and refused to be a metropolitan city. It has systemically, not developed a modern rail that can loop around this city and get traffic off the roads. Major cities have a system for traffic even Japan has a high speed line in place.

toryu88
toryu88

People have a short memory.  I did the aerial photo analysis for Metro of the Union Pacific Right of Way that became the Katy Freeway expansion, and the corridor to Sugar Land and north to Bryan.  Metro could have put in rail on all of that, but instead chose to build the abortion of I-10 with speed humps ever mile over the crossing streets.  Houston's roads are so crappy I stay out of the city as much as possible. The decline started under Mayor Brown and has just continued.  As for bicyclists, I've had enough of them to last a lifetime.  I've had to deal with the bike Nazis in San Francisco and Austin.  I guess it is their mindset of superiority,  "Look at me!  I don't drive a car so I must be better, more healthy than you!"  It breeds a sense of entitlement.  I see way too many bicyclist ignoring the rules of the rode, blowing through stop signs and ignoring lights.  I'll go along with an expansion of bicycle venues when cops pursue bicyclist for rule violations as vigorously as the do drivers.

mpayne4
mpayne4

Houston has the potential to be one of the top cycling cities in the US.  By developing a Master Bicycle Plan and investing in priority corridors Houston will get more people cycling more safely.  The benefits of this are first and foremost economic as Houston becomes a preferred destination for the best and brightest workers from around the country and begins to see the decrease in healthcare costs as we reverse the negative trends associated with obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.  These benefits are shared by cyclists and motorists alike.


Michael Payne 

Executive Director

BikeHouston.org

MichelsonMorley
MichelsonMorley

Quoting Missing Person's 'Walking in LA' deserves an honorable mention! You've made my day.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6REd01Vowf4


Look ahead as we pass, try and focus on it
I won't be fooled by a cheap cinematic trick
It must have been just a cardboard cut out of a man
Top-forty cast off from a record stand

Walkin' in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.


I don't know could've been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing's for sure, he isn't starring in the movies.
'Cause he's walkin' in L.A.

You won't see a cop walkin' on the beat
You only see 'em drivin' cars out on the street
Nobody's walkin' walkin'
You won't see a kid walkin' home from school
Their mothers pick 'em up in a car pool


Could it be that the smog's playing tricks on my eyes
or is it a rollerskater in some kind of headphone disguise
Maybe somebody who just ran out of gas,
Making his way back to the pumps the best way he can.


right, just sayin,,

Lexicon13
Lexicon13

TC Jester between 34th Street and Pinemont Drive is atrocious and the construction on 290/610/I10 means that 3 freeways are jacked up morning, afternoon and night. 

Love the whole "we want more people to ride" but we'll shut down the only park n ride in the area so you're stuck using the park n ride at i10  or the one at w. little york and 290, no other stops in between, thanks metro for killing the 216 and screwing people that live in this area trying to get to work downtown, you suck. 

dbcsez
dbcsez

On the subject of streets that change names: The cake-topper in my experience is North Braeswood becoming Beechnut after crossing Stella Link, South Braeswood becoming North Braeswood at the West Loop, and South Braeswood the other direction suddenly becoming the South Loop.


Even odder is the phenomenon of streets and roads that end and a mile or two later.  In my family we have grown accustomed to calling this "jestering" after T.C. Jester Boulevard, which used to be the prime example. This is certainly not unique to Houston, but it's frustratingly common here. Outside the Loop, a lot of the roads that formerly jestered have been stitched together in the last 30 years. Put up some stadiums and parks in Downtown, EaDo, and Midtown, and now you have increased inner-city jestering.


By the way, for those keeping score, it's Bammel-N. Houston/N. Houston Rosslyn/Bingle/Voss/Hillcroft/Fort Bend Parkway. And Buffalo Speedway does morph into Willowbend, but then it jesters to just north of West Orem Drive.

HDCA
HDCA

Wow.  Has the person who wrote the 3 worst freeway interchange list every lived anywhere else or driven in another city?  I agree with a couple of the things wrong with each interchange but there are much worse interchanges throughout the country.  My job, unfortunately, has called me away from Houston again last month and the first thing I noticed is how much I miss the simplicity of the highways and interchanges in Houston compared to the confusion and poor signage on the interstates surrounding our nation's capital.

jdoeballer
jdoeballer

I'll tell you one easy solution that might help. How come you can hardly ever take a left on a green yield???


There are so many lights in Houston that you have to wait for the green arrow to take a left. Otherwise its red! Why not have yield left turns on green?!?!

timblack2
timblack2

Ah yes, light rail. The amazingly ineffective 4 mile ride from the med center to downtown, started 12 years ago to help attract the 2012 Olympics. Yea, let's keep talking about it. 41,000 people a week riding from the med center to downtown at lunch to grab something different to eat. That's about all it does. It is of no use to anyone else in the rest of the city and surrounding areas.

texanite
texanite

There are so many places in Houston where light rail would be a success but no one wants rail through their neighborhood.  I think the time for the use of eminent domain is here. Yes, even if I was in the path I would understand and accept it.  The needs of the many outweighs the the needs of the few.  I have used public transportation (including light rail) throughout the world and guess what?  It works when properly designed.  You learn where you get off to connect to the next rail (if needed) and you get where you want to go nearly hassle free.  Yes, you can even carry a Macy's shopping bag or two with you.

Our city leaders have been extremely short-sighted when it comes to light rail.  There have been those with the vision who have tried but ultimately been shot down because of lack of support.  Is it expensive?  Yes, without a doubt.  When you weigh the cost of the overall projects with the countless hours commuters spend in traffic and  the enormous amount of wasted energy and time sitting in traffic the payoff makes a lot of sense.  Common sense seems to be in short supply in our city, state and federal governments as well the citizens who would benefit from it.    

nowake200
nowake200

It is not only the major roadways that are falling apart, the very urban neighborhoods they are pushing have roads that remind me of ones in New York City that dead-ended next to the scrap metal yards or warehouses.  Simply put, deplorable conditions for the amount of taxes paid!  Good luck trying to bike, jog, skateboard never mind simply walk on these streets and sidewalks!  Something needs to be done!


It comes do to money and resources... these roads will not fix themselves and it cannot be done cheaply, it will also require a larger work force.  Houston is a big city that needs a lot of employees and STRONG oversight!  I know this is very bad concept in todays "government is bad" mentality, but maybe our city's streets got this point because of this very mindset.  

 

dwdickersonjr
dwdickersonjr

I have been driving over 50 years and the streets of Houston have been full of potholes. It has never been any different. The city is too sprawled to really keep it up, and the city allows developers to develop areas before the supporting infrastructure is in place (like expanding roads BEFORE any building is allowed to take place). The roads are not likely to get better - they fix one and then others need to be repaired. 

So: Mass transit. We could sure use it here in Houston, but buses and ground level rail!? We have a city that floods, so they build ground level rail and do not even put up crossing gates or lights! Ugh... Why didn't they put in monorail on elevated tracks so the trains don't get in the way of traffic and they can still run when the streets are flooded. Well, they can if the water doesn't get too high. And why isn't rail put in in the areas most affected by high traffic? Rail/Monorail should have been run down 45, I-10, 290, 59... But the rail is only run in the inner city. 

You can't run buses down crowded roads. Buses should also have turn-off lanes for each stop to remove the stationary buses from being nothing but a traffic obstacle. The current rail system is an expensive joke. Not to mention they can't even make people pay to ride the light rail!

tagthatstock
tagthatstock

Houston's poor road design is reflective of the ignorance and / or corruption of both the politician/city planner who approved the projects and the companies that built them.  Look around at the area just near where 2 major highways meet. Some moron decided to add another on ramp compounding the already too congested intersection. Its like when you are in line at a store, would a manager suddenly tell everyone in the next lane to move to your lane and ahead of you?

tagthatstock
tagthatstock

Houston's poor road design is reflective of the ignorance and / or corruption of both the politician/city planner who approved the projects and the companies that built them.  Look around at the area just near where 2 major highways meet. Some moron decided to add another on ramp compounding the already too congested intersection. Its like when you are in line at a store, would a manager suddenly tell everyone in the next lane to move to your lane and ahead of you?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Traffic and mobility in Houston has always been difficult.  But the one thing that I could never understand is why people would live 30+ miles away from where they work and waste a significant amount of their lives just getting to and from where they work.


As far as the road designs go, it is a phenomena called "The Revenge of the C- Student".


And as far as the potholes go, I have always felt that a majority of Houston roadways were built on the cheap, not much stronger than someone's driveway.


Then again, I think that Houston has done some of the more innovative things when it comes to mobility, such as when Mayor Whitmire, expanded Westheimer literally overnight by restriping it from three lanes to four.

Anon4790
Anon4790

There are two simple reasons that Richmond is #1 on your list of the worst pot-holed streets in the city.  I am a little puzzled that you couldn't figure this out for yourself.


1.  The City and METRO figured they would be putting light rail down it and so why waste money repairing it while that was pending.  (The nice reason)

2.  Retribution against the businesses that stopped light rail and against Culberson personally/politically.  (The not-nice reason)


It seems to me that #2 is the biggest reason, because the City doesn't even seem to do simple black top patches here and there.  And the #1 reason seems like it should have expired about 3 years ago.  I think that (liberal Dem) Annise Parker & Company, in office for 4+ years at this point, just want to let it get worse and worse and say "that's what you get for electing (conservative Rep) Culberson to represent you."

timblack2
timblack2

@notanimby Zoning will never happen. Never. People bring it up every few years and usually by transplants from the East who grew up in a completely different style city: smaller, denser,built up instead of out; cities where the major initial growth happened before the advent cars, so public transport preceded the car. This city, and most to the South and West, like Phoenix and LA simply didn't grow that way and had their major growth post-1920s when cars were  the norm. You can't magically retrofit it to be an East-coast style city with zoning and mass transit. 

dexdan
dexdan

Um, no...I've commuted in all of the above, as well as Dallas.  Until I spent 3 years in Houston, I realized all of them (with the possible exception of the GW Bridge- but even that's only a section of NY traffic as a whole) had been merely practice for the truly worst traffic in the country.   

2askjoe
2askjoe

@mpayne4 :

Yes, however toryu88 has a point about cyclists ignoring the rules...whether rode OR road... ;-)

notanimby
notanimby

@timblack2 You obviously have never been on the rail if you think the track is only 4 miles long. Get out of your hermetically-sealed bubble on wheels once in a while.

Robert541
Robert541

@dwdickersonjr But its about as bad as it can get and has been this way since the dawn of the Drainage Fee.

dwdickersonjr
dwdickersonjr

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul I like living where I live, and expect to have to pay, in some way, to have a comfortable home. I have 3 acres of land and a small house. The taxes are a pittance compared to what I would pay in Houston on 1/4 acre, and I'll be able to afford my home when/if I retire. Yeah, the stress of my commute is not enjoyable, but I can't live in close proximity with people in an urban setting - that for me is far more stressful. No, a long commute (mine is 60 miles each way) is not for everyone, and I would love to be able to take a train to/from town, but until I can...I'll just tough it out.


timblack2
timblack2

@notanimby ..says the guy who takes 6 months to read a story. Yea, I'm sealed in. But obviously I was exaggerating to make a point. It is a whopping 13 miles long from Med Center to HCC. And I did try to ride it Saturday (9-27-14) in fact, from Midtown to downtown...and it was not running that day...a Saturday...evening. My point remains. It is worthless.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@dwdickersonjr @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

You explained it and I still don't understand it.  When I lived in Houston and worked downtown, the 15 to 20 minute commute was my preference.  For me, I just felt that I could accomplish more with that 2 to 3 hours a day doing something else other than driving a car or sitting on a METRO bus.

 
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