Road Warriors

Look beyond Houston: Your story was fantastic, though utterly disturbing and depressing ["The Mixmaster," by Josh Harkinson, July 22]. I've often told my friends that we should use dictatorial extremes and destroy all the roads to bring them back to 1970 levels. Then people would have no choice but to find and, more important, demand alternative means of transportation.

Meanwhile, we would get back square miles of green space, forest, parklands, etc. I may be half joking, but I feel that people like Eckels don't have a clue and don't sound like they've ever left their suburban homes to see what else is out in the world. While born a Houstonian and having spent most of my life here (and tied to my car and having the same pinhole-sized worldview and thinking people like Eckels clearly exhibit), I've also lived in huge cities such as Chicago, New York and London. These are cities with larger populations and, in London's case, more sprawl. They have effectively used public transportation alternatives to reduce congestion and enhance mobility.

And there is no freedom like being able to hop aboard the tube at 2:30 a.m. after the bars get out and not have to worry about your safety. I don't know what it is about Texas that continues to produce people who have no concept of anything outside of their tall picket fences. It's time to mobilize Houston residents and do something about transportation before the area becomes one giant parking lot.

Sean Stoner

In the dark: Thank you for your fabulous article on transportation.

Future transportation plans are such a vital and important part of what Houston is and will be. Our planning and building process is in the dark ages and makes less and less sense, considering the changes we should expect in our economics and population, not to mention the changes we can't support because of the reality of our natural environment.

Those of us who are trying to chip away at the "business as usual, the public need not know or participate" approach taken by our decision makers greatly appreciate getting some facts and well-expressed issues to the public.

Lesly Van Dame

Good-bye, accountability: Great, really great article. You did an excellent job and covered a lot of the issues. You identified key players and the dilemma the region has gotten into.

Wow! Did you get an impression that decision makers will try to get the public to support these projects and pay for them, but really don't place much value on public input?

Although a number of nonprofit organizations are working hard to educate the public about the relationship between the regional plan and quality-of-life issues such as air pollution, health impacts and potential for flooding, to name a few, we fear there is little time, because these projects are fast-tracked.

People who voted for Proposition 15 did not know that it would result in new state legislation (HB 3588) that allows the governor to appoint the chair of every Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) in the state, allows the unelected RMAs the authority of eminent domain to take private property for the state, allows double taxation by letting roads paid for by tax dollars be turned into toll roads, and allows exclusive franchise and lease agreements along the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The public eventually will find that projects like the global trade routes and Grand Parkway are really not about relieving local congestion. If the vision of our regional plan is to accommodate international trade traffic, and to have us pay for it, the public has the right to an open and honest discussion. Instead, something of such great regional significance flies below the radar, while the state is taking people's homes, businesses, public open spaces and environmentally important areas. Those interested in more information may call me at the Sierra Club at 713-521-3981.

Thank you again for all the research and work for this article.

Christine Sagstetter

Suburbs are the solution: I have to congratulate you on another tiresome screed about how our city would be oh-so-much-better if it were exactly like Boston, as opposed to, say, every other city west of the Appalachians. What "urban planning" experts such as the oft-quoted Dr. Klineberg don't seem to grasp is that Houston is basically a big suburb. Much of its growth has been fueled not by central planning but by annexing privately developed tracts of land that at one time constituted suburbia.

Because of this "snatch and grab" philosophy, road planning was often a chaotic mess. While this sort of market-based expansion (i.e., letting people decide where to live, then moving the city toward them, rather than vice versa) may be the only workable solution to a town with no zoning and no natural boundaries, we are witnessing one attempt to work within the realities of our city's situation.  

Also, the Katy Freeway expansion has little to do with downtown. The new lanes in the area between the West Loop and Texas 6 would be a huge improvement. Would our health experts feel better about cars moving efficiently at higher speeds, producing less pollution, or sitting and idling inefficiently, producing more pollution?

As far as workable public transportation, I see only buses and a few selected rail lines making that much of a difference. Less than 3 percent of Houston's workforce is downtown. Is it worth spending billions to move so few people to a single area? Many energy companies have relocated to the suburbs, where office space is cheap and closer to their workers. I'll take free parking outside the building any day over the broken-up pay lot next to the homeless park, and a six-block walk from the office.

Don Mynack

Same worries down south: Your article will be a hugely useful resource. There was an immense amount of research. On a smaller scale, we are facing the same kind of leadership/business steamroller as Houston. So much pie, so many contracts, so little public attention, plus ingrown leadership.

Thank you very much.

Robert Crane

Ship of fools: After reading your article on the "improvements" that are planned for our fair city, I got the distinct impression that Judge Robert Eckels was sniffing a little more than our lovely air. If he thinks that widening freeways, creating Smart Streets and bulldozing neighborhoods is an effective way of reducing traffic, he is sorely mistaken.

California, during its boom time (1950s), practically jumped on Eisenhower's vision of a country filled with freeways. Granted, interstates are essential to a city's growth. However, without a good source of mass transit, the freeways tend to be used as a necessary part of life, instead of as a crutch, as they were intended to be.

Los Angeles would be a beautiful city if it were not chained down by its freeways, and if its residents weren't choked by the disgusting smog that clings to the city like an annoying relative. Do we want to do this to Houston?

Most metropolitan residents will tell you that they hate to drive because of traffic. Some do not have a driver's license because they don't want to deal with expensive parking and the fact that you can get somewhere in 15 minutes on the rail, rather than sitting in a car for 30.

Putting all this into perspective makes a person ask, "What in the hell is going on?" If other cities have failed to lower their traffic congestion with methods that went out of style in the '50s, then what makes Eckels think he can use the same methods and solve our problems? Eckels must have some space-age device or a magic wand that will take him anywhere he wants. If that is the case, then bring on the fairy dust! I want to know how it feels to be the captain on a ship of fools.

Emily Ash

Taking Offense

Education for all: The letter about gifted and talented students and minorities [Letters, "Color-blind program," July 22] amazed me with its tone of condescending, apparently unconscious racism. I was in GT, AP and honors classes in high school with students who were black, Indian, Asian and even white. A few years ago I was an elective teacher in the letter-writer's old Aldine district and had every kid in that intermediate grade. I believe the majority of the GT students I taught were Hispanic. Granted, the school was majority Hispanic, but I can tell you that from what I observed, all those kids deserved to be in that class.

What really amazes me is that people who make such sweeping and ultimately racist comments as "most of the time [minorities] don't give a sh*t about school" still make the effort to preface it with such a meaningless comment as that they are not prejudiced. Oh, but they are. Making any kind of generic, insulting comment that is completely unfounded by research is the nature of prejudice. Everyone else gets the impression that you are an elitist snob who believes that only smart white kids deserve a good public education. Trust me, my dear, the law says everyone is entitled to a "fair and appropriate public education."

Kelly Saccomanno

Meet minorities: I keep waiting for someone -- Hispanic, black, whomever -- to speak up against the ignorant white people who come out of the woodwork every time this issue is brought up. The letter-writer about gifted and talented students may be no "white supremacist or whatever," but she really showed how far and deep her ignorance goes. Being that I am part of the minority, I know for a fact that we, the students and parents, give a shit about our education. The majority of people I know take it very seriously and are offended when people make blanket statements like hers.  

She is doing white people who do choose to be informed about other people a disservice by spewing her uninformed, extremely racist bullshit. A project she and people who think like her may want to dabble in is to get to know a few minorities before making ASSumptions.

To all of us blacks and Latinos who read this paper, don't let garbage like this stand. Let these ignorant people know you are educated and you do care. It will go a long way toward dissolving these stereotypes.

Shaun Belcher

No English Game Hens

Speaking the language: Either Robb Walsh speaks fluent Spanish or he went to Pollo Riko with someone who does ["Bogotá's Best Chicken," July 22]. On my first visit, I was ignored by three different employees who did not seem to understand English. Three other Spanish-speaking customers came in, ordered and got their food. I was still trying to order. After asking for the manager and being ignored for almost ten minutes, I left.

I tried again recently and finally got the third person to take my order, but the food was not what I ordered. After several minutes, a Spanish-speaking customer made the employee understand what I wanted. When I finally got my chicken, along with several dirty looks from the employees, I went home and thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It's unfortunate that only food critics and Spanish-speaking people get decent service in this place.

No, I'm not a homeless-looking biker type with tattoos or offensive body odor, just a regular person trying to get a meal. If the management wants to cater to only Hispanics, a sign on the door should warn us Anglos that we're not welcome. Or perhaps they should realize that English is also spoken here.

The place must be a success with those newly arrived from south of the border. The parking lot is starting to be littered with disposable diapers and other trash.

Only in America!

Mike Pratt

Shedding Cash

Priced too high: I suspect that many Press readers identified with John Nova Lomax's July 8 Racket column, in which he described the financial situation faced by large outdoor concert venues, or "sheds," such as the Woodlands Pavilion. They are forced to pass along the costs of promoting and staging shows by major national acts, many of which are imposed on them by organizations such as Clear Channel Entertainment. In my case, I was eagerly looking forward to the June 11 concert featuring Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. Using my phone and credit card, I bought a lawn ticket with a face value of $19.50. With Ticketmaster's service charge and various other fees added on, the total came to over $31. I have not been working steadily for some time, and this was a major imposition on my limited budget.

Regardless of whose greed is at fault, it will be a shame if music fans are forced to pass on many major touring acts presented by the sheds simply because the shows have been priced out of their reach.

David Hinterberger

Just the Cure

On the mark: I just wanted to say how impressed I was with the review of the new Cure album [Rotation, by D.X. Ferris, July 22]. I have been a Cure fan for over a decade and have religiously bought every album; this review explains exactly my impression of the new album as well as that of the ever-present disappointment with each album. The writer did an excellent job and was concise, knowledgeable and witty.

Jennifer Crump

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