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October 6th, 2012:

Saturday video break: Tears Of A Clown

Song #48 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Tears Of A Clown”, originally by Smokey Robinson, and covered by English Beat. Here’s the original:

Smooth as silk. There was nothing else quite like Motown at its peak. Here’s the cover:

There have been many times in this series where I’ve been completely unfamiliar with an original version. This is a rare time when I’ve never heard of the cover. I like it – I prefer my ska in measured doses, but it’s an effective way to re-purpose a well-known song. What do you think?

An honor for Buffalo Bayou

Nice.

Buffalo Bayou’s transformation from a murky, yuck-inducing stream to a recreation destination earned Houston’s iconic natural resource a top honor from a national organization Wednesday.

The American Planning Association named Buffalo Bayou one of the nation’s 10 “great public spaces,” recognizing decades of efforts to turn the waterway into a vital urban amenity.

“A lot of people from other parts of the country don’t recognize how Houston is a city of people who love to be outdoors and it is a city in which you can be outdoors almost all year ’round,” Mayor Annise Parker said at a news conference outside City Hall, overlooking the weekly farmers market.

“Sometimes you might sweat a little bit, but it is an outdoor city and we are drawn to vibrant, interesting outdoor places,” Parker said.

The APA, the nation’s primary urban planning organization, annually recognizes great neighborhoods, streets and public spaces in cities around the country. It named Montrose one of the nation’s 10 great neighborhoods in 2009.

This year’s award singled out a nine-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou between Shepherd Drive and Turning Basin Overlook Park, highlighting the “distinctive design, amenities and public art; high level of public and private support; and ecological restoration and protection efforts.”

You can see the APA’s full list of Great Public Spaces here, and their other Great Places here. It’s a nice bit of recognition to get, and with the parks bond issue on the ballot it’s nicely timed as well. See the Mayor’s press release for more.

UPDATE: Apparently, Mayor Parker has dissed the Riverwalk in talking up Buffalo Bayou. Oops!

We got those bad road blues

So many bad roads, so little funding to maintain them.

Issues including traffic congestion, damage to vehicles from roads needing repair and costs incurred in accidents caused by insufficient safety features on roadways cost drivers in Texas $23 billion annually, according to a study released Tuesday by a national transportation research group.

“Texas has fallen behind in relieving traffic congestion on its major roadways and maintaining pavement conditions on these roads,” said Frank Moretti, director of Policy and Research at TRIP, the group that conducted the study.

The study suggests the condition of Texas roads could be costing individual motorists as much as $2,000 a year.

It also says the condition of Texas roads will worsen without increased funding, a difficult prospect given the state’s budget challenges.

[…]

Lawrence Olsen, executive vice president of Texas Good Roads, an advocacy group that wasn’t affiliated with the TRIP study, said the costs of improving roadways is just the tip of the iceberg. Olsen warned of a “looming fiscal cliff” coming for statewide transportation projects. According to Olsen, many of these are funded by bond proceeds or other short-term funding sources. “Very few of these projects are funded out of pure highway funds,” which Olsen said are not adequate at current levels to maintain road quality, let alone take on new projects.

Olsen noted major revenue sources for the highway fund haven’t been update to reflect increased road usage. Olsen cited the vehicle registration fee, which was last increased in 1985, and the motor fuels tax, which was saw its last bump in 1991.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Texas Association of Business said it would push for a $50 increase in the fee motorists pay to register a vehicle in Texas during the upcoming legislative session. It suggests the revenues raised by this increase could be leveraged to raise $16 billion in bonds for road improvements.

The study is here. You would think if there’s a consensus to spend money on one thing in Texas it’d be roads. That Lyceum poll, crappy as it was as electoral information, did find that people were willing to have their taxes increased for things like education and water infrastructure, but alas it didn’t ask about the much-maligned gas tax. I’m willing to bet there’d be a solid majority in favor of raising it, but good luck finding enough legislators despite the support from Senate Transportation Committee Chair John Carona and then-House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett. We can borrow money to pay for roads, but we can’t fix the badly underfunded revenue source for them, even though we’re all paying for the bad and congested roads we do have indirectly. Go figure.

It’s all about me!

The Leader newspaper did a feature story on me that’s in this week’s edition. If you want an unvarnished look at what I do on this site, complete with an action photo of me at the computer, this is for you. Even better, there’s a picture of me with Tiffany and the girls, who are the real brains behind the operation here. Check it out.

Endorsement watch: For the watchdog

The Chron endorses County Attorney Vince Ryan for re-election.

Because crime makes more headlines than drawing up contracts for bond issues or conducting reviews of county agencies, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has a much higher public profile than the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

But measuring the relative value and importance of the two by headlines and column inches alone is a fool’s errand. As the county’s chief civil lawyer, the county attorney sits at the center of a humming world of government business.

The office mandate is “to preserve and protect the public interest.” We believe the Democratic incumbent, Vince Ryan, takes that role seriously and, for the most part, succeeds in achieving it. We favor Ryan for re-election over the Republican candidate, former state Rep. Robert Talton.

Ryan, a longtime assistant under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll, brings a thorough knowledge of the inner workings of the county to his job, which includes all manner of duties. Among them: advising county officials and preparing contracts for the county; defending the county when lawsuits are filed against it; and helping protect neighborhoods, cleaning up the environment and shutting down illegal enterprises.

[…]

We endorse Vince Ryan for re-election as Harris County attorney in the belief that he will continue to bring the requisite seriousness of purpose to the job.

I’ll be publishing an interview with Ryan a week from Monday. I think Ryan has done a good job, and I’m glad the Chron endorsed him. And I still don’t understand what happened with the Republican primary for County Attorney. Given how much the establishment didn’t like Robert Talton, it amazes me that they couldn’t find someone to run against him before the original filing deadline. Old news, of course, but still curious. Anyway, good call by the Chron.