Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

traffic lights

I got those “too many traffic lights between Houston and Austin” blues

But maybe not for long. Depending on which route you drive.

[T]he Texas Department of Transportation is in the final stages of a decadeslong effort to at least make that 170-mile trip from Austin to Houston free of traffic lights.

Right now, there are just five traffic signals left on Texas 71 between Interstate 35 in South Austin and I-10 in Columbus, all of them between Austin and Bastrop. And TxDOT has engineering plans and money set aside to eliminate four of those lights by adding overpasses over the next four years. The fifth one — at FM 1209 just west of Bastrop — is in the cross hairs as well, but the timing of its removal is less certain, TxDOT Austin district engineer Terry McCoy told me.

[…]

Texas 71, other than in Austin and through Bastrop’s commercial district, has no frontage roads. And it has scads of roads and private drives entering it throughout the other, more rural sections. So to turn it into interstate now would require TxDOT not only to acquire a lot of right of way for what would be a wider highway in many places, but also to pay some property owners for lost access to the road.

Or, more likely, to build many, many miles of frontage roads. Either way, the cost would be enormous. This isn’t a project that’s going to happen in the foreseeable future.

What TxDOT is doing instead — trying to eliminate traffic lights little by little — is the next best thing.

During my youth in Austin, through the mid-1970s, a trip to Houston included going through Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange and Columbus, including a few lights in each town and the odd right or left turn. The towns broke up the trip and were interesting to look at out the window, but going through them added a lot of time to the trip. By the early 1990s, TxDOT had completed loops around all those towns and few traffic lights remained east of FM 973 in Del Valle.

But little by little, as development stretched southeast of Austin, traffic lights were added first to that Bastrop bypass and then to several other spots along the way. About 15 years ago, TxDOT began to take those on, building overpasses and associated frontage lanes at several spots in Bastrop and major roads along the way like Texas 21. More recently, TxDOT installed a deep underpass on Texas 71 at Riverside Drive and a short tollway to bypass traffic signals at Texas 130’s frontage roads.

But lights remain at Ross Road and Kellam Road in Del Valle, at Tucker Hill Lane and Pope Bend Road about halfway to Bastrop, and at FM 1209.

TxDOT has set aside $48 million to build overpasses at Ross and Kellam — work set to begin as soon as fall 2019 and be done by summer 2021 — and $52.6 million for overpasses at Tucker Hill and Pope Bend. That second set of projects, TxDOT hopes, will start in fall 2020 and be done by summer 2022. All of this, TxDOT officials caution, could be delayed somewhat by environmental clearance work and acquisition of right of way.

The FM 1209 overpass, TxDOT estimates, would cost an additional $35 million. That money has not been nailed down.

McCoy, by the way, said he would like to make similar progress on U.S. 290, the northern route to Houston, but it has far more traffic signals standing in the way.

So, something like five years from now, a driver might be able to get to and from Houston on Texas 71 without hitting a red light.

So good news if you take the I-10/SH71 route between Houston and Austin, which puts you into (or takes you out of) the southern end of Austin. If you’re coming to or from the northern side via US290, hang in there. That may be a more interesting challenge, since there are traffic lights far away from both endpoints, in places like Chappell Hill and Brenham. And like SH71, the story of how US290 has evolved over time is similar. It used to wend its way through lots of small towns – I still remember a McDonald’s in Hempstead that was the best available bathroom for miles in either direction – but has now ruthlessly bypassed them all, making the drive faster and more efficient but much less scenic. We’ll see what comes of this. In the meantime, if you’re wondering why I-10 doesn’t connect Houston directly to Austin instead of San Antonio – look at a map, if you drew a more-or-less straight line from Houston to El Paso, you’d go through Austin – click over and read the answer.

Downtown of the Future

It’s very futuristic.

City planners’ ambitious 20-year vision for downtown Houston includes more of everything that has transformed the central business district into a more vibrant destination.

More apartments, restaurants and shops. More walkable parks and attractions. More innovative startups and Fortune 500 businesses.

But with new technological advances and cultural shifts, Central Houston Inc. also envisions a future when downtown denizens overwhelmingly use driverless cars, electric vehicles and ride-sharing apps to get around.

“By starting now and working together, we can position downtown to be a leader in connectivity innovation and adapt to these new changes,” Central Houston President Bob Eury said as he unveiled the “Plan Downtown” vision at the organization’s annual meeting Friday.

Central Houston imagines a downtown featuring electric vehicle charging stations, dedicated lanes for autonomous buses, and pickup and drop-off zones for ride-sharing vehicles and autonomous taxis.

Sidewalks will have digital “way-finding stations” with maps to help visitors navigate downtown. Public Wi-Fi will extend to pedestrian walkways, parks and other public spaces, Eury said.

What will be absent from downtown’s streets of the future? Traffic lights.

“With autonomous vehicles, there’s no need for traffic signals,” Eury said. “We should be planning for streets of the future, which may not have street lights.”

I wish there were a black-and-white newsreel to accompany this, like the ones from the 50s that talked about what the world would be like in the year 2000. You’ll have to use your imagination when you read the report for that. Nancy Sarnoff, Swamplot, BisNow, and the Houston Business Journal have more.

Meet the toucan light

The first of its kind in Houston, though maybe not the last.

Not that kind of toucan

The new traffic signal suspended above Appel at Yale and Seventh is a first for Texas, but also an adjustment for residents – some of whom are unsure of its benefit.

Called a toucan, as in “two can go,” the signal gives pedestrians and bicyclists a red-yellow-green signal and stops vehicular traffic with a traffic light at the touch of a button. In other spots around Houston, pedestrians can activate walk signs or flashing red lights. Cyclists along Lamar receive a special traffic light along the street’s green cycle path.

The toucan takes the signal to another level, said Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of Houston Public Works, who oversees traffic management.

“The (traffic) volumes on 7th are not really there,” he said. “It will never meet the warrants for a regular traffic signal.”

However, the trail – often bustling with joggers and cyclists and strollers – has enough demand to command its own green lights to stop traffic. Trail users can activate the signal with a button, similar to pedestrian crossings at major intersections. Drivers stop as they would in any other traffic signal circumstance.

“It’s a traffic signal to them, no difference at all,” Weatherford said.

The timing is set to give pedestrians time to cross the street. As trail use increases in various spots around Houston, Weatherford said the toucan signals could be installed in other spots where practical and when funding allows it.

[…]

Trammell Crow Residential, developers of two apartment buildings along Yale near the trail, paid for the toucan’s analysis and construction, estimated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000, said Ben Johnson with Trammell Crow.

The company agreed to pay for the signal during discussions with residents skeptical about the developments, which are expected to increase traffic on Yale.

The city will pay for maintenance and operations, including the cost of electricity to operate the signals.

The trail’s new location, however, has alarmed some. To line up the signal with Seventh, a requirement of state traffic codes, the trail curves headed east and deposits cyclists and pedestrians on the east side of Seventh into a median installed in the middle of the street.

The center location is less safe, said Shirley Summers, as she pushed her daughter Molly, 2, in a stroller.

“Cars turning right can’t see where I’m going,” she said last week.

I’m glad to see this, because crossing Yale at that location is indeed scary – traffic is heavy, there’s four lanes of it, and pretty much nobody pays attention to the speed limit. If this works as hoped, I’d suggest the city look at installing another one of these on 11th Street where the trail that runs along Nicholson crosses, because it’s the exact same situation. A word of warning, via a comment on Facebook, is that cars apparently don’t always respect the light at the head of the TC Jester trail. Having now driven past this light on Yale headed northbound, I can tell you that it’s actually kind of hard to see the light as you approach it from 6th Street. There’s a tree on the east side of Yale that blocks your view of the light (or at least, it blocked mine) until you’re quite close to it. Might be a good idea for the city to look into that, and also for HPD to have some traffic enforcement there in the early going. I sure hope this does what it promises to do. What do you think?

Allen Parkway 2.0

Changes are a-comin’.

Lane closings are scheduled to start soon along Allen Parkway – slowing traffic – so workers can complete a redesign of the road – meant to slow traffic.

The long-planned overhaul, which will add parking along Buffalo Bayou’s popular trail system and improve connections between the parkway and intersecting streets, starts next Monday, officials with the Houston Downtown Redevelopment Authority said. Work on the $11 million redesign should conclude before the Free Press Summer Festival at Eleanor Tinsley Park in late May or early June.

In the interim, motorists on the parkway will have fewer lanes in some places and will lose access to certain streets for a few weeks. The payoff, eventually, will be a much better, slower parkway, officials said.

“For us this project has been about safe access and parking,” said Ryan Leach, executive director of the downtown redevelopment authority. “Safety was foremost in our minds and getting access to this great asset we have been building for the past few years.”

Joggers and cyclists now must make a mad dash from one side of the parkway to the other.

“It’s Frogger,” said Cliff Eason, 30, comparing the trip to a video game.

[…]

By the time thousands descend on the music festival – which downtown officials said will return to the bayou from its site this year at NRG Park – the parkway will be a parkway again. It will still have three traffic lanes in each direction, but with wider, tree-lined medians and improved pedestrian crossings at Taft, Gillette and Dunlavy. A special pedestrian crossing signal will be installed at Park Vista Drive, making it much easier to access Buffalo Bayou and the park and trail system from south of the parkway.

City officials say the changes are vital to make the most of the bayou park system and to return Allen Parkway to its intended purpose as a slow drive. As changes were made over the years to help facilitate automobile traffic, many drivers got into the habit of speeding up.

Drivers on the road commonly exceed the 40 mph posted limit. A number of high-profile crashes also have occurred on the road, including a 2009 crash that killed lawyer John O’Quinn. Investigators said O’Quinn was speeding on the rain-slicked street and he and a passenger, Johnny Lee Cutliff, were not wearing seat belts. Cutliff also died in the accident.

In addition to crossings and intersection changes, the project will add another critical component for access to the park: parking. By shifting the parkway south – eliminating a frontage road that runs along the eastbound lanes – officials are adding 149 diagonal parking spaces along the bayou trail.

See here for some background. Swapping the little-used service road for parking makes a lot of sense, given how much the trails and the dog park have become a destination. I’m never crazy about adding traffic lights in this town, but I can’t argue with the one at Dunlavy. I don’t know that lowering the posted speed from 40 to 35 will actually slow things down – I think there would need to be a steady presence of traffic cops writing tickets to make that happen – but again given the presence of a lot of non-car traffic, that makes sense. As the story notes, the total time added for a trip all the way from Kirby to downtown at 35 instead of 40 is less than a minute. Surely we can all live with that.

Remaking Allen Parkway

It’ll be different, but it makes sense.

Next summer, after workers have spent months shifting lanes, adding crosswalks and planting trees, Allen Parkway will be a parkway again, at the cost of a slight slowing of vehicle traffic and the reintroduction of traffic signals.

Partnering with the Downtown Houston Management District, city officials expect to start construction on a redesigned parkway after July 4, the date of the Freedom Over Texas celebration in Eleanor Tinsley Park just north of the parkway. The goal, downtown district president Bob Eury said, is to finish the work in time for Free Press Summer Fest in late May 2016.

When completed, the $10 million in changes planned will improve pedestrian and bicyclist access from Midtown and Montrose to the Buffalo Bayou park system and add up to 175 parking spaces for visitors to the growing outdoor offerings along the bayou.

“The goal we have is how do we improve access to this park,” said Andy Icken, chief development officer for the city.

[…]

The work planned doesn’t dramatically change the parkway’s design, only its intersections and medians. Allen Parkway is essentially three strips of pavement separated by small concrete medians. The westbound and eastbound main lanes are accompanied by an access road south of the parkway.

The redesign shifts the eastbound and westbound lanes south and converts the existing westbound lanes into an access road and parking area.

Between the lanes, officials plan grassy medians planted with small trees, meant to calm traffic and bring back some sense of an enjoyable drive.

“We are making Allen Parkway a real parkway and not a raceway,” [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

The most dramatic adjustment for drivers will be signals at four key places.

At Dunlavy, Taft and Gillette, traffic signals will give pedestrians and drivers a safer way to turn onto the parkway. Closer to downtown, officials plan a pedestrian-activated crossing, similar to the signals used along the new light rail line near the University of Houston campus.

The light stays green most of the time until activated by someone needing to cross the street. It then warns drivers by following the traditional shift from green to yellow to red, stopping traffic to let the person cross, then turning green again.

As a driver, I will miss the stoplight-free experience (except for Taft Street eastbound) that has always made Allen Parkway such a pleasure. As someone who would like to take more advantage of the new dog park and other non-car amenities, I approve. There’s no safe place to cross the street east of Montrose. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, so taking action now is the right move. As the story notes, those lights will be green most of the time, and will add at most a minute to one’s driving time end to end. We can all live with that. If you need something to help you achieve inner peace with this, let me recommend the Psalm for Allen Parkway, which I’m going to copy here because I can’t believe that the defunct Houstonist website is still available:

1 On Allen from Shepherd, I shall not stop.

2 She maketh me to drive down concrete pastures:
she weaveth me beside the brown waters

3 She adoreth my stroll:
she leadeth me to the paths of Montroseness or the Waugh’s take.

4 Yea, though I haul through the valley of the radar of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art speedy;
the cops on Memorial they shake fists at me.

5 Thou preparest a jog path before me in the presence of El’nor Tinsley:
thou doth pointest to down-town toil,
my trip almost over.

6 Surely good views quite worthy shall carry me all through haze and the blight:
and I will dwell on your curves with my Ford forever.

Amen.

Heights-area bike trails to be linked

Excellent news.

Getting from the MKT bike trail to the West White Oak Bayou trail

Houston’s expanding trail system will soon gain a new leg in the greater Heights area.

The addition will be part of Bayou Greenways 2020, a $215 million project aimed at creating a continuous network of hike-and-bike trails and parks along the city’s 10 major bayous.

“This is just one critical piece that will be a great help to the Heights area and the White Oak Bayou trail system,” said Heights resident Kevin Shanley, a former president of the White Oak Preservation Association.

The current trail along White Oak Bayou originally ran from 11th Street north to Watonga. As it grew in popularity, it was extended north from Watonga to Antoine. The expansion was completed last year.

In addition, a downstream section has been added from Stude Park to the University of Houston-Downtown campus.

Also in place is the Heights Hike & Bike Trail, which runs along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line in the Heights from south of 11th Street near Eureka across the Heights community.

The planned section of trail, 1.35 miles, will connect the Heights segment to the existing White Oak Bayou Trail. The project will include replacing a burnt-out bridge over White Oak Bayou. Groundbreaking on this section will take place this fall, Shanley said. The work could be done by fall 2014.

“When the first leg is complete, you’ll be able to ride from (the University of Houston-Downtown) all the way to Antoine,” he said.

Ultimately, the trail will extend much further west/northwest than that, but it’s the connection between the MKT (Heights) and White Oak trails that specifically interests me. I wrote about this two years ago in response to an earlier story by Marty Hajovsky about the effort to link these trails. In the embedded image above, it’s the purple line that represents what is to be built. Making that connection will do a lot to expand bike transit in this area, and I’m delighted to see it happen.

One of the many nice things about these trails is that for the most part they are off the streets and separated from traffic, which makes riding on them quite safe. There are places where the MKT and Nicholson trails in the Heights do cross streets, and in some places those crossings are a bit hazardous. In an earlier entry, Hajovsky wrote about efforts by the neighborhood to mitigate the dangers at these crossings.

Last month, the HHA board sent a letter to District C City Council Member Ellen Cohen, Mayor Annise Parker and other city officials calling for safety improvements at six locations where the Nicholson/SP and MKT Rails to Trails bike trails cross major streets. For those of us who use those paths regularly, frequently with kids, as well as those of us who cross those paths in cars regularly (raising hands as I’m included in both of these groups), this would be a major improvement.

The six locations were identified in an independent traffic engineering study obtained by the Heights Association. According to a report in the HHA newsletter that goes out to members, the group claims that the changes should “enhance the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians without significant delays to motorists.” Here’s an excerpt from that newsletter:

The study recommends (1) installation of pedestrian hybrid beacons (“HAWK lights”) where the trail crosses Heights Boulevard, Yale, West 11th, West 19th, and West 20th; (2) installation of in-roadway lighting where the trail crosses White Oak, and (3) enhanced traffic signals and pavement markings at all six crossings. We note that the City has recently installed “bike crossing” pavement markings on the roadway approaches to the MKT intersections at 7th and Yale, 11th and Nicholson, and Columbia and White Oak.

Driving and riding over those six sites frequently, the safety problems are obvious. At West 19th, the Nicholson/SP trail splits from a single trail north of West 19th, to a split trail on both sides of the street to the south. It is so common to see children on bicycles, jogger or walkers darting across the road there to avoid oncoming traffic.

And since the bike trail covers what once were railroad tracks, the trail is on something of a rise in the street at all six of these locations. That makes the bike path hard to make out for oncoming drivers, whose cars are already “at pace” along all six of those streets. On white Oak and West 19th, with the shops, restaurants and bars, there are plenty of distractions already, further endangering trail users.

I personally would rank the intersections at Yale and 11th as the most dangerous because they’re the busiest and fastest-moving. Heights is basically two separate one-way streets, and I find that a lot easier to cross safely, and there isn’t as much traffic on 19th and 20th in my experience. The HAWK signals are still a good idea for all the locations – I’d like one installed at that White Oak crossing, too – but if I had to prioritize them, that’s how I’d do it. Houstonia has more.

Petition for safer walking and biking

From Marty Hajovsky:

Stephanie Riceman with the Heights Kids Group, a 900-strong (at least) group of families in and around the greater Houston Heights, has put together an interesting online petition that says as much about how many new families there are in the Heights as it does about the need to make streets safer for bike riders and  pedestrians.

The petition, entitled Safe Walking and Biking in The Heights, is aimed at Houston Mayor Annise Parker and District C Houston City Council Member Ellen Cohen and hopes to gather momentum to have intersections more safely managed throughout the neighborhood.  Here’s the very well-crafted preamble to the petition:

The Heights neighborhood is known for its small-town feel close to the heart of Houston. This community has cherished its tree-lined streets and preservation of walking and biking trails. These amenities sustain relationships among neighbors, make it easy to walk, jog, and bike to local businesses, or simply exercise.

Urban density is rising and a recent investment in roadway repaving has resulted in a greater volume of commuter traffic traversing our neighborhood at alarming speeds. In 2011, a young mother and wife was killed on our neighborhood’s walking trail while out for a jog because the signalized intersection at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard had not been properly managed for active pedestrian use.

Safety and mobility are a priority for our historic neighborhood. Heights residents want safe crossings for all pedestrians: fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers, parents with infants in strollers, children on bikes, senior citizens and others with mobility challenges that require greater consideration.

It is time for the City of Houston to invest in traffic management measures that provide for pedestrian, not just vehicular, movement and put the safety of our residents first.

And here’s the text to which organizers are asking people to affix their names:

We, the undersigned, call on the Mayor and Council for the City of Houston to perform these traffic calming measures:

1.    Installation of Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossings {Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB), HAWK System or equivalent} where the Bike Trail intersects with 11th, Yale and White Oak Streets.

2.    Implementation of a Barnes Dance (Pedestrian Scramble) intersection management plan at 11th Street and Heights Boulevard to ensure that no cars enter and idle in the four-lane boulevard and allow for the safe passage of pedestrians.

3.    Installation of a Pedestrian-Operated Signalized Crossing at Studewood and Bayland Streets.

We furthermore ask the City of Houston to make these pedestrian safety installations a priority to ensure the protection of our children and all pedestrians.

As someone who frequently crosses with his kids on bikes at the Nicholson/SP Bike Trail, I am proud to say that I have signed this petition and hope you all consider to so at well.   Crossing West 11th as an adult pedestrian at any point can be scary enough, but doing it with my kids, who are 12 and 15 and thus somewhat older, is downright terrifying.  If I imagine that my kids are younger and on bikes, I start to get extremely nervous at the mere thought.

I’ve signed it as well. Marty also plumps for a signal on 19th at the bike trail. I’d ask for the addition of a protected left turn from White Oak onto Studewood as well, as was finally done at West Dallas and Studemont. A side effect of the boom on White Oak has been the increasing difficulty of making that turn onto Studewood, even in the morning. There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic at this intersection now as well, as many people have to park east of Studewood to get to Fitzgerald’s or wherever, and having that would help. If you live or play in the area, please sign the petition as well. Thanks very much.

LED power

Good for Harris County.

The county is joining a growing list of local governments switching out incandescent bulbs for light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, embarking on a $1 million effort to begin replacing the bulbs at the 880 intersections it maintains.

LEDs cost $60 each while incandescents run $4, but the average intersection with incandescent traffic signals costs county taxpayers $2,380 a year in electric bills, said John Blount, the county’s director of architecture and engineering. A test intersection the county converted to LED last year showed a projected annual cost of just $328.

Arguably more important, Blount said, is that LEDs last seven or eight years, rather than 12 to 18 months, thus cutting the $1,500 it costs every time a contractor must be sent out to replace bulbs.

“You get a lot of savings on the cost of installation,” he said. “Instead of going every year and replacing them, in essence, you’re going every eight years. Just like homeowners, we have to constantly look at ways to save energy.”

This is a total no-brainer. They’ll recoup the costs quickly in lower electric bills, and they’ll save in the long term by having to replace the LED bulbs far less often. The main thing about the LED signals that I have found to dislike is that the green light is often not visible from a medium distance, I suspect due to the viewing angle. I have not seen the same issue with the yellow or red lights, so at least I know when I approach the intersection that what I can’t see I don’t need to stop for. Am I the only one that has noticed this?

The city of Houston in 2007 began a $1 million effort to replace 300 traffic signals with LEDs downtown, in Midtown and near the Texas Medical Center, Public Works Department spokesman Gary Norman said. That program expanded into a $16 million, 1,700-signal project citywide; today, Norman said just 398 signals remain to be converted. The city has received a grant to help complete the work, he said, which will begin this spring and take about a year.

The spread of LED traffic signals began a decade ago, but sped up in 2006, when the Department of Energy mandated that new or replaced signal systems meet more stringent energy requirements, said Siva Narla, senior director of transportation technology at the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

ITE’s position, Narla said, is that “these are beneficial, these are more energy-efficient and, as a community, LEDs are the way to go.”

Indeed they are. And now I’m wondering when we’ll do the same for all those incandescent street lights.

Kroger gets its 380

Despite neighborhood opposition, City Council has approved a 380 agreement for the proposed Kroger on Studemont at I-10.

District H Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who represents the area around the proposed store and who championed the 380 agreement, insisted the deal was less an incentive to Kroger than it was a way for the city to extract benefits from a market-driven project. The deal gives the city two blocks of road, sidewalks and traffic lights more than a decade early, and also hands over to the city a third of an acre that it would someday need to extend Summer Street from Studemont to Sawyer.

Mayor Annise Parker said Houston’s strategy differs from that of cities that build infrastructure first and then try to recruit businesses to move in.

“We have not chosen to use that sort of what I would call ‘corporate welfare.’ We have said, ‘Business, if you want to open and you need the street, you pay for the street. We’ll pay you back, but if you really want to be there, you use your dollars upfront,'” Parker said.

The city will pay a premium on that upfront money. The deal calls for the city to pay Kroger back with 5.17 percent interest. The city’s rate on bonds through which it finances public works projects ranges from 2.55 percent to 4.06 percent, according to information that Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck got from the city’s Finance Department.

“What do you make on your IRA? I would love to make a 5.17 percent return,” Clutterbuck said. “The taxpayer, in my opinion, should not be on the hook for that.”

The rationale given by Mayor Parker for the use of 380 agreements is sensible. It’s certainly a less risky approach than “build it and hope they come”. Aside from the premium interest rate, whether it’s good policy to use a 380 in this particular location is another matter. The outline of the deal here sounds better than what was struck for Ainbinder on Yale Street, but I’m dubious about the wisdom of a supermarket there. I’ve seen traffic at the light back up all the way to Center Street during the afternoon rush hour, thanks in large part to the many people wanting to enter I-10 West from Studemont. The thought of adding in grocery store traffic, not to mention another traffic light, makes my head hurt. Having said that, I’m not sure what kind of development could have been built there that would be both low impact on traffic and profitable to the developer. Long term, I may have to think about using Sawyer/Watson as an alternate route, though if the rumored plans of an Alamo Drafthouse come to fruition, it may not be much better.

The Studemont Kroger

Swamplot:

Kroger has bought 8.5 acres of former industrial land on Studemont, just south of I-10, the Chronicle‘s Purva Patel reports. The land, which was once part of Houston’s Sixth Ward, sits just north of Arne’s Warehouse and Party Store and across the street from Grocer’s Supply. Kroger closed on the larger portion — a 7.2-acre cleared parcel at 1400 Studewood, listed for sale at $15.7 million — just last week. A spokesperson for the grocery chain wasn’t ready to announce a new store on the site, but did say the company had already taken possession of 1.3 acres just to the south, at 1200 Givens St. If Kroger does build a new supermarket there, the parking lot would have 450 ft. of frontage on Studemont; other industrial properties, many of them accessed from Summer St., would still be sandwiched between it and the Sawyer Heights Target.

When built, this would easily be the closest grocery store to our house; it’s practically walking distance, not that I’d be likely to do so given the current sidewalk conditions and the need to cross under I-10. I’m not sure how much we’d use it anyway – Tiffany is not a big Kroger fan. She hates the Kroger at 11th and Shepherd, even post-renovation. Maybe the convenience factor will sway her, I don’t know.

I foresee issues getting into and out of the place. As it stands now, the only access to it is via Studemont, and I’d only want to access it via the northbound side. Making a left to or from the southbound side will be hairy. Most likely, there will need to be an additional traffic light, probably at the little piece of Summer Street that people use to get to Arne’s. I’m so looking forward to that. (Note: The street sign there actually says Hicks Street; Google Maps labels it as Summer. Just FYI.)

Another issue will be the Party Boy store across the street, especially in the month of October when they’ve got their Halloween haunted house open. It’s a popular attraction and traffic around that time is already pretty bad. Maybe the rebuilt service road on I-10 will provide additional access to that site, which would help.

Speaking of which, I wonder if there would be a way to fit a driveway from the new access road east of Studemont to the eventual Kroger parking lot. That would take some pressure off as well. From the diagram on Swamplot, which shows a little extension of the property behind its neighbor to the north, it looks like it’s at least theoretically possible. I hope someone is thinking about that.

Here’s a Google map of the area. You can approach it from the rear, which is to say from the east on Summer Street, which would mean access from Washington and Center via Oliver Street. It’s a little tricky – after you turn left from Oliver onto Summer, you may have to dodge semi trailers parked along the road as you follow the twisty street, and when you leave you have to turn off before you get to Hicks Street, or you’ll wind up on the overpass above Studemont, with your next opportunity to make a turn at Harvard Street. Alternately, if you start out west of Studemont, you could approach via Hicks and avoid Studemont altogether. I don’t think this will allow for any kind of volume unless some changes are made.

Whatever else happens, I hope one outcome of this is to improve the sidewalk along Studemont between Washington and White Oak. At least then the folks in the Sawyer Heights apartments could take advantage of the nice pedestrian path they’ve included along the new service road.

By the way, I’m hearing that the Target right there in Sawyer Heights is becoming a SuperTarget. So there will be a grocery option there even before the Kroger opens.

Finally, I can’t let this pass without noting that the site in question used to be a warehouse that was once the home of this impressive land shark before it was demolished in 2007. I’d love to know where that shark is today.

This is what happens when budget cuts are the only tool in your bag

You get the government you’re willing to pay for.

[F]rom Oct. 23 to Oct. 30, [Peter] Wang counted a total of 12 [traffic signal] outages at various intersections, from Barker Cypress down to Telge Road.

He initially thought it was an act of vandalism, he said.

However, after voicing the matter to the Harris County Precinct Three, he received the true explanation for the outages.

“Budget shortfalls have limited our traffic signal maintenance funding,” Wayne Gisler, the Assistant Manager of Traffic Engineering for Harris County, said in a email to Wang, “ In order to maintain the signals operating in a safe and efficient manner during our fiscal crisis, we’ve had to limit maintenance to emergency repairs only.”

Many understand the pitfalls of the economy and the financial bind that it has imposed on several fronts.

However, some believe that more funds should be funneled into signal infrastructure opposed to other arenas.

“I understand the budget but there’s a bigger picture. They’ve spent tax money on work for the Grand Parkway,” Wang said. “If you build a piece of infrastructure you have to be able to maintain it. If you can’t maintain it, then you shouldn’t build something new.”

Do you suppose that if it were the city of Houston instead of Harris County that had been forced to take this action that we’d be hearing about it from all of the professional critics of the city’s finances? I’m sure they’ll start clucking their tongues about this any time now. I just wonder how many replacement signal bulbs that 2007 property tax rate cut could have paid for.

I know everyone says that just as families tighten their belts and cut expenditures when they experience tough times, so should government. It’s just that families also look at ways to bring in more money if they need to do so in order to keep paying for the things they really need, like food and shelter. So far, all we’ve been willing to let government do is continually define down what we need. I have no idea where and when that may end.