Saturday, July 12, 2008

Burning Pertochemicals

Freeways in Houston

All freeways in Texas have feeder roads running along the main thoroughfare. You can U-turn at almost any exit.

Do not depend on the posted speed limit on Houston freeways. Most traffic moves along at 75-80 miles per hour at all times.

Some freeways in Houston have up to 12 lanes of traffic. Many of the wide underground freeways are also retention ponds to slow flooding in the city.

Houston has a “Safe Clear” policy on its freeways to ease the flow; what this means is that if you break down on the freeway you must be off the side of the road within six minutes. If you are having car trouble try to get off the freeway or you will be subject to a mandatory $75 tow. Drivers with flat tires, empty gas tanks and easy-to-fix problems not in main lanes of traffic will be eligible for a free tow up to one mile.

Be aware of the erratic driving of street racers at night, usually on 610 or outside the loop to the west of the city.

I-10 Katy Freeway (E-W) Baytown and Beaumont to the east and Katy and San Antonio to the west.

Don’t drive on I-10. The I-10 and 610 Loop interchange is ranked as one of the worst in the nation and costs commuters 25 million hours of delays a year. If you can avoid the construction between Beltway 8 and 610 Loop on the west side of town then it is not so bad, but it is 12 lanes filled with big rigs on their way between California and Florida. Let’s just say they might be a little sleepy. Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive are two scenic and convenient east-west alternatives to I-10.

Freeway Jim

59 (SW-NE) Sugarland and Corpus Christi to the south and Humble (pronounced Umble) and Texarkana to the north.

59 South is one of the largest freeways in the country. Traffic is heavy outbound most afternoons and inbound on weekdays in the morning. From the Montrose neighborhood you can cross bridges over sixteen lanes of traffic at Montrose, Mandell, Dunlavy and Woodhead.

59 North is a good option to get from the Galleria to Montrose via the Shepherd exit or Downtown via the 527 Spur. The Montrose entrances to the freeway southbound are at Shepherd at Richmond and Richmond at 527 Spur. Exit 59 South at the 610 Loop North to reach the Galleria at Westheimer or the Omni Hotel at Memorial Drive.

45 (N-SE) The Woodlands and Dallas to the north and Pasadena and Galveston to the south.

45 is a useful way to reach downtown, and exits at Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive drop one off in the heart of the city. Driving south to Galveston takes an hour on average, traffic mostly occurs on early weekend afternoons when it is sunny and warm. Expect delays at Clear Lake, but they are usually temporary.

The George (not W) Bush Intercontinental Airport is north of the city located past Beltway 8 between 45 North and 59 North. Either freeway will get you into the city or out to the airport. Travel time to downtown is usually an hour at high speed, but morning traffic in or afternoon outbound can be a headache. Hobby Airport is located on 45 South about 30 minutes outside the city center. The first four exits outside the 610 Loop access the airport, so if you miss a sign it’s OK.

Houston Traffic SUCKS!

610 Loop

This freeway passes the Port of Houston on the east, the Astrodome to the south, the Galleria on the west and nothing of note to the north. Every 610 junction is a traffic hazard. The traffic on 610 is usually decent except to the southwest near the city of Bellaire. Whenever there is a hurricane people drive around on 610 videotaping the damage and drinking beer in the backs of trucks.

Beltway 8 (Loop) and Sam Houston Parkway and Sam Houston Tollway

The Beltway connects most of the suburbs of Houston. At some points it is free, but at times it is a tollway. If you have gotten on the Beltway at a junction, the first exit afterward is usually free.

288 (S) Begins at 59-45 junction in downtown Houston, south to Lake Jackson and Surfside Beach.

288 can be a welcome alternative to 59 when the freeway is backed up outbound. Use 610 West to arrive at the Galleria.

290 (NW) Begins at 610 Loop northwest corner, west to Cypress and Austin.

Heading to Austin? Watch your speed in the outlying suburb of Jersey Village.

Art Car Parade on Allen Parkway

Other major thoroughfares

Allen Parkway- a pleasant drive along Buffalo Bayou Park, Allen Parkway connects Shepherd Drive to downtown Houston and I-45, with exits at regular intervals. The parkway is a winding road with at 35 mph speed limit. East-West.

Memorial Drive- a bit straighter than Allen Parkway, Memorial runs parallel on the other side of the bayou. From 601 West to downtown, exits are located at Shepherd and Waugh in Montrose. There is no Montrose exit, use Shepherd or Waugh as an alternative and turn left at Westheimer Road.

Montrose Boulevard- Montrose splits from Main Street at the Mecom Fountain next to Hermann Park and proceeds north through the Museum District and the Montrose neighborhood. At Washington Boulevard and through the Heights Montrose is known as Studemont, and past 610 on the northside as Studewood. Some traffic, lots of restaurants, museums and clubs. North-South.

Alabama Street- Alabama runs parallel to Westheimer and Richmond, with the former to the north and latter to the south. It begins in the east at the University of Houston and runs through the 3rd Ward and Montrose past the University of Saint Thomas. Alabama continues until 610, where it abruptly ends at the Galleria Mall. Alabama is the most laid-back of the major inner loop streets and is recommended if afternoon traffic is bad elsewhere. East-West.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Galveston: Faded Glory

The Storm

Galveston was a thriving metropolis in the year 1900, when a Category 4 hurricane leveled much of the city and was the deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States. The vulnerability of the city’s shipping trade encouraged inland development, and paved the way for the Port of Houston, which gave the city its moniker “Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea”.

Today much has changed in the region, but Galveston is still a city of late 19th century architecture. Many of the large mansions on Broadway are from the era before The Great Storm. The City Cemetery along Broadway Boulevard holds tombs, statues and graves dating back to 1847, many done in a style reminiscent of New Orleans. Much of the city is still Victorian homes with hurricane shutters, much like Key West.

Much of downtown has been restored faithfully, and husks of old red brick industry are visible from the pier alongside the revitalized tourist industry on “The Strand”. The Strand features many small shops, candy stores, art galleries and margarita stands, attracting many visitors for spring break. Both families and college students flock to Galveston in the spring, and local motorcycle clubs mix with tourists waiting to embark from cruise liners during the summer.

Galveston's beaches are much cleaner than in the past. With the island's population showing greater concern for their environment, washed-up seaweed is now only moved back from the water's edge to allow the natural buildup and preservation of the beaches. Gulf waters are usually quite warm, owing to equatorial flow into the Gulf of Mexico and the shallow waters of the Texas coast. Looking to the future of the energy trade in renewable sources, Houston companies have recently begun exploration to create wind farms off the coast of Galveston.

Moody Gardens

Moody Gardens is a major attraction in Galveston; the three glass pyramids hold an aquarium, rainforest biosphere and science themed activities along with an IMAX theater and Palm Beach, a landscaped sandy area with freshwater lagoons.


The Seawall is a great place for a walk on the beach, the wall facing the ocean is covered in murals and large graffiti tags. A 12 foot barrier built to protect the city from coastal flooding, the Seawall’s absence on the edges of the city had prompted most buildings to be built on stilts or risk their lives.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Little Silly History

Captain Renshaw Blows Himself Up

In the Battle of Galveston in 1862, Union forces occupied the Confederate city for three months, blockading the largest Texas port. Confederate troops covered riverboats in bales of cotton to attempt to armor them against Union cannon. On New Year’s Day 1863 two Confederate riverboats tried to sneak into Galveston Bay. One ship was immediately sunk, and a small ground force was repelled by six Union warships in the harbor.

Confederate Irregulars Force Union Soldiers into the Sea

The apparent Union victory was thwarted when the Confederate Bayou City overpowered the USS Lane’s crew and the USS Westfield became moored on a sandbar. Both sides called a truce to consider their awkward positions. Captain Renshaw of the Westfield botched an attempt to destroy his ship to keep it out of enemy hands, and explosives killed Renshaw and 13 members of his crew. The other Union ships, confused if not defeated, headed out into open sea. The city remained in Southern hands for the remainder of the war, but the devastating blockade was restored in ten days.

Kemah / Clear Lake: The Home of Wholesome

Suburbanites have built the Kemah harbor into a beautiful recreation area. Sailboats dot Galveston Bay, and Landry’s Restaurant has developed a Coney Island-style boardwalk, complete with carnival games and amusement park rides. The Boardwalk Bullet roller coaster was completed last summer.

Space Center Houston

Johnson Space Center, the home of NASA, is in Clear Lake. Drawing many scientists and engineers from around the world, NASA and their thousands of contractors have brought a lot of technical prowess and entrepreneurial spirit to Houston, and crossover with the energy industry is fertile ground for industry. Space Center Houston is an attraction at Johnson Space Center geared towards families that features space-themed rides and educational programming.