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Houston's ugly utility lines


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This seemed like the best fit for this topic.....

There's no way round it - Houston's Tower of Pisa utility poles and wiring make a lot of our nice neighborhoods look not so nice, and our not so nice ones look bloody awful. The cable companies have only added to the blight by leaving all their excess loops of wire hanging from the poles. There's a lot of talk about beautification of Houston - billboard removal, parks etc, - but I think burying at least some of these lines would tidy up a lot of neighborhoods, not to mention better protect the infrastructure them from lightning strikes. I'm just a citizen and have little appreciation for the logistics, financing or even likelihood of this but it seems like something worth getting input from knowledgeable HAIFers on. Is it something the city could drive, or are these lines in easements outside their jurisdiction?

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This seemed like the best fit for this topic.....

There's no way round it - Houston's Tower of Pisa utility poles and wiring make a lot of our nice neighborhoods look not so nice, and our not so nice ones look bloody awful. The cable companies have only added to the blight by leaving all their excess loops of wire hanging from the poles. There's a lot of talk about beautification of Houston - billboard removal, parks etc, - but I think burying at least some of these lines would tidy up a lot of neighborhoods, not to mention better protect the infrastructure them from lightning strikes. I'm just a citizen and have little appreciation for the logistics, financing or even likelihood of this but it seems like something worth getting input from knowledgeable HAIFers on. Is it something the city could drive, or are these lines in easements outside their jurisdiction?

The massive lines going down 59 annoy me every time I see them - I guess there is just no other option with such lines? LRT would have made a nice replacement

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The massive lines going down 59 annoy me every time I see them - I guess there is just no other option with such lines? LRT would have made a nice replacement

There are other options:

  • Don't look at them.
  • Learn to like them.

I rarely notice power lines, but when I do, I appreciate them.

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I've got a power pole in the middle of the sidewalk that broke during Rita. They installed a new pole and now the creosote has dripped to the bottom and is all over the concrete. It's funny, there are varying sizes of black dog paw marks all over that area of the sidewalk. I too wish that the lines were buried, but at least in my neighborhood, utilities run behind the houses.

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We have a rather large yard, that is pie-shaped, therefore we have two poles in the backyard. One of which is twisted at 35% and has transformers on it. But the things is, the fence line is dense with 50 foot trees, so we can only see the tip-top of them at one angle. Other than spraying the metal strip that runs down one brown, because it was too shiney, we don't even notice them. The more stuff you have going on on your fenceline, the less you notice them.

Besides, what else would bring the squirrels in at a fast rate of speed to entertain the border collies? That's high fun.

Edited by KatieDidIt
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We have a rather large yard, that is pie-shaped, therefore we have two poles in the backyard. One of which is twisted at 35% and has transformers on it. But the things is, the fence line is dense with 50 foot trees, so we can only see the tip-top of them at one angle. Other than spraying the metal strip that runs down one brown, because it was too shiney, we don't even notice them. The more stuff you have going on on your fenceline, the less you notice them.

Besides, what else would bring the squirrels in at a fast rate of speed to entertain the border collies? That's high fun.

I agree they are less noticeable in utility easements in back yards and you're right it is fun to watch the squirrels teetering along. I guess I was referring more to the major thoroughfares. Case in point - Westheimer at Woodhead.

img9278ue1.jpg

Edited by sidegate
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I agree they are less noticeable in utility easements in back yards and you're right it is fun to watch the squirrels teetering along. I guess I was referring more to the major thoroughfares. Case in point - Westheimer at Dunlavy.

img9278ue1.jpg

WOw, nice gas prices. Sorry I noticed those before the powerlines.

Yes, lower Westhiemer has the worst lines around.

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There are other options:

  • Don't look at them.
  • Learn to like them.

I rarely notice power lines, but when I do, I appreciate them.

Well that was constructive - I obviously appreciate what the lines do, but I was just curious as to whether there are other options with such high voltage lines? Can they actually be buried? That particular set is very noticeable (will be looked at), and I can't help but think it would have made pretty good placement for light rail. It just seems that there could be better uses for that land...

Those lines on lower Westheimer (and on Dunlavy as well) are also eyesores. I guess maybe the best option would be to "learn to live with them", as they will never be liked

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Operationally, there is a tradeoff to burying the lines.

With overhead power lines, they are more vulnerable to lighting strikes, falling tree limbs and other common outage causes. However, they are easily accessed, so the problem can be located and fixed relatively quickly.

Buried power lines are less vulnerable to such outages, but outages tend to last longer because the problem is more difficult to locate and then excavation must occur to access the line.

In short:

Overhead lines = more outages, but of shorter duration

Buried lines = fewer outages, but of longer duration

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For some reason, power lines are the first thing I notice in these photos that everyone posts here, but I NEVER notice them when I'm on the street.

What is it about photographs that make the power lines stand out so much?

Anyhow, I hear it's not cheap to bury power lines...much less when it's up and down an established major thoroughfare like Westheimer. Either there will be a lot of driveways to cut and replace or you'll have directional drilling crews putting holes through every water main, sewer line and gas main on the street!

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Well that was constructive - I obviously appreciate what the lines do...

I didn't mean just what they do, but also how they look. R. Crumb has notebooks full of drawings of power lines. He uses them in the backgrounds of his comics. After looking at them for a while, you can develop an aesthetic appreciation for them. They are created for their beauty, but a kind of beauty is an emergent property of them.

I think dislike for them may be more learned of a learned trait than acceptance of them is.

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Operationally, there is a tradeoff to burying the lines.

With overhead power lines, they are more vulnerable to lighting strikes, falling tree limbs and other common outage causes. However, they are easily accessed, so the problem can be located and fixed relatively quickly.

Buried power lines are less vulnerable to such outages, but outages tend to last longer because the problem is more difficult to locate and then excavation must occur to access the line.

In short:

Overhead lines = more outages, but of shorter duration

Buried lines = fewer outages, but of longer duration

Okay - so what about just burying the lines, which themselves once buried would presumably not be in need of frequent maintenance, but keeping the actual interesections (don't know technical term) in enclosed boxes (ditto) above ground where the poles currently are. I assume these would not need to be as big as the poles since the poles are only that height to keep the lines up out of the way.

Westguy - I actually think Westheimer east of shepherd is taking great strides in terms of creating a pleasant walkable environment. Some pretty ugly buildings have come down in recent times and are being replaced with structures that actually relate to the sidewalk as opposed to being stuck behind rows of cars. I can't speak for further down Westheimer.

Edited by sidegate
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Well that was constructive - I obviously appreciate what the lines do, but I was just curious as to whether there are other options with such high voltage lines? Can they actually be buried? That particular set is very noticeable (will be looked at), and I can't help but think it would have made pretty good placement for light rail. It just seems that there could be better uses for that land...

what land the setback? Remember there are also water/sewer connections there too. You have to have access to that as well.

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Buried power lines are less vulnerable to such outages, but outages tend to last longer because the problem is more difficult to locate and then excavation must occur to access the line.

Is there any documentation for this? I've heard this claim before, but never seen proof.

More importantly, when electric lines are buried you don't have to dig them up -- the utility crews go underground through manholes and work there mostly undisturbed by traffic, rain, heat, cold, etc... It would seem that burying the lines would make them easier to locate ("the break is between manhole 11138 and 11139"), easier to repair (because you don't have to fiddle with bucket trucks), and more durable because they're not exposed to the elements.

There's a town in Illinois that is suing the local utility company (Commonwealth Edison) because it has so many power outages. One of the company's responses was that there wouldn't be so many outages and they wouldn't last as long if the lines were buried.

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Is there any documentation for this? I've heard this claim before, but never seen proof.

More importantly, when electric lines are buried you don't have to dig them up -- the utility crews go underground through manholes and work there mostly undisturbed by traffic, rain, heat, cold, etc... It would seem that burying the lines would make them easier to locate ("the break is between manhole 11138 and 11139"), easier to repair (because you don't have to fiddle with bucket trucks), and more durable because they're not exposed to the elements.

There's a town in Illinois that is suing the local utility company (Commonwealth Edison) because it has so many power outages. One of the company's responses was that there wouldn't be so many outages and they wouldn't last as long if the lines were buried.

there was a failure in nyc a few yrs ago where power was out for up to 9 days in some instances. because of the heat affecting the underground feeder lines, more failed than are required and as a result power was lost. the location of the utilities can be unknown as well as metro dicovered while building the main st line. also with lines underground it is difficult to identify the components that are at risk of failure.

there are several ieee papers on this online. here's a quote from one.

“when you have a totally buried cabling system it takes longer to fix … Most of the US is served by overhead lines. They’re very easy to take out … [but the underground lines are the more] dangerous and difficult task to fix.”

Edited by musicman
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There are bigger eyesores, in my view, with regard to power/phone lines. Three notable examples I've seen are San Francisco, Cincinnati and Boston. The streets are literally covered with them for blocks at a time. A lot more unsightly in my view than our big'uns running down the ROW next to a major corridor.

That said, I agree that those monstrosities can be hard on the eyes. I have a bigger issue, however, with the lack of housekeeping along the property lines. A case in point is the ROW near Gessner on Bellaire. I don't think that lot is ever clean on either side of the street. I used to think that it was a result of the bus stop (and it might be to a degree) but they clean the bus stops off and the trash cans seem to be attended to at least twice a day. Whoever is responsbile for cutting the weeds in those lots nearby don't do a very good job if they do it all.

Edited by The Great Hizzy!
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Is there any documentation for this? I've heard this claim before, but never seen proof.

More importantly, when electric lines are buried you don't have to dig them up -- the utility crews go underground through manholes and work there mostly undisturbed by traffic, rain, heat, cold, etc... It would seem that burying the lines would make them easier to locate ("the break is between manhole 11138 and 11139"), easier to repair (because you don't have to fiddle with bucket trucks), and more durable because they're not exposed to the elements.

I first heard it from a power grid network engineer last year, so I assume he knew what he was talking about. In urban areas (this wasn't in Houston) they much prefer to bury the lines because the maintenance cost of overhead lines is simply way too high. However, in rural areas it seems the cost advantage of burial is not clear.

Overall, I think the overhead wires everywhere are the biggest eyesore there is in Houston. Even my friend from Turkey thought it gave the Houston a third-world look.

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For some reason, power lines are the first thing I notice in these photos that everyone posts here, but I NEVER notice them when I'm on the street.

What is it about photographs that make the power lines stand out so much?

I don't agree. I notice ugly power lines all over town, all the time. What I really hate are those enormous silver poles... I don't know what they are, but I think of them as the Super Power Lines. I don't understand why some areas have these... I just now drove by some on Ennis by TSU.

I think it's sad that we just accept these as part of our landscape. We give up so much for the conveniences we've come to need... stars are another example. Can't see stars anymore most places. They are lovely in Vermont, however. Okay, my mind is definitely wandering. Better get back to work...

Edited by sarahiki
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What is it about photographs that make the power lines stand out so much?

I wish I knew. I have a theory that it's the camera over-compensating trying to catch all the detail it can. I base that on the fact that when I transitioned from film to digital the power lines because much more obvious. And as I upgrade to higher-end digital gear they become even more pronounced.

I think with film a black cable against a blue sky gets blown out by the light. But the digital cameras try hard not to lose any detail and thus keep them in.

I sped the majority of my shooting and post-production time dealing with power lines.

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easier to repair (because you don't have to fiddle with bucket trucks), and more durable because they're not exposed to the elements.

Except for pulling up manhole covers, crawling down the hole and pumping out all of the water that has collected in the manhole during the storm that caused the outage, yes, it would be much easier.

Underground can be a much harsher environment for man's technological inventions. There is also the issue of cost. Back in the old days, when HL&P owned the entire deregulated system, they could propose burying lines and passing the cost on to the electricity customer in a regulated manner. Now, there is no mechanism for recouping these costs. There is no reason for Centerpoint to unilaterally spend the money just for beautification purposes, when there is likely to be no recouping of the costs.

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Except for pulling up manhole covers, crawling down the hole and pumping out all of the water that has collected in the manhole during the storm that caused the outage, yes, it would be much easier.

Underground can be a much harsher environment for man's technological inventions. There is also the issue of cost. Back in the old days, when HL&P owned the entire deregulated system, they could propose burying lines and passing the cost on to the electricity customer in a regulated manner. Now, there is no mechanism for recouping these costs. There is no reason for Centerpoint to unilaterally spend the money just for beautification purposes, when there is likely to be no recouping of the costs.

Okay, so whether the technical obstacles could be overcome or not, does that mean that even if there were some sort of civic momentum in favor of burying them that the City is not empowered to require them to do it? I'm just trying to get a feel for what stratum of government, if any, Centerpoint answers to - city? county? state?.

This is on a tangent but we had a lot of outages in our neighborhood last year after lightning strikes (not even rain) and after repeated calls to have the underlying problem addressed it was only when I mentioned the words "Public Utility Commission" that they actually started to pay attention to me.

San Francisco:

sea_of_power_lines_sf_520c.jpg

Courtesy, jmg-galleries.com.

Wow. That is a lot of power lines.

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I don't want to misrepresent. This isn't to say that it looks like that on every street but that there are quite a few of them that do look like that.

In any case, I too wish there was a way to hide the power lines here in Houston but as Red pointed out, the cost/benefit factor is a tough one to sell to the people who would be burdened the most by the decision, although I don't think it would be unreasonable for the city to enact/enforce tougher standards on their maintenance of their facilities.

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I wish I knew. I have a theory that it's the camera over-compensating trying to catch all the detail it can. I base that on the fact that when I transitioned from film to digital the power lines because much more obvious. And as I upgrade to higher-end digital gear they become even more pronounced.

I think with film a black cable against a blue sky gets blown out by the light. But the digital cameras try hard not to lose any detail and thus keep them in.

I sped the majority of my shooting and post-production time dealing with power lines.

I think it has to do with the visual field being compressed onto a single plane in a photo. In my theory at least, the eye in real life appreciates depth and visually separates one (in this case) power line from another based on their relative distances. In a photograph this is lost and they are all given equal weight. Sounds plausible anyway. I'm going with it. :P

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I think it has to do with the visual field being compressed onto a single plane in a photo. In my theory at least, the eye in real life appreciates depth and visually separates one (in this case) power line from another based on their relative distances. In a photograph this is lost and they are all given equal weight. Sounds plausible anyway. I'm going with it. :P

Close. It's because cameras don't have a fovea. When you're looking at a scene in real life, you only see detail in the center of your vision. You don't notice power lines unless you look up for some reason (which we rarely do). With a photograph your eye wanders around looking for the subject and you notice the power lines.

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Close. It's because cameras don't have a fovea. When you're looking at a scene in real life, you only see detail in the center of your vision. You don't notice power lines unless you look up for some reason (which we rarely do). With a photograph your eye wanders around looking for the subject and you notice the power lines.

I'll buy that. The photograph really is, in one sense, a substantial misrepresentation of how we normally perceive real life. I think that's one of the things that makes it such a powerful art form.

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The city could get in on it too and replace traffic signals hanging on wires. I've seen them put more of those up to replace ones that were taken down.

Yeah - if anyting conveys a seat-of-your-pants approach to planning and development it's those things swinging about on wires.

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I'll leave it up to you folks to decide about proper uses of taxpayer dollars.

However, for wide intersections, span wire is much more practical.

While placing the signal heads on the side of the intersection is allowable, it is preferable to have them over the travel lanes, especially if there is more than one possible indication per approach (i.e. left turn signal vs. through signal). There is much less "visual clutter" over the roadway than on the side of the road, so placing them overhead reduces the chance that they won't be seen.

And FWIW, most of the new signals I've seen in the city have been mast arm installations.

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It is simply true, that these multiple overhead power lines smack of Asia. Japan is not a third world country, but they have these awful power lines all over the place. As a wealthy western nation, we should abolish these above ground lines. They are ugly and all the urban planning, skyscrapers, etc., will not make Houston look like a modern metropolis with these overhead wires.

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It is simply true, that these multiple overhead power lines smack of Asia. Japan is not a third world country, but they have these awful power lines all over the place. As a wealthy western nation, we should abolish these above ground lines. They are ugly and all the urban planning, skyscrapers, etc., will not make Houston look like a modern metropolis with these overhead wires.

Houston looks like a "modern metropolis" because it is a modern metropolis. I'd rather my "wealthy western nation" spend money on something more useful than hiding the power lines.

Ever read C. M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons"?

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There are other options:

  • Don't look at them.
  • Learn to like them.

I rarely notice power lines, but when I do, I appreciate them.

Your answers boggle the mind at times. You can't miss them. They're everywhere. Not looking at them is not an option. Learning to like this is another story, but still not an option.

Why can't the discussion at least get started. Other cities bury them why can't we? Additionally, some entire neighborhoods bury them so not sure what argument is made to not have them buried.

Except for pulling up manhole covers, crawling down the hole and pumping out all of the water that has collected in the manhole during the storm that caused the outage, yes, it would be much easier.

Underground can be a much harsher environment for man's technological inventions. There is also the issue of cost. Back in the old days, when HL&P owned the entire deregulated system, they could propose burying lines and passing the cost on to the electricity customer in a regulated manner. Now, there is no mechanism for recouping these costs. There is no reason for Centerpoint to unilaterally spend the money just for beautification purposes, when there is likely to be no recouping of the costs.

But it's done elsewhere. Other cities have NO overheard wires. At least it could be done with new installations right?

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But it's done elsewhere. Other cities have NO overheard wires. At least it could be done with new installations right?

we'll start adding a surcharge to your bill first. ;) btw, which cities have NO overhead wires?

Edited by musicman
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Your answers boggle the mind at times.

Thank you.

You can't miss them. They're everywhere. Not looking at them is not an option. Learning to like this is another story, but still not an option.

I don't look at them. I can't understand why you look at them so much, especially if you don't like them. It's easy to avoid looking at them. They are above your line of sight if you look forward.

Why can't the discussion at least get started. Other cities bury them why can't we? Additionally, some entire neighborhoods bury them so not sure what argument is made to not have them buried.

The discussion is started. Why can't it end? I'm unaware of any city that burries all of its power lines. The argument against burrying them is cost, plain and simple. Well, a little more complicated. They bug you and some others, but the rest of us don't mind. Why should everyone pay to satisfy the aesthetics of a few?

I know Baltimore has wires. I watched a TV show filmed in Boston. It was called "The Wire".

Edited by memebag
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