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IronTiger

Driving the Roads of Houston?

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It's no lie that I've been to Houston many, many times in the last 5+ years, and saw many things, went to different neighborhoods, Inner Loop, Outer Loop, and suburbia. I've been a co-pilot and a navigator, but I have a confession to make. I've never actually driven in Houston myself, as in, got my hands on the wheel, and experienced the thrill of the freeway system myself. 

 

I've driven in College Station myself, even in aggravating Bryan rush hour traffic (land of the poorly timed stoplights), of course I've used highways, and driving several years without accidents. In the next month or so, I will embark on a solo quest to take on Houston's highways as I navigate from the Great Northwest to Pearland. Problem is, I am kind of nervous about doing such a quest as Houston's drivers are substantially more aggressive than what I'm used to. The best advice I could give myself is to go the speed the rest of the traffic is going, not at the posted speed limit (posted speed limit rarely tops 65, and I sure as heck know that almost everyone goes faster than that).

 

Anyone have some advice I could use about driving in Houston and not getting in a wreck and/or pissing others off?

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If you're gonna get in the left lane you better be sure you're going their speed or at least get out if the way when you're done passing because Houston drivers don't forgive. Id just avoid it if at all possible.

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Maintain a safe following distance between you and the car in front of you. People will slam their brakes on the freeway for seemingly no reason.

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Take backroads! You'll see tons more!

 

That's the best advice.  If you really want to experience the freeways maybe take them one way and take a backroad tour going back, or vice-versa.  Biggest problem I can think of is the shortness of the merge on some of the onramps.  Make sure you are up to speed, or maybe a little faster, when entering the highways.  Bring a gps for the backroads tour.  If you want to plan your trip out in detail, you can also look things over on google streetview so you are aware of the places where you have to move quick to get on the freeway and then cross lanes immediately so you can get where you are going.

 

Don't worry too much about pissing other drivers off, that's normal.   :P  

 

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To be honest, I was considering taking Hempstead Road past the Beltway, if for nothing else to avoid the 610/290 interchange.

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To be honest, I was considering taking Hempstead Road past the Beltway, if for nothing else to avoid the 610/290 interchange.

 

I haven't been on the stretch of 290 from Eldridge to the 610/290 interchange in quite a while so I don't know what construction is going on there, but that interchange isn't too bad in my opinion, especially coming in from 290.  It's wide and well marked in that direction.  I always have the most fun on 59 from about Kirby to the 59/45 connector where there always seems to be a lot of traffic and there's a lot of merging and lane changing going on.

 

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JLWM's advice about following distance is definitely tops on my list. Especially in heavy traffic maintaining proper distance (you can determine that with experience but generally the greater the better) avoids having to do the accelerator/brake pedal tap dance which makes the whole ordeal less tiring and is more merciful to your car.

 

On a three-lane freeway I stay in the middle lane and go with the flow of traffic no matter what the speed. I always "let" other drivers into the lane ahead of me and just re-establish the following distance I have determined is best. If it sounds like I'm some kind of milque-toast I assure you that I am not. I've accumulated my share of speeding tickets over the past 38 years and I have no problem "dropping the hammer" on the open road. All law-enforcement folks please ignore that last statement. Thank you.  :)

 

Put it this way: Speed/Following Distance = Safety Factor. Increase the following distance and you increase the safety.

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Don't be slow, especially in roads like westheimer where people drive almost double the speed limit.

Speed up on the left lane or move.

Last night on 59 lots of cars were existing from multiple entrances and driving in the construction zone.

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Use the left lane only for passing.  Use your signals when changing lanes.   There's really nothing special about it if you follow those and other rules of the road.

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Do not be surprised or annoyed by people passing on the right and not using signals.  This is Houston, not Europe.

 

I also agree with the advice on leaving enough room ahead.  Also, if at all possible, try to look beyond the vehicle in front of you, including what's going on in adjacent lanes. 

 

Or you can take FM 359 from Hempstead down to Richmond, and then 59 to get back onto 6 for the last bit into Pearland.  Taking 6 all the way down and around is not for the faint of heart.

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I hope you watch a lot of NASCAR because if you are ever trying to get from I-10 to 290 then you will have to master the art of traversing 5-6 lanes of traffic in the span of 15secs while dodging speedy cars as if you were on an enormous race track :P

Edited by Luminare
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Luminaire's comment reminds me that the noobs really ought to avoid the shoulder times - say, between 9 and 10 in the morning and around 3 in the afternoon.  That's when it's heavy, but also fast.  Such conditions call for superior Traffic Ninja skills, Grasshopper.

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Just keep up with the traffic in front of you. There will always be one jerk that tailgates you even during heavy traffic when there is no place for anyone to go. Just ignore them. Also get used to people more concerned about whats happening on their cell phone then navigating traffic. if you don't already have one get a toll-road sticker. Best way to avoid freeway construction. The Grand Parkway is wonderful and will be better when it connects from 59 to 45. 

 

Lastly go to Austin and drive around for a while. It will make you appreciate our traffic more. 

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Use the left lane only for passing. Use your signals when changing lanes. There's really nothing special about it if you follow those and other rules of the road.

Not only that, but always try to keep passing the cars to your right. Each lane to the left should be passing the cars on their right. When this doesn't happen, and you get two or more cars just driving in a single line, creates traffic.

Follow those rules, as well as the distance rule and you will be fine. If people would keep proper distances when driving, then cars merging onto the freeway, or needing to change lanes can do so without a problem. Not to mention it makes rush hour traffic easier if you just let your car roll and slightly accelerate when needed.

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To be honest, I was considering taking Hempstead Road past the Beltway, if for nothing else to avoid the 610/290 interchange.

This might be a bad idea as it is very confusing to get on 610 from Hempstead once your each this area. On the other hand you could continue straight on Hempstead thru 610, and go under the railroad bridge/Old Katy then take a right onto I10, from which you can easily get onto 610South.

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Hmm...I was just thinking. If you decide to do back roads you could do Hempstead --> Washington/Franklin --> La Branch --> Texas/Harrisburg --> Lockwood --> Telephone (35) if you're going to east Pearland.

West Pearland, you could do Hempstead --> Washington/Franklin --> La Branch --> Alabama --> Crawford/Almeda. 

 

Those would be what I'd consider "Houston scenic." Unless you're trying to bee-line it to Pearland, in which case just stay in the middle lanes of 290-610-288 and drive defensively (but it might take you just as long)   :)

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I was thinking NW Freeway -> Hempstead Road -> Post Oak Road (at Northwest Mall) -> SB 610 Loop -> Merge into 610 in Uptown -> Keep on 610 until 288 -> Get off at desired exit in Pearland.

I'd love to get a toll tag but right now I'm not sure I'll even live in Texas next year. I'd love to get a job in Houston though. :)

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Trust me, IronTiger, that's going to take you 20 minutes longer. You shouldn't have an issue with the interchange since you will be in one of the 3 left lanes on 290 that become the left lanes of southbound 610. These lanes don't really back up that badly outside of rush hour. Then you just stay on 610 until you hit 288. The 610/290 interchange isn't too tricky unless you're going from I-10 onto 290 as someone else mentioned. Of course, it all depends on the time of day (for traffic reasons) and if TxDOT has the interchange shut down (as they may during weekend nights). Just don't sit in the left-hand lane unless you're passing; though you'll see a bunch of people doing this, aggravating others on the road. As you approach 59 on 610, be in the second lane from the left, lest you run into the gridlock nightmare that is the 610/59 interchange.

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Well, it would be probably slower to take Hempstead Road if it's not rush hour, but I can see the sights and take a break from freeway driving for a bit. The goal isn't necessarily to get there as fast as possible,

Or 290 to 610 to 10 east to 288

10 East doesn't even go to 288 directly, and I'm not going to downtown if I'm going to Pearland, especially if I'm coming from out of town.

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Hmm...I was just thinking. If you decide to do back roads you could do Hempstead --> Washington/Franklin --> La Branch --> Texas/Harrisburg --> Lockwood --> Telephone (35) if you're going to east Pearland.

West Pearland, you could do Hempstead --> Washington/Franklin --> La Branch --> Alabama --> Crawford/Almeda. 

 

Those would be what I'd consider "Houston scenic." Unless you're trying to bee-line it to Pearland, in which case just stay in the middle lanes of 290-610-288 and drive defensively (but it might take you just as long)   :)

 

Until about 25 years ago that is very close to the route my aunt took when she drove her husband from their house near Clay Road to his job at Texas Southern University (He didn't drive due to a medical condition). She absolutely refused to drive on the freeways but never complained about her travels on the surface streets of Houston.

 

Truth be known they weren't very solid financially (though a better person than my late aunt you would never meet) and some of the automobiles they owned were best kept off the freeways anyway. Auntie passed away in 1989 so she did not see the steady growth of this city over the last quarter century but I doubt it would have fazed her.

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I think he meant 610 east??

You have to go on 610 for a short time before you hit 10, then you take 10 east to downtown, then 45 to 288

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You have to go on 610 for a short time before you hit 10, then you take 10 east to downtown, then 45 to 288

 

Drive much?

 

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I think he meant 610 east??

You have to go on 610 for a short time before you hit 10, then you take 10 east to downtown, then 45 to 288

610 north for a short time to 610 east to 610 south to 610 west to 288 also works :)

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You have to go on 610 for a short time before you hit 10, then you take 10 east to downtown, then 45 to 288

 

Alternatively, you can take I-10 E to US 59 S, and then 59 S to 288 when I-45 S is backed up.

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OK, one more thing--the posted speed limit on 610 (60, 65?) isn't how fast I should go--I'll get rear-ended. What is the "right" speed to drive on there?

 

(I won't be playing speeding games in Pearland, though)

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OK, one more thing--the posted speed limit on 610 (60, 65?) isn't how fast I should go--I'll get rear-ended. What is the "right" speed to drive on there?

(I won't be playing speeding games in Pearland, though)

You won't get rear ended but you might annoy some people. I don't drive above speed limit

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It'll be easiest to stay with the flow of traffic - passing a few, getting passed by a few, but generally moving at the consensus speed (which varies throughout the day and from place to place).

 

As a matter of safety, try not to drive immediately beside someone unless you are passing or being passed; likewise, be aware of the blind spots you and everyone else has on their rear quarters.  And keep an eye out for motorcycles - it's getting less hot, so there are more of them out there, and they're small and thus hard to spot.

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You won't get rear ended but you might annoy some people. I don't drive above speed limit

 

I'm not trying to drive fast or get there faster, I just don't want to get into an accident if I'm going 65 and everyone else does closer to 75. 

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I typically get in the left lane and keep up with whoever I end up behind, presuming the traffic is more or less following the "slower traffic keep right" rule, which it generally does on the Eastex.

 

80 mph is not unusual at all.

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I typically get in the left lane and keep up with whoever I end up behind, presuming the traffic is more or less following the "slower traffic keep right" rule, which it generally does on the Eastex.

 

80 mph is not unusual at all.

 

I acknowledge that I'm a bit of a hotshoe when left to my own devices.  I've often been tickled by how traffic seems to speed up once one gets to the Houston city limits.  I'll also point out that Nate99's avatar is a one year newer version of a car I once had that was considered quite the performance machine in its day (granted, screaming chicken or no, a '76 Trans still had only about as much power as some john boats do now).

 

Nevertheless, to be responsible I'll stick to my pass a few, get passed by a few advice. When left to their own devices, traffic engineers shoot for an 85th percentile speed - i.e., 85% of the traffic is driving that speed or slower.  Their studies have shown that, barring unusual circumstances, people aren't suicidal and only about 15% or so will go faster than conditions allow; setting the speed limit at that point is optimal for safety.

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Anyone have some advice I could use about driving in Houston and not getting in a wreck and/or pissing others off?

 

Put the phone out of reach or turn on the BT.

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It'll be easiest to stay with the flow of traffic - passing a few, getting passed by a few, but generally moving at the consensus speed (which varies throughout the day and from place to place).

As a matter of safety, try not to drive immediately beside someone unless you are passing or being passed; likewise, be aware of the blind spots you and everyone else has on their rear quarters. And keep an eye out for motorcycles - it's getting less hot, so there are more of them out there, and they're small and thus hard to spot.

The car I rented this past weekend in calgary had an indicator on the side mirror that went on when someone was in your blind spot

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The car I rented this past weekend in calgary had an indicator on the side mirror that went on when someone was in your blind spot

 

Say what?  Calgary has a light rail system and you didn't opt to ride it instead?  What about the carbon footprint you're leaving (in addition to that of the flight)?

 

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The car I rented this past weekend in calgary had an indicator on the side mirror that went on when someone was in your blind spot

 

That's nice.  It reminds me of a current commercial featuring some vapid hipster driving a car that's battling it out with his self absorption to see if Darwin's gonna win or not - just as in years past, there were those who apparently thought that buying a Volvo would somehow guarantee their vehicular immortality.

 

One should still drive at the prevailing speed of traffic, one still ought to stay out of other people's blind spots, and one should still turn one's punkin' haid and actually look before changing lanes.

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That's nice.  It reminds me of a current commercial featuring some vapid hipster driving a car that's battling it out with his self absorption to see if Darwin's gonna win or not - just as in years past, there were those who apparently thought that buying a Volvo would somehow guarantee their vehicular immortality.

 

One should still drive at the prevailing speed of traffic, one still ought to stay out of other people's blind spots, and one should still turn one's punkin' haid and actually look before changing lanes.

 

Well said.

 

If you find yourself nervous while driving, just stay in the same lane and work your way over to an exit as you feel comfortable.  Houston is pretty easy to navigate so you can always find your way from wherever you land and, who knows, you might stumble across something interesting.

 

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Say what? Calgary has a light rail system and you didn't opt to ride it instead? What about the carbon footprint you're leaving (in addition to that of the flight)?

Landed in Calgary spent the weekend in lake louise

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Landed in Calgary spent the weekend in lake louise

 

I'm jealous. Love Lake Louise. Did you hike to the tea house? 

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I'm jealous. Love Lake Louise. Did you hike to the tea house?

No I was only there 48 hours so the first day I was in banff second day saw Peyto lake, lake louise, and lake moraine. Did the tunnel mountain hike in banff and an unmarked peyto lake hike.

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Congratulations.  

 

Incidentally, Leon Hale, the columnist who retired this year from the Chron at the age of 92, would take an annual drive all the way around the Loop to check up on whether he could still drive, at least up to a year or two ago.  In fairness, he was in Houston before any of the freeways were built, so the traffic kinda grew on him.

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Vik is correct, since 290 is a left exit from 610 heading north.  

 

I think it's OK this weekend for anywhere you're likely going, but it's always a good idea to check for total closures - for example, SB 45 north of the Loop has a total shutdown this weekend.  This is a handy tool:  http://traffic.houstontranstar.org/layers/

 

Just for giggles, and since traffic's likely going to be light anyway, you might consider coming up through downtown and then approaching 290 from the North Loop westbound.

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