Bringing the Texas U-turn to Chicago

An innovation is coming to a particularly difficult Chicago road construction site: a Texas U-turn will be in place for drivers hoping to get on the northbound Kennedy from the eastbound Eisenhower.

Google Maps image of Meachem Road and Illinois Route 390

Kennedy-bound traffic will be detoured onto the far-right Eisenhower lane and steered to the outbound Dan Ryan Expressway. From there, motorists will take a “Texas U-turn” at the Taylor Street interchange and go from there to the westbound Kennedy…

“The detour will be a dedicated lane separated by a barrier wall to restrict merging into the regular Dan Ryan lanes and requiring drivers to use the Taylor Street interchange,” IDOT engineers said.

What’s a Texas U-turn? It “refers to a roadway that allows vehicles to make a 180-degree maneuver to go in the opposite direction, usually without traffic signals,” IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said. “They were first widely used in Texas on one-way frontage roads that paralleled expressways.

“The free flow U-turn improves traffic flow and reduces congestion in certain situations because it keeps the U-turning traffic out of the cross road intersections. An example of this is at the Meacham Road interchange on Route 390.”

According to Wikipedia, the Texas U-turn is present in a number of states.

Two additional thoughts:

1. A precondition for the Texas U-turn seems to be having frontage roads along highways. There are some areas in the Chicago region where this is common – such as long the Dan Ryan Expressway – but many other areas where frontage roads are not present and properties back up to the highway. In Chicago, I wonder if the frontage roads are the result of fitting highways into the existing street grid (such as the Congress Street Expressway, later the Eisenhower).

2. It would be interesting to see how different road innovations spread across states. How do highway innovations diffuse across the United States? They may arise because of particular local conditions but then engineers and planners elsewhere see how they are applicable. At some point, there is federal intervention regarding safety and regulations. Having driven on highways across the United States, there is both familiarity with the system – similar signage, the roadways themselves look similar – as well as local peculiarities – exits on different sides, the size of on and off-ramps as well as the space between them, HOV lanes, etc.

Related post: the coming of the diamond interchange to the Chicago area.

HOAs, political signs, and elections

What would a national election cycle be without stories of how politics and homeowner’s associations do (or do not) mix? The latest in reactions to political lawn art from Katy, Texas:

Shannon Bennett and her husband painted the tribute to O’Rourke in an effort to keep people from stealing the their political lawn sign, the Star-Telegram reported Thursday.

Bennett said she and her husband were immediately confronted by the the president of the Chesterfield Community Association, who she said was “very hostile” over the sign.

This sounds, in many ways, like a typical HOA conflict. The homeowner does something that may not be explicitly prohibited or at least is more difficult to find in the association’s regulations and conflict ensues. Painting your lawn for a political candidate is an unusual step and it is not surprising that the HOA had concerns. Add a contentious political battle and this is a Grade A HOA dust-up.

But, more details in the story suggest this is more than just an election year battle:

Bennett told the paper that she felt like there is a double standard in the neighborhood, noting that she lives near a house with a sign that reads “I stand for the anthem, and kneel for the cross.” According to Bennett, the neighbor’s sign should not be allowed under the HOA rules because it is not a political sign.

Bennett said she was forced to remove a sign that reads “kindness is everything” due to the same guideline.

And from the HOA company:

“This is not a violation for them placing a political sign; it’s the type of signage that they’ve actually placed on their property being an extremely large painting on the actual grass of their front yard,” Jordan told the Houston Chronicle. “It is a landscaping and signage violation. It has nothing to do with it being a political signage. Any type of signage of that nature would be in violation.”

Now this is not just about an election for a senate seat; now this is about which rules are enforced, which messages are deemed political, and what forms these messages can take. And in a state known for its conservatism, these disputes could fester. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors all in a quest to maintain property values.

Tomorrow: do political signs affect property values and if they do, isn’t the right to political expression worth it?

Singling out a Houston McMansion

McMansionhell is back with a “snarky takedown” of a particular home in Houston. See the diagrammed pictures and explanation here.

It is not surprising that this researcher went after a Texas McMansion. I found in my article regarding uses of the term McMansion in both the New York Times and Dallas Morning News that there are some significant differences between the two areas of the country. The tone from New York City was that McMansions were overwhelmingly bad, even with their construction in suburban areas of the metro region. On the other hand, there were supporters of McMansions in Dallas. As McMansionhell noted, things are indeed larger in Texas and my study of the newspaper coverage suggested some people don’t mind celebrating this. Additionally, while sprawl is present in both places, a city like New York with such a dense center (some might argue the center of the world) does not celebrate the suburban conditions that encourage McMansions while residents of Dallas didn’t mind as much.

A side note: I found that design (example: Mediterranean architecture doesn’t work everywhere) and features of McMansions could differ quite a bit across regions. If this Houston McMansion is so notable, could one do something similar for garish McMansions in Orange County or Lake County or Westchester County?

Three reasons for opposition to a proposed Dallas-Houston private high-speed rail project

Eric Jaffe categorizes opposition to a proposed high-speed rail project between Houston and Dallas. First, a brief description of the project:

A quick recap: Texas Central Railway, a private firm, is pushing a very promising proposal to link Dallas and Houston with a Japanese-style high-speed train capable of doing the trip at 200 mph. By relying on investors rather than taxpayers, the plan seemed poised to avoid a lot of the fiscal (slash ideological) squabbles that have plagued its federally-funded counterparts in California, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

And a little bit about each ideological camp:

Metcalf isn’t alone in this sentiment. Another elected official, Ben Lehman of Grimes County, has questioned whether the train will attract enough riders. He’s also been quoted as saying that the 18 million people who drive between Houston and Dallas each year have “gone through this decision-making process” and concluded “it’s more feasible to drive.”…

Other local officials are pushing a bill that “would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority,” reports the Texas Tribune. Fears of misused eminent domain are both valid and welcomed in any democratic setting. But what’s strange here is that the bill targets high-speed rail despite the fact that lots of private firms in Texas can wield eminent domain for the greater public good…

Which leads to the final major criticism of the privately funded Texas Central plan: that it won’t actually be privately funded. Or, rather, that it will start out privately funded but fail to meet its ridership goals and call on the public for a subsidy.

Three separate issues: is there enough demand? How much can a project like this exercise eminent domain? Would taxpayers ever be on the hook for such a project? My thoughts on each one:

1. On ridership. This may be a valid question but perhaps it matters less if this is a private project. If a company wants to spend the money, isn’t this their responsibility? Perhaps the real concern here is what happens if the project fails – what would happen to the infrastructure or the land that was taken?

2. On eminent domain. This gets at a classic American question of property rights versus the common good. Not easy to solve, particularly in a place like Texas.

3. On taxpayers left on the hook. This fear would seem to have some basis with large corporations or development projects (think sports stadiums) often using or having to use public money to close the gaps.

I would also be interested to see how these arguments are made together; a cluster of arguments could be more convincing than a single concern. Throwing up lots of negativity about the project can go a long ways in today’s media (traditional and otherwise) driven world.

Sociologists walking every block not just in New York City

A sociologist who walked every block of New York City drew attention but can you also learn from walking every block of Tyler, Texas? One sociologist explains:

Because of his interest in the community, Moody said, he has walked every street in Tyler twice. “It took 12 years to do it the first time; 11 years the second time,” Moody said…

“It (walking) is part of my research interests in society,” Moody, who taught sociology and other subjects at different times in six area colleges, said…

“I’m sure there are people who have lived here all their life and never been in parts of this town. If we understand and love one another, we will have a better community and I believe we will have more unity. We should never turn down an opportunity to learn from someone, whether it’s a homeless person, a wino or a wealthy billionaire,” Moody said…

n his walks around town, Moody said he has attended services or toured every church, synagogue and mosque, although he is a Southern Baptist.

Moody added that he has toured every hospital in Tyler, day care centers, nonprofit agencies, television and radio stations, the newspaper office and nursing homes as well as East Texas juvenile correctional facilities, state mental hospitals and prisons.

Two quick thoughts:

1. Tyler may not be New York City but it is still a sizable city of around 100,000 people. Sociology has a long history of community studies and the experiences of people in places like Tyler may hold a lot of interesting research potential. Yet, I’m not sure the field is really interested in the sorts of Middletown studies that once were more common.

2. People who really want to know their communities could use this method. This may be a sort of fad but not for those really invested in their community. I’m thinking of local politicians who claim this but this is typically based on their social connections. While these certainly matter, it is another thing to physically walk everything.

Texas McMansion burned down because it was teetering on a cliff

Have a McMansion that is going over a cliff? Burn it down:

Charred debris from a luxury cliff-side home fell 75 feet into a lake below on Friday after fire crews set the $700,000 retreat ablaze rather than wait for it to crumble into the water as the land faltered around it.

It took less than an hour for the fire to level the home above Lake Whitney, about 60 miles south of Fort Worth. Flames consumed exterior walls after crews spread bales of hay and fuel to ignite flames throughout the expansive home.

The ground around the home cracked and became unstable in recent months. Then a few days ago, part of the land gave way beneath the 4,000-square-foot home, leaving pieces of the house dangling off the side of a cliff. Authorities condemned the home and the owners, Robert and Denise Webb, consented to Friday’s burn.

Authorities said destroying the house was better than waiting for it to topple into Lake Whitney. The cost of removing mounds of debris from the lake could prove prohibitive.

Apparently, the event was live-streamed by a local ABC affiliate and the pictures from the scene show the odd situation:

 

 

 

 

TexasMcMansionBurns

This does seem like an interesting way to remove a McMansion, given the clean-up of the lake that would be necessary.

Iconic image of American McMansions from Plano, Texas

I’ve seen this picture of a Plano, Texas McMansion numerous times around the Internet:

DeanTerryPlanoTXMcMansionI’ve wondered at the origin of this photo and now I see: see this image and others from the same area as part of Dean Terry’s Flickr stream with the photos originating from his 2007 documentary Subdivided.

What makes this particular McMansion photo stand out? Some reasons:

1. The home has a “typical” McMansion design: brick exterior, multi-gabled roof, clearly a big home, lots of big windows in the front at various levels, a two-story foyer.

2. The surrounding area: the looming water tower, the big power lines out nearby, a neighborhood of similar sized houses with little evidence of anyone being around. (Some of the later photos in the Flickr set illustrate this further: the home backs up to a wide right-of-way for power lines and that water tower really is huge.) Setting the picture beneath a stop sign and lamppost seems to add to the ominousness of the photo.

3. This is Texas, a place where everything is big, including the homes, water towers, and sky. And not just any part of Texas: Plano is a booming suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area that went from just 17,872 people in 1970 to 259,841 people in 2010. That is explosive, sprawling suburban growth.

Now, I may just have to get my hands on this documentary to see more of the home and its context…

Texas is America’s future?

A libertarian economist argues Texas is a bright spot for America’s future:

Since 2000, 1 million more people have moved to Texas from other states than have left.

As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.’s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.

To a lot of Americans, Texas feels like the future. And I would argue that more than any other state, Texas looks like the future as well — offering us a glimpse of what’s to come for the country at large in the decades ahead. America is experiencing ever greater economic inequality and the thinning of its middle class; Texas is already one of our most unequal states. America’s safety net is fraying under the weight of ballooning Social Security and Medicare costs; Texas’ safety net was built frayed. Americans are seeking out a cheaper cost of living and a less regulated climate in which to do business; Texas has that in spades. And did we mention there’s no state income tax?

There’s a bumper sticker sometimes seen around the state that proclaims, I WASN’T BORN IN TEXAS, BUT I GOT HERE AS FAST AS I COULD. As the U.S. heads toward Texas, literally and metaphorically, it’s worth understanding why we’re headed there — both to see the pitfalls ahead and to catch a glimpse of the opportunities that await us if we make the journey in an intelligent fashion.

Joel Kotkin would likely agree. A few thoughts after reading the full story:

1. There are several examples of people moving to Texas from California or the Northeast and finding that they really like Texas. But, the examples tend to emphasize Austin, a city known for plenty of cultural amenities. With its culture, UT-Austin campus, and tech companies, Austin looks like a cool place for the creative class. What about the other major areas in Texas? Why not stories about moving to Houston and Dallas, bigger cities and metropolitan areas with their own industries (oil, etc.)? How representative of Texas is Austin?

2. There is little discussion in the story about Latino residents. The primary focus in on Americans who have moved to Texas from other states but what about the influx of immigrants from Mexico? How are they doing? Are there some differences in their experiences as a whole versus those who are held up as successes in the article?

3. This is another article in a long line of opinions about which American state best represents the country or provides a glimpse into the future. What about California, a more progressive melting pot? What about the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, home to a number of the wealthiest counties in the United States? How about Illinois, held up in a more negative light in recent years for pension woes, too many governments/taxing bodies, bullish politicians, foreclosures, and violent crime? Perhaps we should look to Florida, specifically at the diversity in the Miami area or the aging population throughout the state? I realize people are interested in spotting trends but it is hard to select ideal types from 50 states and hundreds of big cities.

4. The story plays out Texas’ connections to the American pioneer and frontier story. This works but there is also a different culture and set of social norms in Texas. Even if business is thriving and people are moving in, does this necessarily mean many Americans would want to act or live like Texans? Is it all simply about a decent job and affordable housing? Yes, everyone may be American but outsiders and Texans themselves will tell you that the state is a land onto itself.

Houston a relatively unknown city despite being the 4th biggest in the US

An interesting profile of Houston as the “next great American city” includes this bit about how the city is viewed:

If nothing else, the Kinder Institute’s reports underscore how little the country really knows about Houston. Is it, as most New Yorkers and Californians assume, a cultural wasteland? “The only time this city hits the news is when we get a hurricane!” complains James Harithas, director of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. “People have no idea.” Its image in the outside world is stuck in the 1970s, of a Darwinian frontier city where business interests rule, taxation and regulation are minimal, public services are thin and the automobile is worshiped. “This was boomtown America,” says Klineberg of the giddy oil years. “While the rest of the country was in recession, we were seen as wealthy, arrogant rednecks, with bumper stickers that read, ‘Drive 70 and freeze a Yankee.’” Today, he adds, “Houston has become integrated into the U.S. and global economies, but we still like to think we’re an independent country. We contribute to the image!”

Several thoughts about Houston’s profile:

1. Part of the issue may be that Houston is trying to join the group of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles that has been set for decades. Houston is the newcomer and perhaps besides oil, doesn’t yet have the broad appeal these other three have. Plus, these top three are world-class cities, top ten global cities, and that comparison can be harsh.

2. It sounds like Houston could benefit from a strengthened booster campaign. Cities often have to sell themselves and their assets. This requires business, civic, and political leaders (the growth machine) to band together behind some common appeals. What might draw people to Houston? What would attract businesses and tourists?

3. I wonder if there is some conflict between being part of Texas and being from Houston. From the outside, perhaps particularly from the coasts, it is easier to lump all of Texas together, even though it has a variety of communities (some big differences between Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio). Additionally, Texans tend to like to play up the uniqueness of their state. Compare this to cities like Chicago where there is a very sharp divide between the metropolitan region and “downstate.” Perhaps Houston needs more of a city-state mentality to separate it from Texas.

Texas governor not the only one after Illinois businesses; also Florida, Wisconsin

The Texas Governor campaigned for Illinois businesses and he spoke earlier this week at a conference. But, he is not alone – other states also want Illinois businesses:

Perry is not the only governor out to siphon commerce this week. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker on Tuesday attended the same Chicago conference, touting his state’s business environment and standing as a bioscience leader. A day earlier, Florida’s Rick Scott sent a “Wish you were here” letter to Illinois business owners, noting that his state is “nipping at the heels of Texas every day” as a place to do business and pointing out that “Illinois’ formula of more taxing and spending ISN’T WORKING.” (Never let it be said Scott is undercapitalized.)…

Perry isn’t just selling Texas in a state weighed down by budget crises and the lack of political will to make the tough choices that solutions will require. He is on a trip financed by a public-private partnership to sell the concepts of lower taxes, less government interference, “a legal system that doesn’t allow for oversuing,” lower workers comp rates…

In this, pitting one state against another is good, Perry argued, in “the same way that it’s good for the White Sox and the Cubbies to compete against each other. If you don’t have competition, you’re not going to get pushed out of your comfort zone. That’s the simplest form I can put it in. I think our Founding Fathers understood that you had these laboratories of innovation and the ones that were good at it would be successful.”

Perry ignores one area of competition present in the Chicago area: between cities and suburbs. There have been numerous discussions in recent years about the tax breaks offered in different communities (here is an example in Hoffman Estates) or Chicago attracting headquarters and businesses back to the city and whether this harms the suburbs. Granted, all of these communities have to deal with the issues and regulations of the State of Illinois. But, it appears a number of businesses have still found places they like including in the Loop, Schaumburg, Northbrook, Deerfield, Naperville, Oak Brook, and other places. Between these localities, businesses can look for favorable settings and take advantages of the peculiarities of each place.

There was also one issue that highlighted a possible problem in Texas that may have been highlighted by a recent tragedy:

Take a good look at how close the fertilizer factory that blew up last week was to a middle school and nursing home in West, Texas, and decide for yourself whether you endorse Texas’ stance on zoning (“We respect local control,” Perry said) or think the state should intervene. Laissez faire isn’t always the way to go.

I assumed Illinois provided for local control over zoning as well…though I’m not sure what happens when it comes to potentially dangerous fertilizer plants.