“Whoever put traffic lights on Loop 1604 needs to be punched”

The oft-maligned intersection of Loop 1604 at Braun Rd.

The oft-maligned 1604/Braun intersection

Well, once again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here.  I’ve been working on what I think will be an exciting new addition to my website (stay tuned for more on that soon.)  However, as I was watching the Sunday morning political talk shows, my wife mentioned something that motivated me to write this post, which is one that I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  While Facebooking (can that really be a verb?), she came across a new Facebook group with the same title as this post.  After rolling my eyes (as I often do in these situations), I realized (also as I often do in these situations) that the creator of that group– and those who subscribe to the explicit as well as implicit sentiment of it– probably just doesn’t have the back-story to understand why things are the way they are and that my initial reaction made me just as guilty of jumping to conclusions as that person was.  Whoever created the group is obviously frustrated– they even say they’re “pissed off” at the “stupid” traffic lights, and I sympathize with their frustration.  But, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and maybe if folks understood how things got to be as they are, they might be more forgiving.  This posting is an attempt at that.

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9 Feb 2010, 9:36pm
History Laws and policies Passenger rail Railroads Safety Uncategorized:

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Live steam coming to San Antonio

1925 Baldwin steam locomotive at Pearl Brewery

1925 Baldwin steam locomotive at Pearl Brewery

Question:  How do you return a long dormant steam locomotive back to active passenger service in 2010, with all the heightened concerns about safety?  Answer:  Very, very carefully.  This ain’t 1964.  Way back then early Texas Transportation Museum members including one Dave Wallace, acquired the 1925 Baldwin 0-4-0 steam locomotive from New Braunfels where it had sat idled in a shed since being retired around 1928, brought it to San Antonio, placed it on tracks adjacent to Pearl Brewery, simply filled the boiler with water and fired it up.  While it didn’t explode, it sent out enough smuts and soot that those same volunteers ended up cleaning car windshields for several blocks around. more »

8 Feb 2010, 2:18pm
Roads Safety:

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Pedestrian scramble update

If you read my previous post about pedestrian scrambles, you know that it’s not the newest dance craze sweeping the nation, but rather an experiment by the City of San Antonio at improving vehicular and pedestrian traffic downtown by installing “exclusive pedestrian phases” at more than a dozen intersections.  I was back downtown again today for a meeting with some colleagues and discovered two more intersections with the new setup that I missed last time: Navarro at Crocket and Navarro at College.  Also, all of the locations along Commerce, Market, and Dolorosa that had not been activated last time were now online.  Alas, though, still none at Convention Plaza. 

While walking to lunch with my colleagues, we stopped for a “don’t walk” signal at one of the scramble intersections.  One of them noticed that the signal for vehiclular traffic headed our direction was green but that we had a “don’t walk” signal and instinctively realized that something was amiss.  Ah, she must not have read my blog!  (Doesn’t everybody?)  After I explained what was afoot (pun completely intended), she commented that she was really happy with the new configuration and couldn’t wait to cross diagonally– it was like being able to finally do something that had long been verboten.

While out and about, I noticed many other people taking advantage of the diagonal crossing ability.  I did see a couple of instances, though, where people were crossing against the light and obstructing turning vehicles, thus thwarting the intent of the project.  Over time, I’m sure people will understand and adjust to the changes.

Are you ready to do the pedestrian scramble?

Scramble crossing signalIf you’ve been downtown lately, you might have noticed several intersections where pedestrians can cross in all directions (including diagonally) at once, a la the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.  The City of San Antonio is installing these crossings, known colloquially as “pedestrian scrambles” or “Barnes Dances” (or more boringly by their technical name of “exclusive pedestrian phasing”), as an experiment to see if they improve both pedestrian and vehicular traffic downtown.  During a recent jaunt downtown, I counted 14 intersections outfitted with the equipment for pedestrian scrambles (that being a third pedestrian crossing signal on each corner oriented diagonally across the intersection), with half of them actually in service.

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14 Jan 2010, 9:18pm
Commuting Safety:

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Wet and woolly weekend

With storms expected into the weekend, experts are sounding the warnings about the many dangers that can sneak up on motorists.

Storms forecast in San Antonio

Tires can suddenly slip on a sheet of water. Rain splattering a windshield can blind you at a critical moment.

But the leading cause of weather-related deaths in Texas is flash flooding, according to state officials. Drivers often can’t tell how deep water is in low spots, and as little as six inches can sweep vehicles away, even pickups and SUVs.

The National Weather Service, forecasting heavy rain through Friday, has issued a flash flood warning in San Antonio and throughout South Texas.

The Texas Department of Transportation tonight released this flood advisory:

  1. Never walk, swim or drive through swift water.
  2. If you don’t heed No. 1, and your vehicle stalls in deep water, ditch the car and head to higher ground if you can do so safely.

And for those who can’t remember that, here goes: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”

My first year as a born again cyclist in San Antonio

bike and TAround four o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday December 31st, zooming alongside the old San Antonio & Aransas Pass railroad tracks on Villamain between Mission San Juan and Mission Espada, in top gear and the wind at my back, I reached my own personal milestone by completing one thousand miles in the first year of owning a bicycle since I left Scotland in 1991.  Today, Jnauary 9th, also around 4:00 PM, on De Zavala Road at Clark High school I reached by personal goal of 1,040 miles.  That, of course, may seem like an obscure number, so let me explain. more »

6 Jan 2010, 9:59pm
Commuting History Roads Safety Transit Travel Uncategorized

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Book review: Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt

Model T on unpaved roadI’ve just finished reading “TRAFFIC,” by Tom Vanderbilt, published by Vintage Books in 2009.  It is subtitled, “Why we drive the way we do and what it says about us.”  I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in trying to understand the mundane yet highly complex activity we call driving.

31 Dec 2009, 10:39am
Commuting Oil and gas prices Safety Transit Travel

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psi – check your tires

Here’s a new year’s resolution you might adopt: Check the air pressure on your vehicle’s tires at the beginning of each month.  I was reminded of this when I checked mine at the beginning of this week.  I began to notice my vehicle, a 2005 Dodge Caravan, was not handling as well as it should.  Some of you may think it is oxymoronic to use handling characteristics in reference to a minivan but the thing just didn’t feel right.  Sure enough, each tire was 4 psi – pounds per square inch – low.  The ‘bus has new tires, maybe two months old, and I checked them in mid November, prior to a trip to Houston.  I was surprised how much the tires went down following the recent cold snap.  So, maybe you should make checking your tires a monthly chore.  Just being one or two psi down can really affect miles per gallon plus, it just feels better.

23 Nov 2009, 12:31pm
Roads Safety:

Comments Off on It’s that time of year again!

It’s that time of year again!

iceSignOn the way home from work one day last week, I noticed that TxDOT workers had started unfolding the “Watch for ice on bridge” signs.  That and the delivery of the phone books marks the beginning of the holiday season for me (although the latter is almost certainly nearing the end of the road, so-to-speak.)

Some folks wonder why the signs are displayed when there’s no ice or even the possibility of it.  Well, some time ago (nobody can recall just when, but it was at least a decade ago), TxDOT changed their policy to display these signs from just before the date of the earliest average freeze for an area until after the average last freeze.  Prior to that, the signs would only be unfolded when freezing precipitation was forecast.  This meant that TxDOT crews often had to scramble to get the signs ready for an incoming storm.  Also, as you might imagine, it requires considerable manpower (and thus expense) to go out and unfold every sign, then go back after the storm and fold them back up.  Plus, there was always the chance of a freak storm hitting without warning, meaning there would not be time to get the signs opened.  So the decision was made to just leave them unfolded for the entire time that ice is typically possible.  Yes, it means that most of the time they’re not applicable, but if nothing else, they do raise awareness of the dangers of the season.

17 Nov 2009, 3:26pm
Commuting Safety:

Comments Off on Walking in San Antonio not as dangerous

Walking in San Antonio not as dangerous

Where the sidewalk endsLast week, Transportation For America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership released a report called Dangerous By Design that exposes what most of us here in San Antonio know all too well– that being a pedestrian on local streets can be a dangerous proposition.  However, compared to the other three big Texas metros– and most other metros nationally for that matter– San Antonio is not too bad.

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