Houston, according to my now-favorite urban blog, Otis White’s Urban Notebook has acquired a new tag – easiest place in America to get lost in; Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, and Dallas follow. Now I have lived in Atlanta for almost five years and have traveled a bit in Houston. I have mostly relied on Mapquest (incidentally the company that conducted the above mentioned survey) directions to get from point A to point B without much experimentation. I haven’t really experienced much trouble in Atlanta but I admit that within the city limits, it can get quite confusing especially with the one-way streets which incidentally are also arterial routes. You need a strong sense of direction and almost 3 Interstates (I-75, I-85, and I-20) not to mention a ring road (I-285) and a state toll road (GA-400) make it more confounding. The inner streets especially near Georgia Tech and downtown can be pretty bad; I have had the unfortunate incident when I headed down the wrong way only to see cars headed my way. I had to slam on my brakes and make a quick turnaround. My passengers nearly had a heart attack.
Houston is a class apart; the road conditions and the pathetic driving etiquette of most of the drivers make driving around a pain in you-know-where. To add to it, Houston has developed weirdly and almost in all directions; each new subdivision demanding its own set of access routes and infrastructure that makes Houston look like a city of flyovers and constantly-under repair roads. The omnipresent construction on I-10 can cause lateral shifts in the Interstate and sometimes you may be closer to the feeder road (don’t get me started on that) than on other days. Houston by now has acquired other not-so-notable tags like being the most polluted, hottest, and fattest city in the nation and it shows no sign of relinquishing its tags. Does Houston need a little planning oversight? It may not wish for but in my opinion, it certainly does. Proponents of no-holds-barred planning dictum cite vibrancy and deference to self evolution but other urban regions definitely are more vibrant and their organic growth hasn’t suffered with a little more planning oversight.