Friday, June 25, 2004

Houston's Danger Train Makes NY Times

Houston Proud officials probably didn't have this in mind a quarter century ago when it envisioned what the national media coverage might entail regarding Space City's long-awaited, much-debated plunge into commuter rail.

But it is what it is, and the New York Times now delivers the news that Houston has a lot of bad drivers, which is why there is such an unusually high number of motor vehicle-light rail train crashes. That's the underlying message in this New York Times story.

We quote from the article:
Officials of the transit agency, known as Metro, do not come right out and say so, but their explanations for the accidents boil down to this: Houstonians are bad drivers. All the collisions, they say, can be attributed to driver error: illegal turns, failure to yield and disregard of signals.

There is plenty of support for that argument. The accident rate in greater Houston, train or no train, is well over double the national average, and it is particularly bad at the medical center. Last year the police issued 8,000 traffic citations along what has become the train's route.

"Unfortunately we lead the state in every conceivable type of crash," said Ned Levine, the transportation program coordinator for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the region's planning group .

Thirty-nine percent of serious accidents here are caused by speeding, compared with 13 percent nationally, Dr. Levine said, adding, "I would call that aggressive driving.''

But the transportation agency's efforts to defend itself have not gone over well. "It's not just the media," said Frank J. Wilson, who became chief executive of Metro two months ago. "It's the general perception, people in the street, elected officials. They say: 'What's wrong with Metro? Why is it blaming these motorists?' As if it's a God-given right in Houston to run red lights."

If it's not the murder rate, it's the smog. If it's not the Noah's Ark flooding, it's Enron. Now, the world's most influential newspaper is telling everyone that Houston drivers are just a bunch or rubes who can't see a train coming. International city? Ho-ho-ho. But, hell, H-Town still has the world's largest rodeo!

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