As someone who moved here three years ago — knowing nothing about Houston or city-driving in general — I’ve learned that nothing will test your patience more than other drivers in Houston. But here’s an important piece of advice: getting angry won’t carry you to your destination any faster. Just relax and don’t let the jerk who honked at you, or cut you off, ruin your morning.
Whether you’ve been driving since you could get your hands on a learner’s permit or recently got behind the wheel, it takes time to get a feel for the Houston streets. There should be a handbook given to every new Houstonian with a chapter on getting around the city: which freeways to avoid, what to do when someone cuts you off and how to quickly cut across four lanes. Unfortunately, no one’s made such a handbook yet.
I-45 is probably not your best route:
The straightest way through downtown is I-45, and that’s what your GPS will likely tell you to use. But unless it’s after 9 p.m. or early Sunday morning, I-45 is probably not the fastest way to reach your destination. For example, if you want to gorge yourself on pancakes at House of Pies, the easiest way is to take Cullen Boulevard down to MacGregor Way and follow that to Hwy. 288. Take 288 to Hwy. 59 South, and you’ll reach the glorious diner in a matter of minutes. That sounds more complicated than taking I-45 straight to Hwy. 59, but that stretch of I-45 just outside UH is a breeding ground for accidents and traffic congestion.
Favor streets over freeways:
As explained before some freeways are usually less congested than others, but if it’s rush hour — in Houston, that’s between 7 and 9 a.m. and again from 4 to 8 p.m. — then none of the freeways are your friend. The best way to get around Houston is to learn the streets and the neighborhoods. En route to your destination, you’ll pass by stores and restaurants that you never knew existed, and you’ll slowly get a feel for everything Houston has to offer. For instance, the best way to reach Montrose, a great area to shop and hang out, is to take Elgin Street. Elgin turns into Westheimer Road, which winds through the heart of Montrose. I’ve taken Elgin to Montrose hundreds of times now, but I still notice new places to visit along the route. That doesn’t happen by taking the freeways.
The speed limit does not exist:
The biggest joke about the Houston freeways is the speed limit, which is 65 mph for most freeways inside the loop. If you haven’t noticed already, no one goes 65 in Houston. When it’s not rush hour, most Houstonians are speeding along between 75 and 80 mph. And I’m not here to chastise them; I’m here to tell you to speed up. Match the speed everyone else is going. Please don’t get run over. But once you leave the Houston area, don’t forget to slow back down, because Texas cops mean business when it comes to speeding.
The Galleria is never a quick trip:
For shopaholics like me, you’ll be pumped to know the largest mall in Texas is right here in H-Town. With more than 365 stores, you can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering the Galleria, but know this: there’s no such thing as just “popping over to the Galleria” to pick up something. The exits leading to the mega-mall usually back up with traffic at a standstill, and parking alone will take you up to 20 minutes on some days. I’m not discouraging you from visiting the shopping mecca of Houston, but know that it’s a commitment, so you might as well make a list to get all shopping for the foreseeable future done in one go.
Beware the yield sign:
If there’s one thing Houstonians can’t seem to get right, it’s the laws of yielding. You know, when you’re turning left at a stoplight and there’s no protected green arrow, you yield to oncoming traffic before turning. Or when you merge onto a street or freeway, you yield to traffic already on the road. But for some mystifying reason, many Houstonians either don’t understand or choose to ignore the laws of yielding. They’ll either yield to you when they don’t have to, or they decide that whoever is faster should go first. So next time you’re heading through a green light and the oncoming car who wants to turn left cuts in front of you, try not to get too mad. He just didn’t know any better.