Friday, August 31, 2012

Picking postscript

It figures that the church sponsoring the "super garage sale" would publish their announcement of the upcoming sale one day after I wrote a blog post about it.  Here is a screengrab of that, given that I could not have included it yesterday due to the timing of publication:
Click on it to enlarge for better readability.
Several points worth noting:
  1. They will not accept adult clothing, but refer you to ICM if you wish to donate that stuff.  I did not mention ICM in my first post, but they are a great organization.
  2. Church volunteers will come to your house and take your large sellable items, if you want them to do that.  You do not have to move them yourself.   Essentially what they have done with this moving offer is make donating to them easier than you having to drag the stuff to the curb yourself for the pickers.
 Hope this helps!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More perspective on picking, Part 2

This post follows up my August 26 entry where I wondered whether pickers really are an issue with which we should be concerned.  No concise backstory has yet emerged on that issue - no definitive example of a picker ever having caused a problem here or been responsible for any actual theft.

Of course, the inverse is also true - there's no definitive evidence that pickers have never been responsible for a theft. 

But by the same logic, though, there's no definitive evidence that someone's lawn crew has never been responsible for a theft. 

In fact, if I had to suspect any entity of conducting theft surveillance, it wouldn't be the pickers, who (to my knowledge) have never been eye-witnessed anywhere but squarely in public rights-of-way, and whose individual truck license plate numbers are easily recordable for anyone who wants to take the time to do it. 

If I were going to suspect someone, it would be the myriad lawn crews, who literally have a weekly opportunity to enter peoples' back yards and peer closely into every window of every house they serve (knowing full well who is home and who is not home at the time when they do it).  It's the perfect front for surveillance.  Let's be honest about this: how many people in Centerpointe actually know the names of each of their lawn crew members?  How many people pay their lawn crews using any traceable method?  Not many - by and large, those are cash transactions, no questions asked.  And even if the crew bosses drive motor vehicles with traceable license plates, each one of those guys has two or three anonymous helpers who, in many cases, probably aren't even in the country legally. 

If I were going to stake out Centerpointe for theft purposes, that's definitely the route I would go: I'd become a lawn boy.  I'd choose the very obvious method that:
  1. Would not reveal my name
  2. Would not require me to drive an identifiable car to the target, and
  3. Which would simultaneously give me direct physical access to all four sides of my target houses, not keep me confined to the public streets where I couldn't see very much. 
Do you see the futility of trying to solve a problem for which no evidence exists by using this kind of inference ("it might be the pickers")?  It's arguably not logical. 

It's also a potential black hole of mushrooming effort.  What would happen if we made a concerted effort to get rid of pickers?  Dollars to donuts, we'd still have routine thefts.  So then we'd get rid of lawn crews next?  And then what? 

NEVERTHELESS, it's still worth looking at the issue of recycling / repurposing in general because there are some path-of-least-resistance alternatives of which our residents may not yet be aware.  Here are a few good options if you don't wish to simply leave stuff at your curb on trash nights.

(1) Centerpointe Yard Sale.  Once a year, usually in the spring before it gets too hot, we have a neighborhood-wide yard sale which attracts a lot of traffic due to the density of sales.  More homes with stuff to get rid of makes for more local people interested in buying, so this can be very efficient.  Look to the Newsletter or POA website for information on that.

The communal yard sale has the advantage of drawing a lot of people and getting a lot of unwanted items moved out of here at once.  However, it also has the disadvantage of being of limited convenience: I myself have never been able to wait long enough for the next yard sale to roll around.  When I clean and reorganize a section of my house or yard, I need to start and finish the job within the same day because on the next day, some other responsibility will be demanding my time.  I can't half-do the job and wait three months or whatever until the next yard sale is scheduled in order to get rid of the products of that effort (unless they are small and easily stored).  I suspect this is true of many people, which is why they consistently set stuff at the curb for pickers.  For this reason, there are additional alternatives worth considering.

(2)  Goodwill.  The old tried-and-true donation standby, and they supply receipts for tax purposes.  Here is the Goodwill locator page.   You should check directly with your outlet of choice to verify that they are active; for some reason, Goodwill storefronts tend to move around a lot.
Here's a Googlemaps screengrab showing active locations as of today's date.  Look 'em up.
(3) Churches.  A few local churches have concentrated on garage sales as a revenue stream.  Then after they get done selling what can be sold, they truck the residuals to Goodwill.  So this is potentially a win-win-win alternative:
  1. I believe that you can record the donation for tax purposes (you don't get a tax deduction by giving stuff to pickers, and you don't get a tax deduction by selling in the Centerpointe annual neighborhood garage sale)
  2. The church gets money to fund its community outreach programs.
  3. Goodwill gets the remaining items to distribute to people in need. 
The church with which I have the greatest familiarity and which has established a robust and high-quality garage sale clientele is Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church (BAUUC) which is located under the Clear Lake water tower on El Camino Real.   They have church-wide garage sales twice per year. The next donation period is October 21-25, 2012, with the resulting public sale taking place October 26-28.  I always donate my smaller items to this one, and if anyone would like more info, please contact me via my gmail address which is 

(4) Craigslist.  Need to get rid of larger or non-donatable items quickly, but don't find palatable the idea of pickers at your driveway in the middle of the night?  Then why not simply list your give-aways in a "Curb Alert" on Craigslist during the bold light of day?
Here's a partial screengrab of an example listing from last weekend. 
"Curb alert" means that the poster has set free items out on their curb for anyone who wants them.
This particular address is located in South Shore Harbor.
This is a very well-established practice, but I do have one recommendation if you choose it: don't list your exact house number.  This user could have instead said "one hundred block of Hidden Lake" and not lost any communication efficacy.

If you use Craigslist, you can partially screen who shows up, if you want to do that.  You have the option of getting the email and phone number of whoever will be coming your way.  You might think to yourself, "Ooooooh, if I use Craigslist, I might attract an ax murderer!"  But think of it from the other party's perspective:  you might BE an ax murderer trying to lure them with an offer of a free couch.  Most of the time, the people alerted by this method will want to make contact with you before they collect your stuff.  Mutual verification reassures both parties that there's nothing fishy going on.  If someone reveals their name, cell phone and email to you, they probably don't have ulterior motives.

I use Craigslist from time to time for large items that are not good candidates for church or Goodwill donation.  Do you remember that post I wrote about the lethality of Sago palms?  And how a Sago palm resulted in sixteen hundred dollars of veternarian bills because our dog got poisoned by chewing on it?  After that happened, I dug up and listed all of our Sagos on Craigslist, cleaned out our entire yard (we had numerous Sagos, ignorant buggers that we were).  Get this:  they were picked up by an oil company executive and are now enjoying the poshest possible lives as balcony container plants in a skyscraper penthouse in downtown Houston.  They are literally fifty stories into the sky where they can no longer poison dogs or small children.  I kid you not - that's where my Sagos ended up!!  Craigslist rules!!

Here's what I gave away this past Saturday afternoon (during the proverbial bright light of day):
A queen palm that needed a new pot, and a Dogloo
Note that I placed both in the hell strip so that they did not appear to be "within" my yard and thus off limits.
Also, to be absolutely clear, I put a "FREE" sign on the Dogloo so that the sight of someone taking it would not raise the alarm of any of my neighbors. 
People have smart phones with which they monitor sites like Craigslist for new listings.  The queen palm disappeared within about an hour.  The Dogloo took slightly longer. 

(5)  Clear Lake Freecycle.  I think you need a Yahoo address to post to this.  I use it, but don't meet many people that way, though, because the Craiglist people usually get to me first. 
URL here.
It's a very active group.

Anyway, there's a handful of good alternatives for you if you wish not to encourage our midnight trash pickers. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

IMPORTANT: Left turn blind spots

Yesterday afternoon, I watched in horror as yet another motorist almost got killed turning left onto northbound West Walker from League City Parkway.  It wasn't more than one third of one second that delivered that driver from the fate of getting broadsided at 45 miles per hour by westbound traffic. 

I've now seen this kind of near-miss happen so many times that, yesterday, I had to come home and actually draw up that intersection in graphics software just to prove to myself that the situation really is as bad as my common-sense street-level eyeballs are suggesting.

Upon drawing it, I concluded that it's actually worse

But before I get to that, the standard disclaimers apply.  The key phrase in all of this is common sense.  I'm not a traffic engineer or mobility expert.  But what I see happening at West Walker and League City Parkway needs to be addressed and I'm using my non-expert common sense to offer my personal viewpoints here.  But don't rely on what I'm saying - what you need to do is use your common sense to determine how this issue could potentially affect you. 

Most of us welcomed the recent switch to the adaptive traffic signals that allow left turns on yellow arrows in some League City intersections.  After those signals got changed over, I observed most drivers being very cautious in making their elective left turns, as they got accustomed to the new system. 

But fast forward a few months and a bit of complacency seems to have set in.  What I'm now seeing is more drivers being quite assertive when they elect to turn left on a yellow arrow. 

The potential problem with this, especially at West Walker and League City Parkway, is that the sight lines are very unfavorable when a driver faces opposing left turners - and this is almost always the case due to the heavy traffic at that particular intersection.

Let's look at this step by step.

Here is a screengrab of that intersection with notable features labeled:
Click on it to enlarge.
Base screengrab courtesy of Googlemaps.
Here is the typical situation that an east-bound left-turner faces when there are no opposing west-bound left-turners:
Click on it to enlarge.
Base screengrab courtesy of Googlemaps.
In sharp contrast to the above, this is the visibility situation when there are opposing left-turners:
And the size of that blind spot is not limited to what is drawn here.  It extends considerably further east.
Click on it to enlarge.
Base screengrab courtesy of Googlemaps.
Your life might literally depend on your ability to properly gauge the ramifications of this spatial situation, so let's zoom in for a closer look:
Do you see where either of the two west-bound dashed arrows intersect the left-turn arrow?  Those are the potential crash points. 
Click on it to enlarge.
Base screengrab courtesy of Googlemaps.
  • The blind spot created by opposing left-turners is HUGE
  • The mistake I see many drivers making is that they underestimate the size of that blind spot, especially now that everyone has more self-confidence in the new flashing-yellow-arrow system.
  • Drivers know there's a blind spot, so what many of them tend to do is simply wait on the flashing yellow for a few seconds for the blind spot to clear.
  • They then take their left turn.
  • The problem is that because some of them underestimate the size of the blind spot to start with, they don't wait long enough.  Just as they are executing their left turn, oncoming westbound (WB) traffic is finally emerging from the blind spot. 
  • That oncoming WB traffic is traveling at 45 mph.  If a left-turning driver screws this up, they run a significant risk of getting broadsided because there won't necessarily be enough time for them to get out of the way, and there won't be time for oncoming traffic to halt or take evasive action, because of the speeds involved. 
Am I making my observations clear, here?  I hope so, because someone's life might depend on it.  It's not a sure thing that a 45-mph T-bone crash at this intersection would be a survivable crash, especially for passengers seated on the right side of a left-turning car. 

Myself, I've gotten totally out of the habit of attempting this left turn if there are any opposing left-turners stopped in their lane.  I simply judge that I cannot safely do it because of the size of that blind spot.  My refusal to budge does tend to p*ss off some aspiring yellow-light left-turners who may be in the left-turn lane behind me, but I do not care.  Attempting that turn without adequate visibility is not worth a risk to anyone's life. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More perspective on picking: Part 1

A short time ago, I posted a provocative security camera image of pickers removing some items from our curb at midnight on a Friday night, in advance of our usual Saturday morning trash collection. 
Here it is again, in case you don't want to re-load the URL.
In that original post, I talked about the phenomenon of "picking" (Wikipedia claims that the term was coined by the TV show "American Pickers", but I doubt that - it's been around for some time) and noted that most pickers are honest.  They're making their money and having their fun by following a very precise set of rules established by mutual implied consent between picker and pickee.  They have to be very careful to abide by those rules; otherwise, they'll be confused with thieves. 

A Galveston County Daily News story published this morning emphasized their social code.  It told the story of a local picker who found accidentally-discarded military medals and returned them to their rightful owners.  Excerpt: Asked why [as a picker] he didn’t try to sell the medals, Packard had only one word — “honor.”
Of course, not all pickers are honest.  Not all financial controllers are honest.  Not all doctors are honest.  Not all Galveston County Clerks are honest.  You can't name a single group of people in our society and say that every last one of them is honest.  But in general, this is the way things tend to be with pickers.  It may be a bit unnerving to see people loading up their vehicle with your curb offerings, but you have to take that within the proper context.  On balance, I have yet to see any widespread evidence to suggest that pickers should be a high priority for our concern. 

For this reason, I am a little perplexed at the increasing emphasis that Centerpointe is placing on pickers.  Normally I don't re-broadcast material directly from our community newsletter, but with the establishment of the new website, the newsletters are now being loaded up onto the open internet, and anything freely accessible on the internet is fair game for blogging:
You can find them under this tab
 The section addressing pickers starts out with the following header:

My question is this:  Does anyone in Centerpointe have any actual evidence connecting these two phenomena - pickers and theft events?  Or is this just speculation?

I've been blogging about neighborhood crime for the better part of two years now.  In doing this, I've been parsing the best available statistical meta-site I've come across, which is the Crime Reports database.  Unfortunately, Crime Report only allows data roll-up for the most recent running six month period.  But let's start evaluating this question by examining what this most recent period looks like:
February 26, 2012 - August 26, 2012,
as reported by Crime Reports

There were two vehicle thefts (TV) - not surprisingly, both on Walnut Pointe.  Incidentally, after I published my observations on Walnut Pointe, I actually got contacted by a mainstream commercial news journalist who was interested in investigating the correlation between outdoor parked car congestion and crime rates.  Nothing has come of that inquiry yet, but it might eventually.  

But let me not digress.   The Walnut Pointe car burglaries both involved unlocked vehicles and they took place (or at least were reported) on a Monday night and a Saturday night respectively. 

Pickers come on Tuesday and Friday nights.

I suppose it's possible that a picker could cruise through on our biggest picking night, which is Friday (due to heavy trash being collected Saturday morning) and say to themselves, "Hmmm, here's some nice scrap metal and gee whiz, I wonder if I return to this same yard three days from now, will that vehicle be unlocked at that time, and if it does happen to be unlocked, will there be something in it for me to steal?"

It doesn't seem logical because of the gross inefficiencies involved; that kind of approach would be an exceedingly poor use of a criminal's time.  Anybody who goes around with that kind of crime mentality and modis operandi is not going to realize much success in their endeavors and will quickly be out of the crime game.

In sum, I don't think that focusing on pickers would do much to reduce our crime levels, for one very important reason: 
  • If you look at our published statistics, especially relative to surrounding areas, we hardly have any crime to start with.  There's not that much that could be reduced. 
  • The crime that does occur here appears for the most part to be spontaneous crimes of opportunity.  I would guess that these are largely individuals ranging widely (not just in Centerpointe) looking for quick and easy snatches of things to sell for drug money.  These people don't need to be introduced to Centerpointe via picking - our collective socioeconomic status is plainly visible for the entire world to see, and it's evident at quite a distance.  One can pretty much spot our McMansions all the way from Highway 3, for crying out loud.  And one can certainly spot them from IH-45.  They shine like "steal me" beacons for any criminal working north Galveston and south Harris Counties. 
Rather than focusing on pickers, I think we'd be better off admitting the *REAL* roots of most of our crime:
  • Residents being careless, leaving their vehicles and garage doors open.
  • Most crimes in this neighborhood are vehicle burglaries that happen because people leave their $20,000 - $60,000 easily-plundered assets outside in their driveways and on the streets instead of parking them in their garages where they belong.  Criminals look for the easiest scores, the paths of least resistance.  If you make stuff available to them, they're going to take it. 
These are my suspicions about this entire matter.  I've yet to investigate whether there are any back-stories unfolding of which I am as yet unaware, that might implicate pickers in specific instances.  I'll do that next, and I'll also follow up with a couple of additional posts on the following topics:
  • How to better secure your residence.  There are some simple things you can do to reduce your theft risk.
  • If people are still not comfortable with the picking status quo, there are a few material management steps that could easily be taken around here that would not necessitate a time-sink effort on the part of the POA and/or other neighborhood volunteer personnel.  The August newsletter talked about the potential for an in-neighborhood recycling effort.  In a perfect world, that might be a neat idea, but we all have careers and families and more important things to do with our time.  If people are willing to spend increased amounts of time on improving Centerpointe, I think that it would be better spent on other efforts, but I'll get to that in a subsequent post. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growth ops

In the "hard to miss" category, there is that new construction on the southwest corner of Walker Street and W. League City Parkway, just south of Centerpointe.
Construction fencing has gone up across from the new "Gas Dude".  Pic taken yesterday evening.
A Centerpointe resident emailed me asking if I knew what this was, but then followed up by sending me an August 15, 2012 GCDN blog entry by Laura Elder which suggested that it's going to be a Stripes convenience store. 
We don't have one of these anywhere in our area yet.  This is what their brand looks like, as screengrabbed from their homepage.  Note the intimate association with the taco company. 
Laura has yet to confirm this report, however, and thus far I haven't been able to do it myself either.  I may have been the one to initially break the Gas Dude story (see the blog post from last January titled "Construction mystery solved"), but I've been out of the country for several weeks which is my excuse for falling down on the job here.

Galveston CAD hasn't helped my initial inquiries.  I'm not sure how much lag time affects their records updates, but as of yesterday, it still showed that tract as belonging to the Credit Union across the street.
Here's a screengrab from the County plat map, centered on the W. Walker / W. League City Parkway intersection. 
The tract in question is on record as being 15-2-0 (shorthand cross reference) at 2.081 acres in size.
And here's a screengrab of the associated ownership record.
Note that it says "W. League City Pkwy" without reference to a precise street address, however.
Part of the hurdle in tracking this down is that I can't find where it has yet been assigned an actual street address.  An actual number is the key to picking the informational lock on any given property, at least from a passive armchair (read: lazy) blogging perspective. 

This will not be the only new construction to potentially affect us here in Centerpointe in the coming months.  After a few years of commercial developmental doldrums, we should expect to see accelerated dirt sales in our general area in the near future.   There tends to be a "domino effect" with development, where a few large projects touch off a cascade of additional projects as investors try to ride a hoped-for profit wave.  I suspect that we've recently reached a developmental tipping point with the announcement of the following initiatives:
All of these things and others contribute to developmental momentum.  I'll have additional blog posts in the future as we learn more about what's in store for our area.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Grow ops

I've been out of town (again) for a spell, so this is the first in a series of blog posts summarizing some recent events on a growth theme, the first one being as follows:

Holy crap, did you read this story in Chron today about high-potency marijuana grow ops in high-potency suburban real estate?!  Like, a lot of suburban real estate?  Forty-one different high-end homes spread among multiple subdivisions. 
That ain't no shanty shack of the type that we usually see featured in these kinds of busts.
The street identified by Chron is located in a subdivision called The Preserve, which HAR lists as having a median sales price of about $270,000.  And yes, those are grow lights piled on the front lawn.
Story header screengrab courtesy of Houston Chronicle.
Here's the quote sequence that blew my mind:

They came to the home every morning, one of them driving a white Mercedes coupe and the other a SUV. Fulcher said they never stayed at the house for more than an hour, and always drove their cars into the garage and closed the garage door before getting out of the car.

"I had my suspicions because when they moved in they frosted out all the windows even though they already had blinds," Fulcher said. "I thought that was weird."

Are you freakin' kidding me?!  They came to their rent house each morning, never stayed more than an hour, and nobody did anything??  This was going on, and none of the high-dollar neighbors raised a question about it??

Please, if anybody sees anything remotely resembling this kind of behavior pattern in Centerpointe, email me, or tell LCPD, or tell one of the POA Board members.  Tell someone.   There have been times in Centerpointe where I've encountered residents who will come to me with strange stories (none as serious as illicit drug operations), but they don't want to get personally involved, or they are afraid that someone will think they're being paranoid if they're mistaken about what they're seeing.  No problem - that's what the rest of us nosy buggers are good for.  Tell us, and we will be glad to figure out whether there's an actual bad situation developing or if it's just a misunderstanding. 

And figuring out stuff like that is not nearly as difficult as you might first imagine.  There's an incredible amount of information readily available on the internet.  That house pictured in the Chron story above?  All one would need to get a good start on investigating of what might have transpired at such a residence is the following:
  1. Googlemaps
  2. The Harris County Appraisal District website
  3. Facebook
  4. LinkedIn
  5. Texas vital statistics
  6. A handful of additional websites depending on what those first five revealed.
Seriously, this stuff is not rocket science.  The internet has laid most of us bare for the world to see.

And you don't want a drug operation to turn up anywhere in your neighborhood.  Not only is there the potential for criminal violence and the physical dangers described in the Chron article (potential for electrical fires and explosions), there is the perception issue: what kind of a subdivision hosts this stuff?  What does the resulting association do to property values?

If suspicious residents happen to be cooking crank instead of growing grass, add the potential for exposures to toxic chemicals to the list of woes.  Meth lab homes are sometimes so contaminated with toxins that they have to be torn down

Anyway, enough said.  It's not my intention to raise unnecessary alarm - just to once again encourage everyone to do what they should be doing anyway:  talk to people.  Communicate with your neighbors.  Find out what's going on around you. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Walking in an easement wonderland

The phrase "ask and ye shall receive" comes to mind at this moment.  Either that, or the old adage "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear".

Following on the heels of this recent post about Centerpointe's outdoor walkability potential and the health benefits thereof, I resolved to summarize some of those opportunities in a separate post (namely this one). 

But immediately a question arose: are people really "supposed" to be walking in the Interurban easement?  Because that's where I've observed most of our local serious walkers (especially dog walkers) to be going. 
The Interurban easement:
Footpath to freedom in an area of otherwise jumbled up, incohesive development scheme (or lack thereof).
Somebody owns that land.  Who?  And then of course, numerous additional entities have been granted easements over that land.  Strictly speaking, is it even legal for residents to walk there?  It's neither fenced nor posted, but in our litigation-gridlocked culture, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. 

And of course, the Interurban easement is by no means the only easement where people in greater Houston frequently walk.  With a resounding and pervasive lack of urban and suburban planning, there's often no way to get from Point A to Point B on foot except by traversing someone's easement, regardless of which section of town you live in.

Lo and behold, as if on command (or request), yesterday Houston Chronicle conveniently served up at least a portion of the answer with this feature article, which discusses some of the issues surrounding the public's use of easements.
Screengrab from Houston Chronicle.
It's worth reading if you're interested in this kind of stuff.
The article describes how "no-e CenterPoint" would allow free use of their utility easements in exchange for protection from liability claims by the people using those easements, but how this measure has yet to attain a legal standing. 

Personally, I see it as a potential win-win situation:  CenterPoint might be acting especially proactive in this regard in part because they perceive how widely pedestrians and cyclists are using their easements anyway.  Given that this use will likely occur either way, they'd benefit from a clearer liability framework.  And residents would benefit from formalization of this use.

That being said, part of this issue is obviously still in limbo and seems likely to remain that way for some time to come.  So what I'm going to present below is not a recommendation of any kind.  It's just a series of observations about where and how I've seen local residents walking, especially those who are serious about walking their dogs on a daily basis.  I've traced out the pathways of these common routes, screengrabbed the traces, and estimated the mileage associated with each one using a common internet utility.  Again, these are not recommendations for you.  Just some summaries of what I've seen.  All rough measurements are taken from the intersection of Willow Pointe and Centerpointe Drive.
If you just need a quick jaunt and wish to avoid the easement, going up the sidewalk to the LCPD station and back is about one mile in length. 
Sometimes I see joggers in particular tracing that nice segment of sidewalk up and back, which is a distance of about two miles.

Unfortunately, this sidewalk doesn't connect to anything else at either end.  This is part of what I mean about lack of cohesive suburban planning.  Unfortunately, this sidewalk is like a Bridge to Nowhere
Remaining strictly within Centerpointe, this is about a 2-mile circuit, and I sometimes jog this route.

The PROBLEM with this kind of route, however, is that WE HAVE SO MANY RESIDENTS WHO ILLEGALLY PARK THEIR CARS ACROSS THE SIDEWALKS that it's not a pleasant journey - it's more like an obstacle course, especially on perenially-congested Walnut Pointe.  I suspect that this kind of reality is part of what drives people to walk in easements, the sentiment being "Geez, just give us a tiny bit of open space where we don't have to be dodging yet another infernal automobile literally every fifty feet." 
From Centerpointe to the United States Post Office, League City station, about a 1.5-mile circuit as shown.  If a person doesn't walk through that section of the easement to get there, it becomes necessary to go all the way up to Highway 3 and then back down FM 518 to Interurban.  But congested FM 518 is not really walkable, and neither is Interurban Street, so that's not really a viable option, not to mention the extra distance that would needlessly be involved. 

Either that, or go via West Galveston Street by way of Hwy 3, but West Galveston is a horrible unimproved street with no sidewalks and so you have to share what little degraded pavement there is with speeding cars - not safe, especially if you have kids or pets with you.

There's also a dirt barrier at the end of West Galveston, FYI.  People have made an obvious footpath around it.
Centerpointe into Pecan Forest.  This is about a 2-mile loop as shown.  As I mentioned in my post of two days ago, Pecan Forest is an interesting walk because it's an older neighborhood with magnificent trees (full of squirrels, which our dog loves to watch).

For people who live on the north and east sides of Centerpointe, it would be very difficult to get into this neighborhood without going through the Interurban easement.  The only other route is the "long way around" via Calder, which would add about another two miles to the walking circuit.  In other words, you'd have to walk over a mile before you could even get into Pecan Forest to start with.  Many walkers would find that to be too much for them.
I see people doing this 2.5-mile route, but I don't understand why they would want to.  There are neither sidewalks nor crosswalks on this segment of SH 96 (except at the Walker Street intersection), and cars whip by at up to 70 mph in close proximity to pedestrians. 
This is what I see dog-walkers in particular doing more commonly - going down the easement to SH 96 but then doubling back, in order to avoid the road which is arguably dangerous to pedestrians.  This too is about a 2.5-mile loop.
Future posts will address these options further, if I'm able to find out more relevant information about our local walkability issues.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Current ozone pollution

Here's a one-off blogpost just because it occurs to me to mention it.

We're having a bit of an ozone air pollution issue in the League City area late this afternoon.  This is potentially relevant to folks who are physically sensitive to this kind of thing. 
Screengrab from
If that link above doesn't function properly, go to the TCEQ's Air Quality page and drill down through the menu by clicking on the Texas graphic (it might not be obvious where to click until you hover over the map). 

Here's a screengrab of the key to interpreting the colors:
Screengrab courtesy of TCEQ
If you're sensitive (e.g., asthma) to air pollution, you have the option to sign up for email alerts telling you when our local air quality is impacted.  Go to this site and follow the instructions for that.
Example of a physical warning sign in the greater Houston area.
Screengrab from Wikipedia. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bats, birds, and bellies

I had two health-related epiphanies inside of two weeks.

The first derived from a trip my daughter and I took outside of America.  We went to a location where people still tend to get around by (gasp!) foot.  A proverbial pedestrian environment.  After twelve days of largely walking, I was darned near dead.  My knees were swollen and I had to spend some time each day with my legs elevated. 

And here's the unsettling thing:  this happened despite the fact that I'm physically fit.  I'm not the slightest bit overweight.  I go to the gym several times a week.  I have visible muscles.  I do elliptical training, I swim, and I do yoga.  And (as my neighbors will confirm) I do plenty of heavy yardwork. 

But I don't walk very much as a lifestyle component, and so I'm no longer used to it.  (I do walk our dog, but usually not miles at a stretch.) 

The second epiphany came an eighteen-hour window of time late last week, a period in which I'd encountered two different associates, each of whom had recently lost forty pounds.  One of them was one of my daughter's extracurricular teachers, and upon seeing him, I almost said, "Who the hell are you?!" because he appeared so transformed (for the much, much better). 

How did they lose forty pounds apiece, and without really stressing themselves in the process?  By lifting their forks to their mouths less frequently (and with healthier stuff on those forks when they did lift them), and by exercising, including walking.  One guy is a fan of the Clean Living Diet, which I hadn't heard of previously, but it basically appears to be a fancy way of saying "healthy eating".  I also have a girlfriend who reports that she's in the process of losing weight.  She's a fan of the 10,000 Steps program.

So following these epiphanies, I resolved to do more walking. 

The area surrounding Centerpointe is well-suited for walking.  Not only is it accessible with a fair number of sidewalks, it's also highly entertaining, as I found out last night.  Check this out:

OK, so it's my worst cell phone close-up pic yet (you can cut me some slack because it was almost dark when I took it).  But can you guess what it is??  Hint: it's a bird, and there are little pointy bits on top of his head, which you can just make out in this pic despite the grainy-ness.   
It was one of these:

A Great Horned Owl.
Photo from Wikipedia.
He was sitting in one of the towers in the electrical lines (aka the Interurban easement) on the other side of our retention ponds.

It was really quite dark by this time, but I lightened up this photo so that his silhouette would be more visible.
Last night for the first time, I walked south along that easment.  I can't believe I've lived here for two years and never got around to doing that before.  I routinely walk north to the Post Office and to divert into the nearby Pecan Forest subdivision, which has massive trees full of squirrels that our dog loves to watch.  But until last night, I'd never walked south. 

I noticed something else on this walk last night, too.

Bats.  Lots and lots of bats, all feasting on the insects that congregate at the retention ponds.
Yes, another crummy pic, but I tried my best to get some digital evidence just for you, my loyal readers (all three of you).  That nondescript blur with the circle around it is a bat on the wing.
This is a delightful development because of the potential it has to moderate our mosquito population.  I wonder where they are congregating?  I got used to seeing bats when I lived in Austin...

Bats boiling out from under the Congress Street bridge in Austin.
Screengrab courtesy of videocityguide
...and I also enjoyed seeing them en masse around Memorial Park.  There's a thriving and closely-monitored colony under the Waugh bridge.  (See also this link).

This is really, really cool!!
You can read the whole story here.
Screengrab courtesy of KTRK.
Immediately I wondered - where are these Centerpointe bats coming from?  Do they have a local roost, or are they part of the Waugh colony?  Obviously if they can make it from Waugh to IAH, they could make it to League City if they wanted to!

Anyway, I'll post more about walking options and associated adventures later.  This is enough for one rambling blog post. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Peculiar preemption

In the "random local weirdness" category, there's this blurry cell phone picture of a construction sign erected this morning on the west side of League City on SB Bay Area Blvd. at FM 518.  This one had my husband and I so curious that I just had to research it, and if I go to the trouble of researching it, might as well blog. 
Sorry about the poor pic quality, but it reads "No Railroad Preemption".  Ever wonder what the heck that phrase actually means??  Apparently a lot of people have wondered - because look at the autofill suggestions on Google:
I only got first four letters of "railroad" typed before it knew exactly what I wanted. 
A railroad preemption occurs when people driving trains are able to over-ride a road intersection's traffic light signal pattern in order to freeze the progression of vehicles as they are passing through.  The train itself preempts the normal flow of traffic, in other words.   This is something they do ostensibly to increase safety. 

Here's the weird part, though:  there's no railroad within three miles of that particular intersection.
(Screengrab from Googlemaps)
This is my best guess as to why the warning sign was posted there: Because the construction crew couldn't put their hands on the correct sign, so they used the closest available approximation. 
There's a fire station near the intersection, and fire trucks are another type of vehicle that sometimes has the ability to preempt the normal flow of traffic so that they can get through the area quickly.  It should have read something like "No Emergency Vehicle Preemption" but maybe their supplier was out of those signs.
That's my best guess, anyway.  But I could be wrong, so if anyone happens to see a train flying down west FM 518, please drop me a line because I'd love to hear about it.