Monday, March 10, 2008

A simple thing like Speed Bumps

This title may not seem related at all to immigration, but being that neighborhoods in Houston with heavy immigrant population have an impossible time getting speed bumps, I think it is worth a short discussion.

There is a professor at the University of Houston who takes his students on a tour of the East End, a Latino neighborhood, most every semester. He wants them to see how different the East End is to the rest of the city. They go by all the railroad tracks (most areas of the neighborhood are bounded on all four sides with tracks), down the poorly maintained streets, past the corners where a stop sign has been down for almost a week, but the city has not come to repair it (and you know not fixing it is dangerous), or past the streets that have had a water main out for a month.

Neighborhoods that look "scrappy" (a word used in a recent newspaper article about East End) usually make outsiders think they are messy or disorganized because of their residents. But in reality, many of the problems are related to the neighborhood having much lower priority than other areas in the city.

I am going to tell you the saga of getting speed bumps in our neighborhood.

The house I bought in East End in 2002 is on a corner. The neighbors tell me a few months before I moved in, while it was being remodeled, there was an accident on the corner and the car went into my future yard and missed the gas meter by about a foot. In another accident my neighbor across the street suffered a severe leg fracture when in another accident on the corner a car when into her yard, on her porch and into her bedroom. The neighbor across the street to my right had her house severely damaged when a car lost control and went onto her porch, thank goodness no one was injured.

The first two years I lived here (2002-2003), there were at least 5 accidents on the same corner, one that involved a pregnant woman. I called the city dept. that handles speed bumps but was told an application had been rejected a few years before = the city Fire Dept. said they needed the road to be clear for emergencies. I re-applied and six months later was told the same thing.

I moved away for a couple of years and returned to my house in 2005. A year later there were two really bad accidents on or near the same corner. In one of them, an SUV went into my yard - broke my fence. The man inside was trapped, he had to be cut out - by the time he was out he was unconscious.... an ambulance came for him, but I never found out what happened. I hope he didn't die.

A few days later, some teenagers in a new pickup ran into a telephone pole and ran away leaving the smashed up truck running. I called the city dispatcher and they said it was not important enough for them to send anyone. I then called the Constable's office (precinct 6) and they were here in a couple of minutes.

After the accidents I was sure that the city of Houston would approve the speed bumps. People used the stretch of 5 blocks as a race track. My intersection was a place where scores of middle school kids walked home.

We spoke to the then City Councilwoman's office, sent photos, and they helped us make another application to the Fire dept. We had to go to 3 different stations for all 4 shifts to get signatures. All the chiefs said we needed speed bumps. One even said to call him in a few months if nothing had happened.

Nothing happened. We called the City Councilwoman's office again. They talked to the city office in charge of the speed bumps. The woman who always answers the phone said that she and her office had decided there would be no speed bumps here and that was it. The embarrassed city council assistant called me back. I am ashamed to say I kind of yelled at him. It had already been 4 years since I first tried to get the speed bumps.

They put something to measure speeds, but only left them for 48 hours on weekdays. The biggest problems are on the weekends, we told them that but I guess the engineers who do this only work during the week.

I finally spoke to the engineer who said there was no reason for speed bumps or for a stop sign. He said no one went too fast. The speed limit was after all 30 mph. I said that was too high for a residential area (oh by the way, the street does not have sidewalks or a curb). He said no way the city would change that. Then he said, well during the 48 hours the street was tested one guy did go down the street at 60 mph. He said the photos we had of the accidents and the statements by residents didn't count.

He said if I called him in a couple of months he would come back and check it on a weekend.

It has been almost a year now. I didn't call him back. Seemed fruitless. But this morning I thought of the speed bumps and the city engineer again. I was driving down Sheperd near Westheimer (an affluent area in Houston). I had to turn and go down a block (that was residential) so I could take a left on a busy street. The block was full of new townhouses on both sides. They were very nice, and I'm sure very expensive. There were 2 speed bumps on that street.

A year or so before I asked the city why some streets in River Oaks (the richest neighborhood in the city) had so many speed bumps. The woman said that those were put in "a long time ago and the rules had changed." Well, maybe they didn't change for streets with new townhouses.

In the meantime, neighborhood residents near the dangerous corner are kind of paranoid driving around. We stop and look three times before we cross the busy street, try to avoid walking where there are no sidewalks. You may wonder why we don't make a petition and have everyone sign. We can't do that because many can't complain since they are undocumented.

I have even thought of finding some guys that do street construction to ask them if they would put in the speed bumps in the middle of the night - but I haven't had the courage to do that yet.

- just a note -
the city of Houston calls them Speed Humps


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