By Car, Houston
Well, where to start with the transportation situation in Houston? Ok, it stinks! Houston is a massive, spawling metropolis, and without a major mass transit system in place, a car in Houston will be your best friend! If you are visiting Houston and are going to be basically staying in one area, a cab will do you just fine. Or if you are going to be around the Downtown, Museum District, or Texas Medical Center areas, then our Metrorail train will work for you. Maybe for some reason you have several hours to kill, then the bus system is also an option. Other than that, a visit to your nearest rent-a-car branch would be advised. Houston is so spread out, from Bush Intercontinental Airport north of town to NASA south of town will take well over an hour, without traffic. Traffic here is another subject altogether. With most of the several million people here owning a car, just throwing a little construction into the mix would cause quite a bit of traffic. But you will soon observe that every freeway in town is under construction. And it is that way all the time, so don't think that you might escape it during your visit here. It will find you! So, if you are driving in Houston, do what we do, sit back, and enjoy the view of breaklights and the lovely orange construction pylons. Oh, and leave early!!!
You MUST have a car to get around Houston. Most people come on business but please make sure your company gets you a car...
And, while we're on that subject....I learned how to drive in Houston. If you cannot go 10 miles over the speed limit stay to the right!! When you get on the freeway you need to goose it (put the gas pedal to the floor and get to the 60-70 mph limit). You don't really have to turn on your blinkers so don't waste your time. Just beware of those around you and be prepared to be amazed and distraught after driving on the freeway.
Oh, and you may want to look both ways before you venture out from behind a newly green light. I know many who know the light is about to change so leave early while cars are running red lights.
GOOD LUCK!!!! You need it :D
You need a car to go around Houston. Rent one if you are a tourist. Get a good map, and it is easy to find your way around. It will help to know the names of the freeways, in addition to their numbers (ex: I-10 W = Kathy freeway; beltway 8 = Sam Houston freeway, etc... go see my map in the introduction!).
You will always find easy free parking in Houston. That's the least the city could do: with no decent common transportation, at least it is easy to park! The only exceptions, however, are Downtown during weekdays, and Medical Center all the time where parking can cost more then $10 an hour.
It's do or die on the streets of Houston. PLEASE GO THE SPEED LIMIT...even if you are lost. There is no patience for driving in Houston. Turn signals are obsolete. Look, squeeze in, and be prepared for traffic.
Don't take it personal....it's just the way it is.
Please know if you are heading anywhere into/around Houston with a time frame allow enough time for traffic. This applies especially around downtown. There is usually some type of road construction. If it has rained there is flooding. If there is anything fun going on there will be many people trying to get there as well. Always allow extra time!
I would emphasize a few points about Houston driving:
#1 Ignore Defensive Driving rules, all Houstonians do.
#2 Do not use your blinker until you are halfway into the lane you want.
#3 Wave with all five fingers.
At Houston's George Bush International Airport (IAH), I was impressed about how organized the rental car agencies are. Unlike in other airports, these agencies are all huddled in just one general area.
After arrival, just board a bus that brings you directly to the building dedicated for car rentals. The automated system makes you skip the long line, and so have your reservation number ready if you have one.
Returning the car is also a cinch - all you have to do is follow the Rental Car exit and all the agencies are so near one another. IAH airport really has done such a good job in organizing these rental agencies.
On nice thing about getting around in Houston is the live billboard. Every few miles on the major highways are signs that will update you about time delays, road closures, wrecks and even emergency information. It posts Amber Alerts (missing children) and other good-to-know info.
Definitely heed the warnings about times and accidents blocking lanes. I've found they are all true!
Despite the new light rail system, Houston is still a driving town. That's unless it REALLY rains-then it's a sit in your car for hours town. Heavy rains (which Houston gets quite a bit of) can really bring traffic to a standstill. The freeways and main roads can become parking lots.
If you're stuck on a main street, you may want to pull off, get a bite to eat or do some shopping, and watch the rest of the cars sit there-just like you were just doing.
I asked my Hotel (Marriott West chase) to get me a cab for 4am the next morning. and they told me no problem. I didn't go to bed till 2:30 so if you do the math that's about an hour of sleep. SO I wake up from my nap, and they tell me my ride has arrived, I walked outside and saw that it was a luxury Lincoln Car and I told the driver, I'm sorry I asked for a cab because I knew it would be expensive. When I got inside there was a water waiting for me and nice comfortable black leather seats. The driver stayed quite so I could sleep on my 40 min. drive to the airport.
When we arrived it was only 85.00 with tip. A cab had an estimate of 75.00 with tip so Only ten dollars more and it didn't reek of sweat and coffee!
I think in the future I will get the shuttle for the price of only 33.00, but if I ever have to choose between a luxury car and a taxi I'll ride in the Lincoln any day!
The only way to get around Houston is by car. The public transportation system is dismal at best. It had been one of my major complaints about Houston. It consists of the bus. If you want to take the bus, you'll need about 3-4x the amount of time to get from place to place. There are also a lot of shady people that ride the bus.
Getting around you'll have to rent a car. Our bus system here isn't what it should be for a major city. However, you can take city bus from the airport to downtown Houston. Recently the city added inner-city 'trolleys' that will get you from one end of town to the other.
As a native Houstonian here are some insider tips:
Houston is enormous, if you are visiting here by plane and require transportation you must rent a car. And get a map. Study map.
The far left lane on any major freeway or highway is the fast lane. I don't know if this is true for other states-I think maybe not, but all Texans know this rule. If you are a slower driver it is highly recommended that you stay in a lane to the right. PLEASE just drive to the right
(fast lane=80+ mph)
Avoid all car travel, if possible, between 4:00-6:30pm. The major freeways are hell at this time. (M-F) Happy hour is a better alternative.
Taxis are very expensive. 4 years ago it cost me $90 dollars to get from IAH (intercontinental airport) to Sugar Land.
Only ride a bus if you are up for a good scare, LOL. seriously.
Most Houstonians are not incredibly tolerant of slow drivers. This is because everything is so far away we are constanly driving and just trying to get to our destinations as quickly as possible. Nothing personal. Long commute=unhappy drivers
I've lived just about everywhere in Houston 20+ years and as the city has sprawled outwards in every direction without zoning laws, the road construction and expanded highway systems have created clogged arteries and clogged secondary thoroughfares everywhere. The further you live from your job the worse your quality of life becomes during regular business hours unless you don't mind being stuck in your car a month a year (seriously! 3 to 4hrs commuting per workday) and your suburban home all the time during free time. Getting around more than ten miles takes at least 20-30 minutes along 610 W Loop and I-59 practically any hour of every day (except early Sat and Sun mornings pre-10am, and after 9pm till 5am), and with the mix of international people with different driving habits, the chaos rules with the idiocy on the roads. I work 14.8 miles from home along 610W and 290 and I take 1.15 hours to get home from 290 if I leave work at 5pm (driving against rush hour traffic) so I work until 6:30 or 7pm regularly (11 hour days) just to avoid the hassle and stay productive--forget early family evenings after work. Main problems with traffic: crappy mass transp, very POORLY coordinated traffic lights, un-alert drivers who stroll in their cars rather than drive (cel phones up the ass), and an apathetic city government and mayor. Just alot of uncontrolled urban growth with little consideration for traffic flow that's looking alot like Los Angeles. Great city, yeah sure, whatever.
From what I could see there is just no avoiding renting a car when in Houston. There doesn't seem to be a definitive walkable downtown and everything is just to spread out to not have a vehicle. Whether you're there on business or pleasure: rent a car!
Another word to the wise... when returning your rental car make sure YOU know which terminal you are flying out of because the guy helping people onto the bus doesn't care. I forgot my itinerary and honestly couldn't remember so he sent me to Continentals main terminal. I could check in and go through security there but had to find my to another terminal (remember the lack of signs problem... :) so just know which one and the bus/airport will be a breeze!