Hoffman's Houston
get onboard with this change

Ken Hoffman sounds the horn on the change Houston needs right now

Ken Hoffman sounds the horn on the change Houston needs right now

train intersection Amtrak
We're all sick of train horns in our neighborhoods.  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Pet of the week - Bas
Bas is our handsome pet of the week. Photo courtesy of Citizens for Animal Protection
train intersection Amtrak
Pet of the week - Bas

Channel 2 ran a poll recently: “If you could change one thing about Houston, what would it be?” There were the expected responses about heat and humidity and traffic. Really? I hadn’t noticed. But some were serious and addressed a legit need in our city. Like:

Putting sidewalks on every street
I agree with that, but wait, there’s more (Ron Popeil). After sidewalks are installed, people must use them. No more walking three abreast in the street, and definitely no walking in the street with a baby stroller. That’s just crazy dangerous, but I see it all the time.

More light rail and better public transportation
Absolutely. It’s the simplest thing: you put light rail from where people live to where people work. When light rail was proposed in Houston, I visited five cities across the U.S. that had light rail. Here’s what Houston needs to do, hire the person who designed light rail in Portland, Oregon. Just like Burger King needs to hire the vice-president in charge of fries at McDonald’s. Those folks know what they’re doing.

Some suggestions were silly and irreverent. Like:

Tell In-N-Out to get out of Houston and go back to California
Seriously? Do you know what having In-N-Out in Houston does to property values? We’re all going to be rich and chubby. I know this comment was a vote for Whataburger, but don’t worry, In-N-Out won’t put a dent in Whata’s bottom line.

Move Houston closer to South Padre Island
Wouldn’t it be easier for South Padre to move closer to Houston?

Sounding the horn
Now here’s where I chime in, since I do most of the heavy lifting around here in the ideas department. Last week, a resident of Second Ward let me have it good on social media because I have my spring-summer home in West University, where trains are banned from blowing their horn. 

It’s called a “Railroad Quiet Zone.” The Second Ward person lit me up with, “How come West U residents are spared from train horns, while less affluent people in the Second Ward are shook out of their beds with train horns blaring all hours of the day and night?”

The Second Ward person was angry. More importantly, the Second Ward person was right. In 2020, there is no need for trains to blow their insanely loud horns as they pass through dense, residential metro areas like Houston.

Several years ago, residents in a few parts of Houston, West U, and Bellaire had enough of train horns, rolled up their sleeves, and battled their way though a mountain of governmental rigamarole (great word). It took will power and patience, but with the help of local officials, they got 14 rail crossings declared quiet zones. The movement started with only two people, but like the Boss says, you can’t start a fire without a spark. Those two started an inferno against train horns.

We heard it, “Why are you complaining? Those tracks were there when you moved into your house. You should have known that where there are tracks, there are trains.”

Correct, but when I moved into West U, maybe three or four trains barreled down the tracks near my sprawling estate. Then, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads merged, and soon there were 30 or 40 trains blasting their horns around the clock through residential areas of Houston, West U, and Bellaire. I live seven houses down from the tracks. I swear, my windows rattled when Thomas the Tank Engine blew his horn. If I was on the phone, and a train passed by, the other person asked, “Is that an air raid siren?”

I also believe that train engineers leaned on their horn extra long as they passed though rail crossings, like the one on Bellaire Boulevard that rocked my neighborhood. I’m sure some beer was spilled at Little Woodrow’s next to the tracks because of the vibration.

A grassroots movement arose: stop the train horns. I was only an innocent bystander, but I supported and cheered the movement to get train horns banned. City officials in Houston, West U, and Bellaire got onboard and met with the railroad company and Federal Railroad Administrations. A rule, 49 Code of Federal Regulations Section 222.43, allows local neighborhoods and cities to become quiet ones if certain safety conditions are met.

It took four years of meetings, waiting periods  and inspections, but as a result, 14 rail crossings from San Felipe south to Willowbend are now quiet zones, and nearby residents are sleeping like babies, including with 2 am feedings (if you’re like me).

It’s time to ban train horns in every part of Houston. I agree with my second ward friend, all Houstonians deserve to be spared aggravating train horns. Just because trains have always blown their horn through intersections doesn’t mean it’s necessary now. Technology and improved safety devices make it virtually impossible for stupid people to play chicken with trains. 

So, Mayor Turner and nearby communities, start the paperwork. This should be your job, not residents who are busy with their own lives. While the first round of quiet zones cost $300,000 for 14 rail crossings, I’m confident the price would go down if Houston bought the required extra-long crossing arms at Costco. Whatever the price, it’s worth the money.

Quality of life is so much better with a good night’s sleep.

Pet of the Week
Name: Bas. I think it’s time to call the person who names these dogs into the office for a little talk. Fortunately, the lucky person who adopts me can change my name to anything they wish. Dogs don’t care. We just want to be taken care of and loved.

Birthdate: December 3, 2018, just entering my salad years, but please do not ever put a salad in front of me. I am not a rabbit. I do not have a fluffy tail and wiggle my nose. I know, bunnies are adorable, but this is about me.

Ethnicity: I’m a bulldog and Catahoula Leopard combo platter. I’m a big’un, 65.20 pounds. I don’t know why Citizens for Animal Protection felt it necessary to include the .20 pounds. Here’s my story. I am very affectionate and love nothing more than to sit on the couch next to you for some quality TV cuddling time.

I like car rides and running, toys and walks. The card on me says curious, active and playful. In other words, I’m just about the perfect companion for a caring human who could use some unconditional love in these stressful times.

Come and get me: Drop an email to: adoptions@cap4pets.org. Remember, all adoptions are half-off thanks to West Houston Subaru.