Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vote NO NO NO


Montgomery County Northstar - advanced transportation system

I met with Mr Fred Koehler, Traffic Manager Precinct 3 Montgomery County, to discuss traffic cameras, red light cameras and Road/signal light construction in The Woodlands.

I'd first like to let everyone know that the atmosphere in this office is awesome, much better than most government offices. I've worked with Mr Koehler on several issues so he knew I had an interest in what they were doing; why and how. The easiest way to explain my experience and to espress the information I learned would be FAQ style. Mr Koehler would like to remind all that the doors are always open for people to see their systems and where tax dollars are being spent. It's important to note that Mr Koehler takes the 'long' way to work and back to hit 65 intersections each way to ensure all is in order. It's my belief that he does not get paid extra for this. On behalf of Community activist of The Woodlands and residents of The Woodlands, thank you!


  1. You have this very elaborate (see above photo) traffic system with 250 cameras between 23 & 46 optical zoom. Whose watching? The Traffic division has someone watching the cameras 24x7 with 4 employees. The system can be accessed from employees homes as if they were in the office. The Sheriffs Office, Houston Tanstar and Montgomery County traffic assist has remote wireless access.


  2. What are the cameras all about? The entire camera system, which is handled remotely, includes 150 miles of fiber which has been purchased / leased wisely to ensure there will always be connectivity. Nothings perfect, but in my opinion they have done their best. As mentioned before there are 250 cameras with zoom capacity between 23 & 46. Mr Koehler showed me the distance a 23 camera could zoom and rotate and I was very impressed with the clarity and the ability for the camera to see the exact spot required. In the same photo above you can see there are two large screens with smaller screens, there are also additional monitors on traffic managers desks, in the middle. The middle screens are monitoring all cameras 24x7 and will alert trouble spots that can be enlarged on the bigger screens. None of the cameras are recorded, they are simply used for real time monitoring. Recording all 250 cameras, even with a 10-20 minute re-record would require a huge amount of storage space and the county does not believe it would be beneficial, mostly due to cost. The only exception for recording are the red light cameras, which are recorded and every hour or two the information is dumped to the red light management company in Arizona.


  3. Why do we have the cameras? Safety is the first logical reason. If you are having car trouble on I45 the traffic managers may notice that and send support. The assistance program or Sheriffs office often call in and ask if cars are stranded at certain locations and to get vital information about accidents to save valuable travel time and get the proper response team to the location. The cameras are incredibly beneficial at intersections during morning and evening rush hours. Signal timing can be manipulated from miles away to ensure traffic flows out of and into The Woodlands as best as possible.


  4. Why does it take so long to drive down Woodlands Parkway? First we all need to understand that Woodlands Parkway is not a traditional parkway. It may have been a parkway back in the day when the first and only exit was Grogan's Mill. Woodlands Parkway is actually a limited access road. Limited access basically means there are no driveways on the road, just intersections. "Woodlands Limited Access Road" just doesn't have much flare so we'll have to deal with Woodlands Parkway at this time. So back to why? If it was a perfect world and everyone started at the exact same location, stayed in their own lanes and ALL did the exact same speed then the system would be amazing. The real world; the person entering Woodlands Parkway from the flyover during rush hour may be in perfect position to make it all the way past Gosling and not hit one red light. Well, as soon as this person hits the parkway; 6 cars have already run red lights at the smaller cross streets, 25 cars have switched lanes in front of this persons car and people are driving anywhere between 40 and 65. This all happens before the person hits Grogan's Mill Road. Then BAM, two lanes after Grogan's Mill. The traffic manager do their best adjusting the timing after Grogan's Mill, but by that time so many people have switched lanes, run red lights and varied their speed that they can only do so much. Cars make 65K trips through the light on Woodlands Parkway at the East Panther Creek intersection daily. Traffic lightens after the Panther Creeks and Gosling intersections, but with the grouth in The Woodlands, you can guarantee it will only get worse. The Woodlands Developer is responsible for all new road construction in The Woodlands. The Roads are later conveyed to the Montgomery County. The County has little to no say on adding more access roads into The Woodlands from I45.


  5. How does the system know a car, motorcycle or person is at an intersection waiting? You will see from the photo that some areas where there are cars have green boxes around them and some areas that have no cars have a empty black box where a car could possibly approach. Once a car enters the black box it turns green and the system knows there is a car there and makes sure that the car is put into the lighting rotation. If there are no cars at one side of an intersection the system will simply ignore that part of the intersection and worry about getting the traffic through the areas that have cars. Montgomery County has taken care of motorcycles too. Gone are the days of having to make sure your bike is on the embedded metal strip in the road to trigger the light. Similar to the cars, once a motorcycle hits the black bog, it will turn green and now be in the signal rotation. Pedestrians, who hit the crosswalk button, will be put into the rotation and even though it may not seem like it, the pedestrians waiting time is shortened by hitting the button. It wouldn't make sense to stop traffic immediately for a person to walk across the street.


  6. Why does it take so long to install and activate traffic lights? Currently signal lights are being installed down a major section of Lake Woodlands that have traditionally been stop signs to ease the congestion of motorist using Lake Woodlands to get in and out of The Woodlands. I specifically asked about Lake Woodlands and New Trails. Mr Koehler assured me that they have that intersection first on their list. The issue with a large project like this is that the infrastructure, all down Lake Woodlands, needs to all be in place prior to putting up the lights. The plan is to start at New Trails and move into The Woodlands. I also learned that every intersection is designed from scratch. So that basically means that there's not a pile of poles and lights just waiting. I found that interesting and can only imagine the cost. Again the Woodlands Developer runs the show on new construction and then conveys to the County.


  7. Some lights trigger as soon as I drive up to the intersection, why? A perfect example of this scenario is the light at Gosling and Shadowbend. Since the congestion is not high at this intersection and it's not on the major grid, it's an independent light. The system still sees the cars in the green boxes and changes the signaling rotation immediately. This type of independent signaling would be impossible on Woodlands Parkway since the traffic would constantly stop due to traffic coming off the multiple intersections.




Friday, October 26, 2007

George Mitchell Nature Preserve Grand Opening


The Woodlands is now part of the Spring Creek Greenway Project. Visit THIS site for more information about the portion of the project in The Woodlands.

Mr Robert Collins, Montgomery County Pct 3 Special Counsel, is very excited about this project. Their website states: The Spring Creek Greenway will connect and protect up to 12,000 acres of forest on both sides of the creek, preserving a sociological gem and creating a mecca for ecotourism, education and outdoor recreation just north of Houston.

The Trail in The Woodlands is a 1/2 mile out and back (1 mile total) nature trail with signage to ensure you don't get lost in the woods. Plans are to extend the trail as land is purchased and donated through the years. While visiting the site I noticed that the forest was only slightly impacted by the trails and they even used fallen treas to border the trail at certain locations.

Attorney Nets Marijuana Rap. NOT CONFIRMED - POSSIBLE PARODY

Out of respect for someone, who will remain anonymous, I have removed this post.
Though I didn't appreciate the language (but can certainly handle it), I did appreciate the fact the someone took the time to call.
Apparently residents can find this information on microfilm. Go check it out and let me know!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hidden Proposition 4 - Village Stickers (parody)

Town Center Improvement District (TCID) asks Cochran's Crossing resident, Joe Merrill, to pilot new Woodlands Township "Village Sticker" program.
After 11-6, if you voted yes for all 3 props and all 3 props pass, then hidden prop 4 will also pass.
TCID has 'stolen' this program idea from the village of Panther Creek, but have put a spin on it so only Woodlands Township gets credit.
Woodlands Township will create stickers of different shapes, fonts, colors, sizes & paper quality (possibly leather for CW) for each village.
Naturally GM will have the cheapest/smallest quality sticker while CW will have the the more expensive/larger stickers.
If Hidden prop 4 passes ALL residents of Woodlands Township will be required to physically pick up their stickers no later than 11-7-07 at any Woodforest Bank. Stickers will range from $30/set-GM to $180/set-CW and need to be renewed annually. You will need to purchase a set of stickers for each Car or Motorcycle your family owns.
As the below photo (Photo A) shows the sticker in the back window needs to be right in the middle of the window so people behind you can clearly know your status. Woodlands Township will be outlawing rearview mirrors and require that all cars be equipped with side mirrors (Photo B) similar to these which can also be purchased at any Woodforest bank for $300/pair with an $80 instillation charge. The purpose of the back window siticker is to let villages of a higher status pass you at any rate of speed. The front Stickers (Photo C) will need to be placed smack dab in front of your face. As you can see from the photo, the sticker is typed in a way that cars in front of you can easily see your status from their side mirrors. Having the sticker smack dab in front of you is against the law, but Woodlands Township believes knowing where you fit in the community is more important.
Motorcycles will be required to have a full front sticker on each helmet (Photo D) which will also be easy for people to know your village status from their side mirrors. Not shown is that from the inside of the helmet your village status is also visible so that you never forget where you stand in Woodlands Township. The back of the helmet (Photo not shown) will simply need your village sticker so people from a higher status village will know if they can pass you at any rate of speed. As before, Woodlands Township does not care that you will not be able to see out the front of your helmet, status is more important.


Voluntary Bandit Sign Program

Ed Chance, Commissioner Precinct 3, has confrmed that Joe Merrill with Community Activist of The Woodlands will be part of the Voluntary Bandit Sign Program. To date, Community Associations of The Woodlands is the only other organization that has offered to volunteer.
The voluntary Bandit Sign Program is designed to give trained organizations or individuals the authority to confiscate and destroy any signs in The Right of Ways of The Woodlands.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Joe Merrill of Community Activists of The Woodlands speaks at WCA Board of Directors Meeting

Topics include:
Woodlands Community Service Corporation handling signs in the right of ways incorrectly since 1973.


Joe Merrill apologizing to the Family of Bruce Tough, WCSC & WFD Staff and the Board of Directors in The Woodlands.

Click on image to read speech.

MC DA Mike McDougal's Letter to WCSC GM Don Norrell Regarding Illegal Signs in The ROW's

Montgomery County District Attorney, Mike McDougal, sends letter to The Woodlands Community Service Corporations General Manager, Don Norrell, regarding Illegal Signs in The Woodlands Right of Ways.

McDougal says:
"...to the extent possible, please advise your associations to discontinue placing any kind of signs in the public road rights-of-way and discontinue charging "removal fees" for the removal of signs in the public road rights-of-way."
Click picture to view letter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Woodlands Development Company Cleans Sculpture in Cochrans Crossing



The Woodlands Development Company Cleans Sculpture in Cochrans Crossing.


We're not sure if they took advantage of the Sculpture Cleaning Kit 1.0 or not, but it certainly looks better.


Thank YOU!


Sculpture BEFORE and Sculpture AFTER.

Monday, October 22, 2007

State Bar of Texas Grievence -- Mr. Bruce Tough


Click image to view complaint.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Community Activists of The Woodlands Volunteers for Bandit Sign Program

Letter from Don Norrell to Board of Directors, including reference to MORE legal Counsel, and Press Release.

To: Association Board Members



As all of you are aware, a complaint has been was lodged again the Community Associations of the Woodlands regarding the placement of signs in the boulevard. This complaint was filed with the District Attorney and the County Attorney and alleges that the practices in regard to the placement of signs in street right of ways, as adopted under The Woodlands Residential Development Standards, may be in violation of state law.



In order to try and resolve this issue in an expedient manner, I believe that it is essential that we suspend the processing of accepting applications from residents or organizations interested in securing conditional approval for placement of signs in the right of way. I am not suggesting that we change the rules at this time / a change in the rules will require action of the DSC and DRC. What I am recommending is that we suspend all applications for the placement of signs in the road right of way until we can discuss and resolve this matter with the County Attorney and County representatives. If changes in our process are necessary, I plan to propose appropriate process changes once we have concluded discussion with the County regarding this matter.



The County has been our partner in the maintenance of The Woodlands community and we need to do everything possible to continue this very positive relationship. We also need to assure that all of our actions are in compliance with state law.



I will communicate to the County Attorney and the District Attorney that we are voluntarily suspending our current application policies and procedures. Over the next few weeks, we will work with our legal counsel (Randy Bays) to discuss these issues with County officials and hopefully develop an acceptable plan to allow us to move forward with an acceptable defined process.



In regard to the removal of signs from the boulevard, Montgomery County has named the WCSC as a volunteer entity that is allowed to remove bandit signs from the boulevard. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be working with the County to get this approval in writing and to also train our employees and volunteers. This training is required by the County. Until we complete the required training which will take up to a couple of weeks, I am instructing our staff not to pick up bandit signs that may be placed in the road right of way. We want to assure that we comply with all county standards prior to initiation of this enforcement process.



Please call me if you have any questions.



Don







Release for 10/17/07

The Community Associations of the Woodlands have voluntarily suspended processing of applications from residents and organizations interested in placing signs in the road right of way. Previously, committees of the Community Associations reviewed sign applications filed by residents and organizations requesting that they be allowed to place conforming signs in the public right of way. If these signs were allowed by covenant standards, the applicant received conditional approval for the sign subject to their ability to secure approval from the appropriate governmental agency before placement of the signs.



Historically, two committees representing the Community Associations have administered the covenant standards for the placement of signs on property in The Woodlands. These committees have reviewed all applications to assure that signs placed on private property and in road right of ways conform to the requirements of The Woodlands Residential Development Standards. These committees have always recognized that their authority is limited to the approval of the size and type of sign allowed by covenant standards and have directed applicants to seek the authority of the appropriate governmental agency prior to placing signs in the road right of way.



Recently, a resident filed a complaint with the District Attorney and the County Attorney regarding this matter alleging that the Community Associations have violated the law with the covenant sign approval process. In order to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, the Community Associations are voluntarily suspending the processing of applications relating to the conditional approval of signs in the road right of way (conditioned on County approval) and will work with County officials to resolve this matter. The Community Associations of The Woodlands are committed to a process that meets the requirements of state law.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

CC Sculpture

After multiple unanswered emails, I asked for permission to clean this sculpture myself.
I have received word from The Woodlands Development Company that it has finally been cleaned.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Montgomery County District Attorney to Send The Woodlands a Letter regarding bandit ROW sign Issue

Community Activists of The Woodlands has received confirmation from The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office that signs in The Woodlands Rights-of-Way are illegal.

McDougal States: "I am sending a letter to Mr. Powers advising him of my opinion and asking him, to the extent he has any authority, to discontinue placing any signs in the rights-of-way of the roadways in The Woodlands, Texas; further, that the "Woodlands Residential Development Standards" are ineffective as to the placement of signs in the rights-of-way in The Woodlands, Texas; and that the "fines" provided for in the residential standards are not collectible."

Please contact Don Norrell at 281.210.3800 to request your refund.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Woodlands Groups Continue to Break the Law.


Signs Signs Signs.

If you have been paying attention you will know that Community Activists of The Woodlands (CATW) is doing everything possible to keep The Woodlands beautiful.


The Woodlands Community Service Corporation (WCSC) General Manager, Don Norrell, said on March 22nd, 2007 "The Woodlands is a beautiful community that should be kept that way through reasonable rules and common sense enforcement"

Unfortunately Mr Norrell's definition of Common Sense enforcement differs from the law.
CATW submitted THIS document to The Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constables Office today.

State Senator, Robert L Nichols, agrees with CATW that signs in the right of ways are illegal in THIS document.

Montgomery County Attorney, David Walker, stated the following regarding signs in the right of ways: "They are illegal. Placement of signs in public right-of-way is illegal."

When CATW asked Montgomery County District Attorney, Mike McDougal, his opinion on the signs in the right of ways and if we should contact the constables he had this advice: "That would be my advice, although I don't know if the constable can take the signs. He can issue tickets to them for Class C misdemeanors."

So now it's up to Mr Norrell to do what's right within the law.
-or-
for Chief Deputy Jeff McLaughlin to enforce the law.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bruce Tough Pays Texas Ethics Commission Fine

Bruce Tough agrees to pay $100 fine for Texas Ethics Commission violations. TEC a $100.00 fine.