Mayor Annise Parker’s Top 10 Twitter Zingers of 2015

Too often, a politician’s social media presence is a sanitized product of personal branding and messaging, run by risk-averse consultants or PR firms that fuss over every phrase. That’s why Mayor Annise Parker’s Twitter has always been such a refreshing breath of fresh air. Whether it’s addressing a citizen’s concern, commenting on local or national politics, or anything else, she’s always very frank to say what she thinks, perhaps sometimes to her staff’s concern.

Here are the Mayor’s top 10 zingers of 2015, ranked in severity of burn.

10. Squirrels

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Squirrels of Houston, you win this round, but consider yourself On Notice.

9. Houston Chronicle writer Evan Mintz

Mintz wrote up a fantastic Game Of Thrones-based guide to the 2015 Houston mayoral race.

Later, he pointed out an apparent difference between the civic focuses of Austin and Houston.

8. Houston’s Terrible Motorists

Soon after completion of the Lamar Street protected bike lane, cars parking in it became a problem. The Mayor wasted no time calling them out.

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Houston gets a lot of rain, so we get a few flooding events most years. Citizens are warned against driving into floodwaters. A common refrain heard during flooding from media, public officials, and regular citizens is, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” There’s always those few that don’t seem to get the message, though.

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And then there’s the texters.

7. Newstonians

Tens of thousands of people move to Houston every year from all over the world, and we welcome them with open arms. Still, we can’t help but grin when we see those tell-tale signs that we’re talking to a Newstonian: They like an imported taco shop, they prefer an east coast donut shop over a Houston-born one, or they don’t pronounce bayou correctly.

6. Someone who blamed her for the weather

Amid all the rain and flooding, several events were canceled by the event runners, not by the City. That didn’t stop people from sending their complaints directly to the Mayor.

 5. Adrian Garcia

Following former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s defeat in the 2015 Houston mayoral race, he quickly announced he’d be running against Congressman Gene Green in the primary for Texas’ 29th Congressional District.

4. Carly Fiorina

HP’s stock fell 55% before Fiorina was ousted as CEO.

3. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Just a little over one month later, Paxton was indicted for securities fraud.

2. Lance Berkman

As the most well-known opponent of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, former Astros player Lance Berkman filmed ads pressing for its repeal. The Mayor wondered where this apparently new-found opposition to equal rights ordinances came from.

1. A Houston Equal Rights Ordinance opponent

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance would have protected 15 different classes of individuals, but opponents focused all of their efforts on just one of those classes, gender identity, with a sycophantic and obfuscatory focus on bathrooms.

Yowza!

Stay tuned to the Mayor on Twitter for the last couple weeks of 2015 to see if she sneaks in any more zingers before the year is out!

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The new Bagby Street should be a point of pride for Houston

Since a bicycle is my primary mode of transportation, I spend a lot of time thinking (obsessing?) about things like cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure and access. Houston has historically been a city that is very hostile to pedestrians, with some of the worst infrastructure and safety record of the largest cities. The condition of many sidewalks is shockingly bad, or would be shocking if we hadn’t been living and dealing with it for so many decades. We may be the fourth most populous city, but in many ways we haven’t earned it, at least when it comes to providing a safe environment for our citizens to walk around.

That seems to be changing. For the last several months, when I ride from my home in Downtown to Montrose or Midtown, I make sure to ride down Bagby Street. That’s because it has undergone a stunning transformation from a fast and dangerous street to a much more fair compromise between pedestrians and motorists. It is really something to marvel at, and makes me feel like I’m in Boston, Minneapolis, or Portland (cities which give very serious thought about how to build accommodations for pedestrians and/or cyclists).

A pedestrian bulb-out, or curb extension, is when a corner of a curb is built to extend out into the roadway. When a road has straight sides, it tends to cause tunnel vision by motorists. They’re working to monitor conditions on the roadway and tend not to see what’s happening on the edges. A bulb-out makes it much more obvious to a motorist what the pedestrians are doing. It reduces the amount of distance a pedestrian has to cross to get across the street.

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Note here that the rest of the lane is preserved for street parking. Illegal parking near the corner or blocking a crosswalk is essentially impossible.

Rather than running directly alongside the roadway, the sidewalk is separated with landscaping and other obstructions. Motorists don’t have to worry about a pedestrian stepping out in front of them. Pedestrians don’t have to worry about an out of control car jumping the curb and hurting them.

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Artistic bollards protect the exposed corners that aren’t landscaped.

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Metal grates or concrete steps provide access from the sidewalk to the street parking. This allows people to get to their car without walking along the busy street at night (one of the most common causes for motorist-pedestrian accidents in Midtown. An example).

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Parking is allowed on both sides of the street.

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Various seating areas along the sidewalks provide a free place to rest or wait for friends.

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Signage is clear, and encourages safe pedestrian behavior.

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Plenty of bike racks in the area give cyclists a chance to park, too.

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This post is focused mostly on the pedestrian accommodations, but there was also a lot of thought put in to ecology and conservation. Why dump all the rainwater into sewers when some of it can be used to grow trees to shade the sidewalk?

Edit: The One World View blog has more about the sustainability aspects of the new street. http://oneworldstrongblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/sustainability-series-texas-first-greenroads-project/

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All of this meshes nicely with Mayor Annise Parker’s new Complete Streets initiative, something also promoted aggressively by some on the City Council such as District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez. This and the Safe Passing ordinance signal a change in direction for the City, where there were previously precious few Complete Streets where pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist have a fair allocation of access (Heights Boulevard being one earlier example).

Bagby and the new changes underway on Navigation (more on that later) are two streets of which Houston can be proud!

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Main Street as Pedestrian and Bike Corridor

The Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance that was passed by Houston’s City Council requires motorists to give 3 feet of space when passing a vulnerable road user (cyclists, pedestrians, etc.)  This ordinance makes it impossible for a motorist to legally pass a cyclist on Main Street in Downtown or Midtown, as demonstrated in these pictures.

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What if we were to close Main Street to motor vehicle traffic and make it an exclusively pedestrian and bicycle corridor?

It seems to me that it would enhance cyclist and pedestrian safety, encourage the type of walkable retail and bars/restaurants that Downtown needs, decrease motorist frustration at being stuck behind a bicycle, and enhance motorist and transit safety by eliminating the motorist [illegal] left turns that still hit the Metro rail cars sporadically.

Already, driving Downtown on Main Street is not ideal for a motorist. The ban on left turns and the pedestrian zone that cuts off Main Street at Main Street Square make it not very useful to a motorist for traveling through Downtown. If you add in now being stuck behind cyclists as well, it just seems to make more sense to re-route that traffic to Fannin or Travis, where there are plenty of lanes for cars to travel.

With all of the new businesses coming in on the North side of Downtown (Goro & Gun, Pastry War, Batanga, Bad News Bar, OKRA, Clutch City Squire, El Gran Malo, etc.), having an even safer pedestrian environment for customers to move about promotes greater economic activity. This also ties in nicely with the city’s new BCycle rental bike program. Tourists or Houstonians visiting Downtown and renting a BCycle could be directed to our fantastic Main Street bike lane to check out the rest of Downtown or as a way to get to points in Midtown.

If I count right, about 20 parking spaces would be lost along Main Street. The enhanced pedestrian, transit, and bicycle experience should easily make up for any small inconvenience this might cause. Main Street Square could be reconfigured to allow for a bike lane to pass through the current pedestrian environment.

I live and work downtown and think it would really improve quality of life.  I think this could get us a lot of positive national attention to take the move of closing Main Street to motor vehicle traffic and embracing other modes of transportation. What do you think?

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Beer Pirate Andy

Many of our local Houston breweries will release special beers periodically that are only brewed one time (Saint Arnold’s Divine Reserve and Bishop’s Barrel series, Karbach’s F.U.N. Series, etc.) These are styles of beers that are less common to brew for most breweries: barleywines, old ales, imperial stouts, wee heavy, barrel-aged beers, etc. These beers are in high demand relative to the supply, and don’t last long in the stores. Breweries are not allowed to sell direct to the public by Texas state law, so they sell it to their distributor, who sells it to whichever stores or bars they want to sell it to. Many stores sell out within the first hour or two of stocking it. Because of this, it can be hard to find out where the beer is available, and often results in a wild goose chase trying to find it.

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This problem is exacerbated by individuals I’ve labeled beer pirates. These people will go around to different stores buying up all the rare beer. Sometimes they have a friend working at a store that will sell them entire cases at a time, while a regular customer is limited to two. Many beer fans find it impossible to even lay their hands on any. These beer pirates then take their loot to Craigslist, where they scalp it at massively inflated prices, often 3 times the normal price, or more. Selling beer online is illegal in Texas, and selling beer at all in Texas requires a TABC permit. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has advised consumers that they can flag these Craigslist posts as Prohibited, as they violate both state law and Craigslist policy. After enough people have flagged a post, it is deleted. It’s a game of Wack-A-Mole, though. These beer pirates will repost as many times as needed to unload their inventory.

This post keeps getting reposted.

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Tired of flagging, I decided to jerk one of these guys around. Andy Benton told me he lived in Northwest Houston and wanted to meet at Gallery Furniture to make the exchange. If he’s the same Andy Benton in Northwest Houston, he’s a man of God, Executive Director of a faith-based organization called Cornerstone Family Ministries, and according to his Twitter profile, Worship Leader at Heights Church Houston.

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Andy told me that he had nine six packs available at $50 apiece. I told him I’d buy six for $275, and we arranged to meet in the parking lot of a local business. Andy seems to know that selling beer online is illegal in Texas. When he was setting up the meeting, he asked me if I worked for the TABC. I guess Andy was trying to employ the specious old “if you’re a cop, you have to tell me” defense.

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Naturally, I encountered some car trouble on the way to meet Andy.

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How long will Andy sit in the Gallery Furniture parking lot waiting? Only time will tell.

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You can follow the #BeerPirates hashtag on Twitter for updates on Craigslist posts to flag Prohibited.

UPDATE: Andy waited two hours total before leaving. Andy is on Twitter as @TheGreatBentoni.

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