How To Get Around Town

So you’re eager to explore your new city, or at least get to work on time.  Unfortunately, Houston traffic can sometimes flow as slowly as the bayous that meander through town.  But a good map and a little knowledge about your transportation options can greatly help you find your way.  Be advised that rush hours are primarily between 6:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p. m.

By Car

Freeways circle and crisscross the city, and major routes do not always follow a strictly north-south or east-west format.  To add to the fun, most major thoroughfares have two names (e.g., I-45 is the North Freeway and U.S. 59 is the Eastex).  Also note that the many roads labeled “FM” do not refer to your radio dial.  They are “farm-to-market” roads that have served farmers, travelers, sightseers and now suburbanites for many decades.

Your Freeway "Cheat Sheet":

  • Gulf Freeway: I-45 between downtown and Galveston
  • North Freeway: I-45 between downtown and The Woodlands
  • Baytown East Freeway: I-10 between downtown and Baytown
  • Katy Freeway: I-10 between downtown and Katy
  • Southwest Freeway: 59 between downtown and Sugarland
  • Eastex Freeway: 59 between downtown and Kingwood
  • South Freeway: 288
  • Northwest Freeway: 290
  • Beltway: Sam Houston Tollway and Beltway 8 names are used interchangeably
  • Hardy: Hardy Tollway
  • West/South/North/East Loop: western, southern, et al, sections of 610

Some freeways have more obscure names (like part of 288 being the Nolan Ryan Expressway), but for the most part these are the names you will hear most often.

EZ Tag/Harris County Toll Road Authority

Houston has the equivalent of several downtown skylines because there is more than one major area of business.  For this reason, a map that includes a legend of buildings as well as street names for downtown, the Galleria, Greenway Plaza and the Texas Medical Center will quickly prove to be a valuable resource.  If your new job or residence requires you to travel the Sam Houston Parkway or the Hardy Toll Road, consider obtaining an E-Z Tag.  This prepaid transponder allows you to zip through toll booths on both roads without stopping.  Your toll is deducted automatically.  There is a $40 minimum charge to a major credit card and a $15 security deposit required for an E-Z Tag.  When your account reaches a $10 balance, $30 is automatically charged to your credit account to again achieve the $40 minimum.  E-Z Tag users receive a 25-cent discount on $1 tolls and a 50-cent discount on $2 tolls.  An E-Z Tag application can be obtained by calling 281-875-3279.

A final word before heading out – the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with Cingular and TxDOT, provides a free motorist’s assistance program.  Call 713-225-5627 for help with flat tires, empty gas tanks and similar problems.

By Bus

The Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) operates buses throughout the city and suburbs.  The basic adult fare is $1.25, a day pass is $3, and discounts for seniors and children as well as token options also are available.  Call Metro at 713-635-4000 for schedules, rates and general information.  Commuters can park their cars at one of several free “Park and Ride” lots and catch a bus into town.  Fares are based on distance traveled.  An added advantage is that the buses, as well as cars with the required number of passengers, can make use of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.  Call 713-224-7433 for commuter-related information.

Metro and several parking lots also operate free trolleys for traveling between downtown office buildings or to restaurants, the George R. Brown Convention Center or theaters.

Metro maintains a very helpful website.  It includes the above information as well as downtown construction updates, traffic reports and real-time drive times between two destinations of your choosing.