Where is it?
Located in the south central region of the U.S., the Lone Star State is the second largest state in the country after Alaska. It also boasts the second largest population after California, with close to 26.5 million people, most densely grouped in the Eastern part of the state. Geographically, one tends to think of Texas in terms of desert region, when in fact less than ten percent of its area is desert. Rather, its 268,820 square miles (696,241 sq km) present a very diverse topography, including forests, open prairies, swamplands, mountains, and a coastline that borders the Gulf of Mexico. Given that it’s larger than many countries, including France, it shouldn’t be surprising that Texas offers 10 distinct climate regions, 11 ecological regions, and 14 soil regions.
Getting around in Texas
Immense as it is, Texas leads the country in sheer road mileage, at 300,000 miles — 28,357 miles of which are U.S. and state highways. There are over 20 million automobiles on Texas roads, this number again only second to that of automobiles in California. Discounting children and others who don’t drive, such as a percentage of the elderly, the disabled, and drivers with suspended licenses, the ratio of cars to the population indicates that there is roughly one car for every able adult citizen. This is due in part to there being limited public transport in Texas, with only three Amtrak lines. Large cities, however, offer bus and rail service, with Dallas using a light rail system called DART, while Houston’s more recent light rail system is the METRORail.
Addressing traffic congestion
Despite all its miles of road, with the state’s population having increased over the past 25 years by 57% and road use showing a 95% increase during that same period, it’s forecasted that $188 billion will be needed to fund continued transportation demands by 2030. For the meantime, one way Texas has addressed its traffic congestion problem is by utilizing HOV — high-occupancy vehicle lanes, restricted for use by carpools and vanpools at peak traffic times such as rush hour. In addition, a ramp system dubbed the Texas T permits traffic to enter or leave the central HOV lane without the need to cross multiple lanes. Another feature Texas makes much use of is frontage roads ¬¬— service roads running parallel to the freeways, which permit access to gas stations, businesses, private driveways, etc., thus cutting down on the need for local traffic to make use of the freeway. So-called Texas turnarounds are lanes that allow a car traveling in a frontage road to make a U-turn directly onto the frontage road on the opposite side of the freeway, by either crossing above or below it, without having to navigate on the freeway itself.
What do local people drive?
Texans pride themselves on their bigger-is-better attitude, which seems to be exemplified by their love for full-size pickup trucks. Texas claims 1 in 6 sales of pickup trucks in the country, tripling the number of sales in the next largest market for pickups, California. In 2013, 4 out of 5 of the most popular vehicles sold in Texas were pickups, with the Ford F-150 being #1. The bestselling automobile for that year was the Toyota Camry, in 4th place on the list.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department maintains something called the Texas Off Highway Vehicle Program (Texas OHV), which in its mission statement promotes safe and conservation-friendly off-road recreation. Any off-road vehicle in Texas, whether it be a 4×4 truck, ATV, or dirt bike, is required to display an OHV sticker, available by calling the Parks and Wildlife Department customer service center. Off-road recreation is legally restricted to official OHV public lands, including such sites as the Eisenhower State Park and San Felipe Park. Some sites are specially geared toward OHV, such as the Bridgeport Northwest OHV Park. Off-road use in national forests and grasslands is confined to designated trails. The only national park that allows OHV use is the Sam Houston National Forest, which boasts an 85 mile trail that attracts horseback riders, bicyclists, hikers, and registered off-road vehicles. OHV vehicles are not permitted on regular roads.
Tourism in Texas
As huge a state as it is, it only makes sense that Texas offers numerous attractions for tourists. Of historic sites, the most famous would doubtless be the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo. Families will find much to enjoy at SeaWorld Adventure Park in San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas also in San Antonio, and Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, just for starters. For more sophisticated fare, the state’s capital, Austin, has a reputation as a cutting edge center for arts and culture, world renowned for a music scene that has embraced everything from country to blues, rock to punk. And while Texas may not be the first place one thinks of for a beach getaway, it actually provides sunny beaches and warm water year-round, just a short flight for Midwesterners who might otherwise consider the West or East coasts. So Texas isn’t just about Stetsons and horses, any more than it’s only about empty heat-baked expanses. One will still find plenty of modern day cowboys, though, and who would want it otherwise?
Do You Know that…
1. The name Texas comes from the Native American word “tejas,” meaning “friend.”
2. The Ford F-Series of truck is the most popular vehicle in this state.
3. The maximum speed limit as of 2004 is 75 miles per hour.
4. The age when a citizen of Texas can achieve his or her driver’s license is 16.5 years.
5. It is mandatory by law for drivers and passengers to use their seat belts.
6. Wearing a motorcycle helmet is optional over 21 years of age, if an individual has completed a Motorcycle Operator Training Course or possesses a minimum of $10,000 in insurance.
7. If no police officer is present at an accident scene, a driver has to submit a CR-2 Crash Report for any accident that results in death, injury, or over $1,000 in damage.
8. A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher will result in a DUI charge.
9. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Texas is the third worst state for drunk driving, with 42% of traffic fatalities being due to DUI.
10. With 2,998 deaths in 2010, Texas had the greatest number of accident fatalities in the country.