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Sharring experiences in urban infrastructure delivery.
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Archive for the ‘Underground Utilities’

Mini-cell Towers and Streetscape Preservation

March 20, 2017 By: Tom Davis Category: Misc Urban Infrastructure, Recent Posts, Underground Utilities

Downtown Houston was in the midst of a rebirth in 1999 to 2006 with many new blocks of well-designed streetscapes. By 2001, the telecom industry was booming and installing conduit and fiber optic cables with wild abandon and little regard for the streets. So, when that industry began talking in 2015 about needing to place new conduit runs to “mini-cell towers” those of us charged with increasing and protecting the public’s investments were cautious.  (more…)

Mini Cell Towers and Regulatory Managememt

March 01, 2017 By: Tom Davis Category: Recent Posts, Sidewalk Features, Underground Utilities

This post is intended to provide an overview of the regulatory scenario developed by the City of Houston Texas for the addition of mini-cell towers in the rights of way.

With Super Bowl 51 several years in the future, those of us that work with Rights of Way (ROW) infrastructure and economic development began hearing of the plans by broadband carriers to install mini-cell towers in the rights of way in high bandwidth demand areas and those projected to be a high demand area. The permanent mini-towers they wanted to install overlapped to some extent with the temporary COWs and NOWs brought in for SB51. This post will focus on the permanent installations.

McKinney St. at the Central Library

Houston, especially in the downtown area, has a vivid memory of the crazy initial fiber optic installations of the late 1990s to about 2005.  The fiber installers should up in the early evening and began directional boring and often digging up the street. Loose plates were found the next morning over the new holes and a week or so later the sloppy patch was falling apart and a pot hole grew wider by the day. That was not to happen again.

Additions to Chapter 40 of the Code of Ordinances was crafted with industry input. Click here to read it. A great deal of thought was quickly included in it by various departments in the city who have duties in the ROWs.  The final changes included involving the management districts and tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZ) who were pursuing particular streetscapes and a generic galvanized pole with and box (antenna) on top would be a detraction to the public’s investment in the streetscape.

The 700 block of Walker St.

Notice the ordinance establishes procedures intended to drive the telecom providers to those entities to work out locations and looks that would support the areas. You will also note those entities did not have rejection rights as the decision-making authority remained with the City. But, if the providers wanted a quick City approval then getting the required written position statement from those entities would make for faster City approval.

Also, note the ordinance anticipated that those entities would have published Design Standards for the telecoms to reference. In all cases, those standards had to be codified. The various standards did prove useful although since they did not establish a level of care that was the basis for an approval they did not carry a lot of weight.

The ordinance is intended to allow the telecoms their rights to use the ROW while the City protects the public’s investment in the infrastructure and ability to use that investment. Plus, allow the two neighborhood and business related governmental entities input to the process so their investments are not damaged.

How did it work out? Well, the process was not without bumps along the way. But, so far, there are not any horrible installations (in this writer’s opinion) and there were no reports during SB51 of guest’s frustration with low bandwidth.

Layout to Avoid Graffiti

June 06, 2011 By: Tom Davis Category: Misc Urban Infrastructure, Underground Utilities

CIMG6779.JPGWhether you call it an urban art form or graffiti tagging–said with disgust–there are places that it looks stupid no matter which side you argue. I offer this post as a simple insight that did not occur to me until I came across this location. (more…)

How to Reduce Utility Locate Markings

June 06, 2010 By: Tom Davis Category: Recent Posts, Underground Utilities

2004-03-23 locates on LA MFN and L3.JPGOne way to limit the extent of the multi-color painting of the public streets and sidewalks is a practice called “white lining”. That could reduce the damage caused by wide-area painting when only a small area will be excavated. How it works is that the contractor who knows the area to be excavated delineates that area with white chalk (preferably not white paint even when a water base) by marking small “L” shapes at the corners. Then the locate crew only adds their markings inside the “box”. But, it is not that simple. (more…)

Required Graffiti or Utility Locate Painting?

April 18, 2010 By: Tom Davis Category: Misc Urban Infrastructure, Sidewalk Features, Underground Utilities

CIMG7793.JPGState law in Texas requires someone digging in the public rights of way to call “One Call” who then notifies all utilities the area where digging may occur so the utility can mark the locations of their underground facilities. That is a good as it preserves the services expected by the utility’s customers and the utility does not have to make repairs thereby increasing the cost to the customers. It also protects the workers doing the excavation as, for example, hitting a high-voltage duct bank is not a healthy thing.

But the issue is in the application of the markings. There are published guidelines for the style and frequency of the markings as well as the color. The color indicates the business type of the utility, e.g. telecommunications, power transmission, natural  gas. The frequency of the marks can remove all doubt about the location as well as remove all value of the classy, upscale look paid for by the public. (more…)