Cables to prevent I-5 crashes

A contractor for ODOT has been putting up a cable barrier in the median of Interstate 5 through parts of Lane and Linn counties. The idea is to prevent crossover crashes, of which there have been a few over the last several years. For now, the cable carrier will extend for 35 miles from mile post 174 in Lane County north to the Harrisburg exit in Linn County. ODOT says Wildish Standard Paving Co. won the contract for the work a year ago, in September 2011, with a low bid of slightly more than $2.64 million. The job is to be finished at the end of this month. Money from state and federal sources is paying for the work. ODOT's shorthand description of the point: "Cable barrier will be placed in the median to restrict vehicles from crossing over the median and meeting head on with oncoming traffic." No word yet on whether ODOT has any plans to extent the barrier north toward Albany, or when. It is on that long straightaway that some crossover crashes are also possible.

Remembering a cyclists’ friend

All of us bike riders in Oregon owe a debt of gratitude to former state legislator from Jackson County, the late Donald L. Stathos. I'm reminded of this every time I ride my bike from Jacksonville the four miles or so to Medford. That's because long ago the road authorities put up a commemorative sign, naming the road the Donald L. Stathos Bikeway.

Now we have bike lanes just about everywhere on major roads, state as well as city and county, in the mid-valley as well as statewide. In 1971, Mr. Stathos got the legislature to approve the Oregon Bike Bill. For the first time in the country, as far as anybody knew, the bill required state, county and city road authorities to spend a reasonable amount of money on bike and pedestrian paths whenever a road was built or reconstructed. They are to spend a reasonable amount but not less than 1 percent of the project cost if the project is supported by the state highway fund. Road aurthorities can also save up the bikeway money they get from the highway fund in order to do a bigger project later on.

The result has been good. Most roads that have been built or fixed up in the last 40 years have at least a little space on the side where bike riders can have some confidence they won't get run down by passing cars. This has made life safer not just for bike riders but for drivers as well.

And we can thank Mr. Stathos, a World War II veteran and graduate in business of Oregon State. A Republican and a resident of Jacksoville, he owned an insurance agency in Medford and served two terms in the House, in 1969 and '71. He died in 2005 at the age of 81.

The bikeway outside of Medford was named for him in 1979. There and elsewhere, Oregon cyclists have reason to be grateful to him still. (hh)

Doping and us

So what exactly is wrong with performance-enhancing drugs, so-called? I've been wondering about that since the Lance Armstrong story unraveled.

If we take something to help us stay awake while driving, or to give us extra energy at work, or to power us through a night of cramming for an important test, why exactly do we punish world class professional athletes doing the same in order to do their jobs?

This month the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published its report charging that Armstrong and his cycling teams engaged in a long routine of doping in order to win races. The report says Armstrong and his team took EPO before it could be detected and then changed to blood doping, among other things. This means athletes had blood withdrawn and stored for a time and then put back in. It was plainly against the rules, but also, the report says, the rules were widely flouted, as many of the podium finishers in the top bike races were implicated in doping scandals in those years. So it's hard to see how the riders gained an edge on their competitors if pretty much everybody did it.

Bike racing at that level is the toughest sport in the world, requiring a degree of stamina and endurance that the rest of us can't even imagine. So if there are ways to help your body stand the strain without harming it -- what exactly is the harm? Watch TV for just a little while and you can't avoid all the advertisements for chemicals and other substances intended to improve how the human body functions, or to let consumers enhance what they can achieve. So we have very little reason to look down on superbly trained athletes that employ a similiar approach so that they can do a  better job. (hh)

Yet another worry?

The maple knows it's fall.

Here's something else to worry about. Or maybe not.

"The Week," a news weekly, reports on a new study suggesting that the Earth's magnetic field may disappear in maybe 500 years. This, it says, might allow more solar radiation to reach the surface of the Earth, harming life and eventually making us look like Mars.

Turns out that this finding isn't new. Looking online, you can find reports on the same thing going back to a story in the New York Times in 2003. Apparently scientists have known for a long time that the magnetic field routinely weakens and then reverses every few hundred thousand years. And most of the reports say that this should not disrupt life all that much, though if it happened now it would cause havoc in communications.

Five hundred years is a long time. So nobody seems to be losing sleep over the magnetic field now, or the chance that it may flip or disappear. Still, if you want something to worry about, other than climate change or your heat bills this coming winter, here's something you can put on your list.

And speaking of the climate and the weather, it's 50 degrees in the mid-valley this morning, pretty chilly for a ride on your bike. But worth the effort still. (hh)

Oops, ballots came out early

Benton County voters got their general election ballots a couple of days early because the Salem Post Office jumped the gun.

I learned this after reporting Thursday night that for me, the election was over. How come, a kind reader asked by email. She didn't even have her ballot yet. So how come I got mine?

Jill Van Buren, the elections supervisor for Benton County, says the county took its ballots to the Salem PO with instructions to deliver them starting Saturday. Instead, they were delivered Thursday. The county elections office had to hustle to get its ballot drop boxes ready. The flaps on the boxes are not usually opened until the day the ballots are to be delivered.

In Linn County, the county clerk's website says the first day to mail ballots is today, Oct. 19. Elections supervisor Derrick Sterling didn't mention whether any had been delivered to voters early.

Jill Van Buren says that by taking boxes of ballots to the Salem PO, the regional distribution center, the counties get a break on the price of mailing.

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