Time to adjust the speed limit

On Interstate 5 south of Albany. (Taking a snapshot is not yet as unlawful as using a cell phone while driving, is it?)

On Interstate 5 south of Albany. (Taking a snapshot is not yet as unlawful as using a cell phone while driving, is it?)

Several years ago the legislature authorized ODOT to raise the speed limit on interstate highways to 70 miles an hour if the agency determined the higher speed would be safe enough. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ODOT found that no, 70 mph would not be safe anywhere on I-5, even on the 30 miles or so that run straight as a ruler between Albany and Eugene.

Amazingly, 70 mph is a perfectly safe speed limit on I-5 all through California. Is it just that California motorists are better drivers than Oregonians? Probably not. In any case, it might be time to remind the Oregon Transportation Commission of its authority to raise the speed limit on the freeway just a bit.

Actually, most of the time, freeway traffic moves along at about 70 anyway, even with Oregon's lower limit, and the State Police don't seem to mind. So, another kind of change in the speed regulations might be even more helpful. That would be to equalize the limit for cars and trucks.

Trucks now are supposed to go 55, and when they do, they cause occasional backups, especially when one sticks to the limit and causes other trucks to pass it at 60.

If all vehicles could legally travel at roughly the same speed, traffic would flow more smoothly. Also, the potential for accidents would be lower because there would be less changing of lanes. And above all, the capacity of the freeway, especially the two-lane stretch from Salem to Albany and Eugene, would be greatly enhanced. (hh)

From LaMont Matthews: Good ideas. Actually a lot of California is 75 mph.
The one piece I disagree with is increasing truck limits to the same as cars. That is the case in Arizona and I have found it makes it more difficult to drive strategically and plan the passes. Plus it can be scary to have an 18-wheeler bearing down on you at 75.

Albany signs: Less regulation, or none?

If City Hall were a business, would this count as a sign?

If City Hall were a business, would this count as a sign?

In Albany, a mayor's task force has been working on lowering or removing hurdles that stand in the way of doing business and creating jobs. The group has been wrestling with, among other things, the city's regulations affecting signs. And there the task force has set itself an almost impossible task.

It has had to deal with complexities such as whether A-frame signs should be allowed to be set up in front of businesses only during the day or all the time. And how many should be allowed? How about signs for businesses that are inside other businesses? Should they be allowed signs that don't count against the limit on outside signs on buildings? These are limits not just on the number of signs but on the aggregate size of them all. So, should both those limits apply to the building or the business?

And then, what exactly is a sign? Mere language or imagery does not count, for the authorities are barred from controlling words or messages under the state and federal free-speech guarantees. So if someone paints his entire store front with the words "Everything on sale all the time," does that constitute a sign? Or is it just paint?

Albany city officials still think that regulation of signs is necessary, or at least the city manager does, according to the minutes of the last task force meeting, though they are considering relaxing the rules. But how about this: For the most part, unless they obscure sight lines in traffic, signs are not a matter of life and death. Maybe the city could take a deep breath and trust business people, property owners and customers to decide on their own -- through the free play of the marketplace -- how many signs are put up, and how big they should be. (hh)

A perfect path: Bear Creek

Here's a quick look at the Bear Creek Greenway in Jackson County, a paved bike and walking path that follows Bear Creek from Ashland through Medford toward Central Point. It was built on public property along the waterway and has been well maintained over the years, offering both recreation and a route for non-motorized transportation even in wintertime. It's a great example of what can be done to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. (hh)

Where have all the bullets gone?

no ammoFor a few months now, it's been virtually impossible for the casual customer to wander into a sporting goods department and buy any of the common calibers of ammunition, such as .22 long rifle or 9 millimeter parabellum. The shelves have been bare, and stores such as Bi-Mart have begun to ration purchases when they have any supplies at all.

The same thing happened after the first time Barack Obama was elected, even though then there was no incessant talk of gun controls. Now, not a day goes by that the news does not report on the president and Democrats in the U.S. Senate pushing for restrictions on certain types of rifles, and on magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

But why that news should prompt buyers to stock up on small-caliber ammunition is hard to see. One theory is that gun nuts are buying up ammo so they can use it for barter later on, when gun restrictions have been imposed. But that makes no sense. If the government is going to create a black market for certain rifles and magazines by banning them, the illicit sellers of such items will want hard cash, not a few bricks of twenty-twos.

It's not just ammunition that is flying off the shelves; the same is true of firearms. So regardless of the motivation behind it all, one conclusion is obvious. With their proposals, the proponents of lessening Americans' ownership of guns and ammo have achieved, so far, the exact opposite of what they want. (hh)

From Ted Salmons, via Facebook: Guns and ammo sales.  The only businesses Obama's policies have actually stimulated.

The Union Pacific responds

Two UP locomotives parked in their usual spot one afternoon this month: No noise and no exhaust.

Two UP locomotives parked in their usual spot one afternoon this month: No noise and no exhaust.

Don't think that the Union Pacific, a huge railroad operating in 23 states, ignores local issues. It doesn't. Here's an example.

Earlier this winter I heard from a reader that her mother, who lives near Albany's Swanson Park and takes walks around there, was concerned about the noise and exhaust of UP diesel-electric locomotives that are often parked nearby, under the Pacific Boulevard overpass. She said the engines seemed to be idling for hours at a time. She wondered what the neighbors could do about that.

I sent an email to Brock Nelson in Portland, UP's public affairs representative in Oregon. The next day, I had this message from Aaron M. Hunt in Sacaramento: "Your email to Brock Nelson was forwarded to me as I am the media contact for Union Pacific. Union Pacific operates in collaboration with the PNW (Portland & Western) shortline railroad in Albany. We work with the shortline to stage Union Pacific locomotives according to the operational needs of both railroads at any given time. Our operations in the area are driven by the economy and our customers' needs. We have had numerous conversations with local residents about idling locomotives in this area and our efforts to conserve fuel and reduce emissions. We will continue meeting with residents about this issue. More than 70 percent of our locomotive fleet is equipped with automatic shut-down technology that turns off the engine of the locomotive if it has idled for more than fifteen minutes, except when temperatures drop below 32 degrees, in which case the engines are allowed to idle to protect the  equipment from the cold."

I often pass the spot where the locomotives are usually parked, and a week or so after getting Hunt's message, I stopped there to take a closer look. Two engines were sitting there, as expected, waiting to be called into action. I hung around a while and watched and listened. Not a sound, except from the traffic on the overpass above, and no exhaust. The engines were shut down, just as Hunt said they would be when it wasn't freezing cold. (hh)

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