Mark Spencer is curious about new Illinois license plates popping up lately, and he's not the only reader with questions we'll answer in this week's column.
"Have there been any complaints about the legibility along the left side of the new plates?" Spencer, of Northbrook, asked.
"The red numbers against the picture of Abe Lincoln are very difficult to read. They blend. I can foresee a situation where witnesses to a crime are unable to make out that portion of the plate."
He's got a point. A quick gander at the plates will tell you that -- yes -- there is a scarlet letter on Honest Abe's face and it can be a little difficult to read.
"The new plates have been reviewed by law enforcement, without any issues raised," Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's spokesman David Druker said.
The latest plates featuring images of Lincoln, the Illinois Capitol, Chicago's skyline and a farm were rolled out in January. The agency is replacing the oldest plates first, starting this year with ones manufactured in 2000 and 2001.
"We have had a small number of complaints on the issue you mention about Lincoln," Druker said. "We take all complaints seriously and we are going to take a look at that issue. Our main goal is to make the plates visible and easy to read for law enforcement."
Meanwhile, Mount Prospect commuter Dan Hetland is chagrined over the "deplorable" road conditions in the Northwest suburbs.
"The roads generally are all deteriorating, especially around curbs and sewers, and even in the middle of the street," Hetland wrote. "Route 14 is especially bad from Greenwood west through Palatine. We pay a lot of taxes and it's time for the transportation department to address the deteriorating infrastructure."
The Illinois Department of Transportation monitors pavement and has rated Route 14's condition in Palatine between Hicks and Palatine roads as "fair" and consequently in need of resurfacing, spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said.
New pavement will cost about $2.8 million and is scheduled in IDOT's multiyear plan between 2017 and 2022. "Construction could begin in the early years of the multiyear plan, contingent on plan readiness and funding availability. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the pavement condition and perform routine maintenance as needed," Urgo said.
Cook County Forest Preserve police commander and former Des Plaines mayor Mike Albrecht thinks a lot about railway safety, especially at crossings where multiple roads intersect with train tracks.
His biggest concern is not one, but two trains and the situations that arise when pedestrians or drivers heedlessly scoot across tracks when they think one train has stopped while a second one is approaching.
Drivers and pedestrians would benefit from a loud signal, similar to an air horn, to warn them when a second train is coming, Albrecht said.
Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad have installed flashing digital signs with a recorded message alerting people of a second train on the UP West Line at stations including Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Geneva, Winfield and Villa Park.
The railroads have also removed mid-platform pedestrian crossings and added gates at numerous stations to protect commuters, Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile said. Another effective albeit expensive fix is building pedestrian tunnels and bridges.
"Unless these types of additional safety features are in place, we also have an operating rule that holds trains out of a station until another train has departed as an added safety measure," she said. "The fact is that the lights and gates already in place at our crossings should be obeyed whether or not other train warning systems are also in place."
Got a transportation question? A deplorable road? Drop me an email at email@example.com.
The Chicago Area Clean Cities announces the annual Green Drives Conference is 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 18, at the Northern Illinois Meeting and Conference Center, 1120 E. Diehl Road, in Naperville. To register and buy tickets for the event, which showcases alternate fuels and green cars, go to chicagocleancities.org/green-drives.
You should know
After a UP freight train derailed in Lake Forest Wednesday, tossing 11 tank cars onto the tracks, Congressman Brad Schneider is asking the Federal Railroad Administration to expedite an investigation into the cause. Nine of the railcars contained molten sulfur, a hazardous material, but nothing leaked and no injuries were reported. "Not all derailments meet the same result," wrote Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, urging "a thorough, transparent and timely investigation."