This week's Mailbag is more crowded than southbound I-75 with Illinoisans and other Midwesterners headed to Florida for spring break.
Inside the 'Bag: a lot of questions about vehicles, roads and auto dealers, such as trash collection hours, lights inside Lyft cars, salty roadways and proactive streetwork.
Also, the possibility of a true water moccasin snake in Champaign County, the nickname/mascot controversy at Bradley University, microplastics in our water supply and the Champaign police board.
Early morning trash collection
"Are there any city regulations on the times in which garbage trucks can pick up in Champaign? It seems as if some of the companies in Champaign have been starting earlier and earlier to get their required route done. (4 a.m. in the Ashland Park subdivision).
"I have no problem with someone starting that early to get their work done, but when I was awoken this morning at 4 a.m. and then laid in bed wondering if the machine making terrible noises (clearly required some type of maintenance due to the sounds coming from the street) was going to make it up and down the street the question of 'is this against city code' popped in my head."
There are no Champaign city ordinances that restrict the collection hours for residential or commercial trash haulers.
The city council had a study session on the topic last April. Here's a link to the presentation from the city staff, which recommended no change in the existing garbage and recycling collection practices ... http://documents.ci.champaign.il.us/v/1MXLq5Ip46Ho7J0QNkpS6tBc-ePLX1big
Nichole Millage, the city's environmental sustainibility specialist, said, "Short answer, we only get a handful of resident complaints a year. And implementing hours would restrict the haulers from picking up early on campus, downtown, residential neighborhoods, etc., where early pick-ups are usually necessary in order for the haulers to stay out of the way of residents/students.
"Any time I receive a resident complaint, I contact the hauler who the complaint has been made against and they almost always make an effort to change their route or correct the issue somehow."
"I've noticed that stop signs at rural intersections in Champaign County have red flags mounted on them. What is the reason for this?"
The county highway department installed 628 stop signs last fall at previously unmarked rural township intersections, said Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue. The red flags are there simply to call more attention to the newly installed signs, he said.
At the time the mostly federally funded project was approved by the county board last spring, Blue said the signs would establish a clear right of way and that studies had shown a 22 percent reduction in crash rates.
Too much salt
"It seems that roads are salted anytime there's a slight chance of precipitation below freezing today. It seems that both Champaign and Urbana apply too much salt to the roads as I see it piled. Are there efforts to reduce the amount and frequency of salt applied, and are there any concerns with all of this salt entering our watershed?"
They only pre-salt if precipitation is imminent, said Broc Summers, operations supervisor in the Champaign Public Works Department. And that is done to help prevent the bonding of snow and ice to the pavement.
"It allows us to use less salt, by not having to melt a hard-pack that has adhered to the roadway," he said. "When cold temperatures are present, higher amounts of salt are needed to achieve melting. When precipitation amounts are light and cold temperatures are present, sometimes there is residual salt left on the roadways. We try to manage the safety of the public and adjust salt rates, to avoid runoff as best we can."
"Are the blueish/purple lights on the dashboard of Lyft cars in town legal? I thought colored lights were not allowed on vehicles (other than emergency vehicles) other than the normal amber, white and red on the rear."
You are correct. The lights are illegal, said Illinois State Police Trooper Mindy Carroll.
She included the relevant statute (625 ILCS 5/12-212) (from Ch. 95 1 / 2, par. 12-212): "Sec. 12-212. Special restrictions on lamps. (a) No person shall drive or move any vehicle or equipment upon any highway with any lamp or device on the vehicle or equipment displaying a red light visible from directly in front of the vehicle or equipment except as otherwise provided in this Act.
"(b) Subject to the restrictions of this Act, flashing lights are prohibited on motor vehicles except as a means for indicating a right or left turn as provided in Section 12-208 or the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring unusual care as expressly provided in Sections 11-804 or 12-215."(c) Unless otherwise expressly authorized by this Code, all other lighting or combination of lighting on any vehicle shall be prohibited."
Champaign street work
"Any plans this summer to fix the awful roads in Champaign? For instance, Windsor Road between Prospect and Mattis, (and) Neil Street south of Curtis Road. These are a few roads that are heavily traveled daily and are a mess."
Both of these segments were addressed in separate Mailbag questions earlier this year. Neil Street (U.S. 45) from Springfield Avenue to Curtis Road is on the IDOT repair list for sometime between 2020 and 2024. Windsor Road between Prospect and Mattis is slated to be repaved during the 2020 construction cycle.
Back to old-time auto dealers
We had a couple follow-up comments and questions about last week's item about past automobile dealers in Champaign ...
"Wasn't Twin City Pontiac located where either the Upclose Printing or the vacant Champaign Surplus is?"
"You are right about Millers Auto Sales, but Twin City Pontiac started in the Rogards building on south Neil and then was on the First Federal site. When Clif Shirley obtained Honda it was across the street in the now Persian Rug store. Worden and Martin later purchased the Pontiac franchise. Enjoy your Mailbag, keep it up. Best regards, Bergen Parkhill."
Thanks for the information, Bergen Parkhill. He is the former president of Parkhill Motor Sales in Champaign. Yes, these auto dealerships move around over time, so I decided to find where all the new car dealers were at three points in local history: 75 years ago, 50 years ago and 25 years ago. Here's what I found:
Champaign Buick Co., 303 S. Neil St.
Parkhill Motor Sales, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and La Salle cars, 702 S. Neil St.
Sullivan Chevrolet, 347 N. Walnut St.
White Motor Sales, Chrysler and Plymouth cars, 133 W. Hill St.
Eichhorst and Bloom, DeSoto and Plymouth cars, 505 N. Neil St.
Dana Hudelson Ford, 302 E. University Ave.
Urbana Motors, Hudson cars, 6. E. Springfield Ave., Champaign
Palmer Nash Sales, 115 N. Race St., Urbana
Twin City Pontiac, 315 S. Neil St.
Willys and Reeder Auto Sales, 45 E. Washington St.
Maxey Motors, Rambler and AMC cars, 315 S. Neil St.Arrowhead Lincoln-Mercury, 309 S. Locust St.
L&L Imports, Toyota, Jaguar, Austin-Healey and Sprite cars, 508 S. First St.
Service Buick, 303 S. Neil St.
Parkhill Motor Sales, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Renault cars, 702 S. Neil
Worden Martin, Chrysler, Plymouth and Imperial cars, 6 E. Springfield Ave.
Shelby Motors, Dodge cars, 408 S. Neil
Fabert Motors, Fiat cars, 700 Bloomington Road
University Ford, 302 E. University Ave.
Smyth Imports Motors, Volkswagen, 1913 W. Springfield Ave.
Miles Spencer Garage, Saab cars, 16 Logan St.
Worden-Martin Buick, 100 Carriage Center
Hill Ford, 200 Carriage Center
Parkhill Motor Sales, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Mercedes Benz, 300 Carriage Center
Sullivan Chevrolet, Volvo and Geo, 440 W. Anthony Drive
Shelby's Chrysler Plymouth, Isuzu, Mazda and Suzuki, 104 E. University Ave., Urbana
Continental Ltd. Nissa and Subaru, 1200 W. Bloomington Road
Shelby Motors, Dodge and Jeep, 408 S. Neil St.
Twin City Honda, BMW and Volkswagen, 100 Burwash, Savoy
Prospect Mitsubishi and Honda, 708 W. Anthony Drive
Illini Lincoln Mercury, 1709 S. Neil St.
"I especially enjoyed your answer (last) week concerning Route 45 improvements, and how IDOT is focusing more on asset management. For many years, I have noticed how that simple plan seems to rarely be implemented in Champaign-Urbana. Rather than proactively filling open joints in asphalt roads in the fall, our cities seem to allow the winter freezing weather to enter these wide cracks, allowing even more damage to the roads. Then they react by delaying the needed repairs and replacements until the work can be budgeted, allowing even more damages to vehicles using these roads. With the gas taxes both cities have implemented, why haven't they also become proactive with their asset management policies?"
Carol Mitten, Urbana's city administrator and interim public works director, responded:
"Urbana adheres to the same philosophy as that expressed by Kensil Garnett from IDOT, specifically, that we try to extend the life of roadways rather than wait until we need to do a complete rebuild. That being said, we are still managing our transportation network with limited resources. We can only be as proactive as our resources allow.
"In our current Capital Improvement Plan, we project FY19 revenues from State Motor Fuel Tax to be $1,062,188 and Local Motor Fuel Tax to be $900,000.
To put that nearly $2 million of gas taxes in context we have budgeted nearly that exact amount of gas taxes to resurface Lincoln Avenue from Green Street to University Avenue and Springfield Avenue from Gregory Street to Coler Avenue and bring sidewalks along those streets into compliance with the federally mandated American Disabilities Act. In other words, our annual gas tax revenues are barely enough to fund a single major project per year."
And this from Kris Koester, spokesman for Champaign's Public Works Department: "The city of Champaign adheres to a hybrid model of what has been described by IDOT and Urbana. Examples where we are trying to extend the life of pavements include the sealing of oil and chip streets on a three-year cycle; concrete patching of joints on concrete streets like Mattis (between Kirby and Windsor); and in-house asphalt patching of localized failures and joints on asphalt streets such as Mattis (between John and Kirby) or Neil Street between Maple and Main. We also do asset maintenance through the city's emergency infrastructure repair program which replaces localized areas of failed pavement where most of the street is in decent condition."
Water moccasins in Champaign County
Earlier this week I co-hosted "Penny for your Thoughts" on WDWS and a few callers and texters insisted that you could find water moccasin snakes (Agkistrodon piscivorus) or "cottonmouths" in Champaign County. I expressed skepticism but said I would check it out with an expert.
I contacted Mike Dreslik, a herpetologist at the Illinois State Natural History Survey who said that you will not find a true venomous water moccasin or cottonmouth snake this far north.
"It depends on what someone calls a water moccasin," he said. "Water moccasin can be used as a very general term for a water snake, not necessarily the venomous cottonmouth. A lot of people call any snake in the water a water moccasin. So yes, you can have a water moccasin up here but they're not the venomous cottonmouth.
"They pretty much inhabit the floodplain swamps and the cypress tupelo swamps and waterways in southern Illinois."
The farthest north a cottonmouth was reported, he said, was an isolated sighting in Madison County, near St. Louis, in 1897.
Bradley's nickname/mascot furor
"With this latest Chief news, I was curious as to whether Bradley (University) faces the same kind of kickback over their nickname? Or is C-U just a special place?"
The short answer is yes, said Renee Charles, spokesperson for the Peoria university that still uses "Bradley Braves" as the team nickname.
At times Bradley had a costumed mascot that was a representation of an American Indian. In 1993 the university chose a new mascot, the bobcat, but retained the nickname Braves. The bobcat was dropped in 2000.
Bradley went without a mascot until 2014 when a costumed gargoyle named "Kaboom!" was adopted.
Charles said that many Bradley alums and supporters were very upset when the American Indian imagery was dropped, and that some are still angry about it. But most have moved on, she said, and the main question now is, "You are the Braves but your mascot is a gargoyle?"
Here's an official, condensed version of the history of the Bradley Braves evolution, taken in part from the 2006 NCAA Tournament Postseason Guide:
— Bradley's intercollegiate athletic teams had several nicknames during the early years: Techsters, Hilltoppers and Indians among them.
— In the 1920s, then multi-sport coach and athletic director A.J. Robertson decided too many schools were using the Indians nickname and changed Bradley's nickname to Braves to help give the program its own identity.
— In 1994, Bradley University did away with all direct references to Native Americans as it related to the Department of Athletics, including the use of a mascot, and adopted the current logo (now retired — block BU, script Braves)
— Despite the changes, Bradley was among the 18 institutions cited by the NCAA in August 2005 for using a "hostile and abusive" nickname.
— Bradley University has appealed the ruling and the NCAA Management Council is scheduled to consider the latest and final appeal in April (that year Bradley won the appeal and was allowed to keep the nickname as long as it refrained from the use of Native American imagery).
— In 2012, Bradley Athletics replaced the old block BU, script Braves logo with the current brand marks and a variation of those marks ultimately was adopted by the University as a whole. The current gargoyle mascot, Kaboom!, debuted Feb. 23, 2014.
Microplastics in aquifer?
"I read a News-Gazette article about microplastics in so much of our groundwater. As I remember the Mahomet aquifer wasn't mentioned. Are there microplastics in the Mahomet aquifer water we drink?
We asked Walton Kelly, a groundwater geochemist at the Illinois State Water Survey who was a co-author of the study about microplastics in groundwater that you cited.
"We found them in karst groundwater systems, which are unusual for groundwater because of the relatively large pores and conduits (think caves and sinkholes)," he said. "Nobody I know of has looked for microplastics in the Mahomet Aquifer, but I wouldn't expect to find them."
One of the reasons, he said, is that the recharge rates are slow. By some estimates it can take decades for water to reach the aquifer in some areas.
"Second, microplastics are large enough that we would expect they would be removed from the groundwater as it passes through the soils and sediments. I would suspect, however, that microplastics (and macro-plastics) would be found in many of our soils," he said.
Champaign police board meetings
"Your answer to last week's question about the schedule for Citizen Review Subcommittee meetings did not dig deep enough. Sure, the meetings are supposedly open to the public. But we (the public) can't attend these meetings if the city keeps cancelling them. A notice just went up on the city's web page that the upcoming meeting Mailbag listed as being scheduled for Wednesday, March 13, is now cancelled. The meeting scheduled for Jan. 9 was also cancelled, and the meetings scheduled for July 11 and May 9 of 2018 were also cancelled. How exactly do CRS members oversee the complaint process, and thereby ensure transparency and accountability by our police department, if they don't hold scheduled meetings?"Your question last week was: "(C)an you find out why the schedule for the much ballyhooed Citizen Review Subcommittee is so out of date that it reads as follows elsewhere on the same website: 'Regular meetings are held on the 2nd Wednesday during the months of May, July, September, and November at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 102 N. Neil St., Champaign.' This schedule is for 2018, by the way. What gives?"
That question was answered. Next time I'll try to anticipate all the other questions you have but didn't ask.
Meanwhile, here's a response to this week's question from Emily Rodriguez, who chairs the citizen review committee on police, which will review investigations of citizen complaints:
"Thanks for reaching out. The Citizen Review Subcommittee schedules a monthly meeting to review complaints, and the meetings this reader has referred to have been canceled because there were no complaints to review. The CRS is a mechanism for accountability, and we've invested time and effort into fine-tuning the procedure by which we hear and consider citizen complaints. That is our core task, and I'm confident in our process.
"It seems that the heart of this question, though, is about public outreach. This reader is seeking opportunities to address and observe the CRS subcommittee in public, and that is exciting. Public outreach is key component of the CRS mission. We know our community benefits from seeing CRS efforts among our neighbors and that being in public allows the CRS to do our job better. For these reasons, in an open meeting, the Subcommittee voted on and agreed to draft a community outreach strategy. This outreach strategy would (a) inform our neighbors on the complaint process, (b) create regular opportunities to take public input and questions from our neighbors in public settings, and (c) expand the locations where complaints can be filed.
"We're excited to begin that conversation with Champaign as soon as possible. Thus far, we've researched outreach strategies that have been adopted by citizen review boards of comparable cities. We have a good understanding of the decisions points and which strategies seem to show the most promise — but we also know our CRS structure is unique, as are the needs of our community. We're working closely with the Office of Equity, Community and Human Rights staff to determine how to best use the resources at our disposal. Community Relations Manager Rachel Joy has been a key resource in shaping our plans. In the months to come, we plan on presenting an update on our efforts to the Community Coalition. Here, we will seek a handful of community members to work more closely with the strategy drafting process.
"I very much appreciate this question, and I hope they keep coming."
"There's a rumor about White Castle coming in this area. Years ago there was a story about Rally's/Checkers coming. Any truth or rumblings about either chain?"
No, no and no. We contacted all three (Rally's and Checker's are the same company) and heard back from none. That's a good indication that there is no interest in this market.
More Lincoln Square comments
Carryover from last week's Mailbag ...
"I enjoy reading Tom's Mailbag every Friday but found a recent response he made to a question regarding the Lincoln Square facilities to be extremely rude and condescending. Here was his response: 'Let's see, you use the mall, which is private property, to walk indoors, out of the elements and free of charge. But you feel entitled to complain about the condition of the bathroom and about other guests at the mall. You're fortunate to have a place where you can walk safely on an icy central Illinois day and take advantage of the hospitality of a gracious business person.'
"How does Tom know this person does not patronize the shops located at Lincoln Square? How does Tom know this person isn't someone who has a health condition, low income, elderly, etc. so walking at Lincoln Square is a good/safe option for them? While privately owned, isn't Lincoln Square a public space to be utilized by the public? Maybe this person didn't know how to contact the owner to let them know there are issues with the restrooms and disruptive patrons so they turned to Tom. It disappoints me to see such a rude, condescending response from Tom and that it was allowed to be published by the News-Gazette."
"No question here. Just a quick comment. I thoroughly enjoyed your reply to the question about the condition of bathrooms in Lincoln Square Mall. It is rare to find honest replies to an entitled public, and seeing journalists in defense of businesses. I appreciate you putting on paper what was going through my mind and it made my day. Thank you!"