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Signs of the times

Prophecy buffs have a case, if they wanted to make it, that Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band had Marion County and the summer of 2015 in mind when they penned these lyrics to their signature 1971 hit “Signs”:

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breaking my mind; do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

The answer is “apparently not” for many drivers detoured through Marion on K-256 as a result of roundabout construction. The signs said “local traffic only” west of town, but cars and trucks blowing right past them have born tags that would make quick winners out of any license plate game players.

The signs said “this way” through Marion, but truckers and others discovered “that way” up Eisenhower Dr. and Timber Rd. More signs deterred truck traffic, but cars continued dipping into ditches to skirt the “road closed” sign at Timber Rd. and US-56, enough so that a video camera has been installed to catch violators.

Marion drivers encountered temporary midget stop signs on Roosevelt, Freeborn, and Maple Sts. last week. Anxious parents petitioned Marion City Council for lower residential speed limit signs, but the council decided against doing so.

Stop signs were the compromise, intended to slow motorists as a precaution for children at play. The signs didn’t sit well with folks concerned about needless delays for ambulances headed to St. Luke Hospital, obviously oblivious to the fact that in red-light mode an ambulance can and would go right through them.

The signs didn’t sit high enough for former planning commission member Ruth Herbel, who lives on Freeborn St. She rightly informed the city that sign regulations require the bottom of stop signs to be five feet above the ground. The signs came down the next day.

I’d like to see taller permanent versions replace them. I haven’t talked to anyone who recalls a serious accident involving children on residential streets, and I’d like to keep it that way.

On the other hand, you can’t read a sign if it isn’t there, and signs for the Father Emil Kapaun Museum in Pilsen aren’t blocking any scenery because there aren’t any. That’s become an increasing problem for pilgrims and tourists that can’t find their way. The state tourism department won’t help — the museum doesn’t qualify for official signs because the volunteer staff doesn’t keep regular hours.

In a sign of the times, local legislators have hopped on board the Father Kapaun sign bandwagon, undoubtedly happy to have something to do other than take money from schoolchildren and send it out of state tax-free. A legislative fix could happen in the spring.

Missing, too, are countless street signs at county road intersections, with “Mustang Rd.” being one of the most popular targets for sign absconders. It’s problem in particular for emergency responders, who have to remember the last sign they saw to know where they are in case there aren’t signs where they’re going.

The county’s “donate $100 to get street signs on your corner” scheme flopped, but if a state grant comes through for directional and control signs, perhaps $200,000 budgeted for signs across this year and next will be enough to effect a fix.

A simple sign, “OPEN,” got noticed Saturday as folks from all over flocked to the opening of Flint Hills Market and Bakery in Florence. Randy and Judy Mills have done a dandy job restoring the old Opera House, and Jenny Lee’s fresh-baked breads, pies, and doughnuts disappeared in a flash. Is that a sign Florence is poised to breathe new life into a sagging downtown? Only time will tell.

Another encouraging sign Thursday morning was in the hand of volunteer Greg Carlson as he stopped detour-laden Main St. traffic so children could cross safely on their way to school. He’s among several folks who have volunteered for the service, and volunteerism is always a good sign.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs. Whether they’re signs of the road or signs of the times, we would do well to pay attention to all of them, and act accordingly.

And all that’s left is for me to sign off.

— david colburn

Last modified Aug. 26, 2015

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