Speaking up on speed limits
Newspaper stories are driven by many different and varying factors: events — manmade, weather-related and otherwise — government actions, citizen complaints and social trends, to name a few. Sometimes the inspiration for a newspaper story that resounds with readers is a reporter’s personal experience.
Such was the case in Gazette staffer Margot Cleary’s Dec. 10 story, which chronicled her experience as a commuter on Route 66.
Earlier this year, Cleary got pulled over by police for traveling 42 miles an hour along a .97-mile stretch of roadway in Northampton, just east of the Westhampton line, that has a 25 mph limit. While she got off with a warning instead of a ticket, the incident prompted her to obey the posted Route 66 speed limits ranging from 25 mph to 35 mph.
As a result, she’s avoided further traffic stops, but not the ire of other drivers along the road.
After several unnerving scenerios played out on Route 66, Cleary got to wondering whether the speed limits, which date back to 1982, were too slow along portions of the road.
Her story reported how the speed limit was initially set — it was a holdover from when Route 66 was bumpier, curvier and narrower than it is now, four years after major roadwork was done on the highway — what several people who drive Route 66 regularly thought about it and the process communities must follow to get the speed limit changed.
City Councilor Marianne LaBarge, who represents Ward 6 through which Route 66 passes, weighed in on the issue, voicing strong opposition to upping the speed limit, citing numerous accidents on the road over the years.
After the story ran, 17 people responded to a query asking whether highway officials should conduct a study to determine whether current Route 6 speed limits make sense. Nearly all of them said they believed the speed limits needed study.
Since then, LaBarge has arranged for the city to hold a 7 p.m. public forum on Jan. 30 when residents will have a chance to share their opinions on the topic of Route 66’s speed limit.
No matter what the outcome of January’s forum, it will give residents the chance to air their thoughts and suggestions on Route 66’s speed limits and provide city and state officials with the opportunity to decide whether or not they need to be changed.
Stories like this remind citizens that they do have a voice and that it can make a difference.