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Oregon's Fining a Man Who Questioned the Timing of Traffic Lights


Just when one thinks the absurdity of the crony government licensing scam can’t get any more absurd, politicians and their pals up the ante. A few days ago, we reported on a town in Alabama where teenagers are forced to get expensive business licenses just to mow lawns.

Now, Oregon has taken it a step further, attacking a man who merely showed the temerity of questioning the standards and safety of the money-grabbing traffic lights in the city of Beaverton.

Mats Järlström runs an equipment calibration business and was formally trained as an engineer in his native Sweden. In 2013, when his wife got a ticket for supposedly clearing an intersection one-tenth of a second late, he started looking into the timing of the traffic lights in Beaverton. His wife paid the fine, but he continued to research the matter, recording video and making calculations until he eventually realized that there was a problem with the lights.

He told Reason:

"I shot different cycles of yellow lights, and it turned out that the lights were shorter than what the city of Beaverton said on their website."

What a surprise.

Järlström’s studies also revealed what he believed was a flaw in the mathematics undergirding the Beaverton light sequence and traffic lights across the nation.

How did Beaverton respond to this lone person and his research? Did they listen to his information?

Of course not.

Did the State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying meet with him when he took his concerns to the next level?

Of course not.

Instead, they went after him. In 2016, the state of Oregon fined Järlström for practicing engineering without a license.

Writes Christian Britschgi for Reason:

Järlström sued the city of Beaverton for refusing to listen to his theory, but his case was dismissed on the grounds that he didn't have standing. So Järlström turned to Oregon's State Board of Engineering, asking them in September 2014 to look into the City of Beaverton's yellow light timings. Because he referred to himself as an engineer in his letter to the board, it launched a two-year investigation that ended with it issuing a $500 fine.

In fact, Järlström had gone so in-depth into the physics and mechanics of the lights, the timing of the moving cars, and the problem of tickets being issued when violations had not occurred, he even convinced Alexei Maradudin, the man who developed the timed lights decades ago, that his analysis of the error was valid.

Yet the Oregon government is pursuing him, not the problem. The government isn’t even showing curiosity about the problem.

Järlström paid his own $500 fine, but is now suing the State Board of Engineering in federal court. The board is currently trying to block him from publishing his findings. Järlström claims he has a right to speak freely, but the Board says he is not “speaking," but is instead practicing engineering without a license.

Meanwhile, the state of Oregon -- and states and cities all around the US -- are raking in millions each week through the use of these traffic lights.

This case leaves one wondering if traffic lights are put up for public safety or for government largess. It could be difficult for Mr. Järlström to succeed, since he has to bring his case before a government judge, and government judges don’t exactly have incentives to hold back massive and important systems of government funding like traffic tickets. But the fact that the guy has a right to speak, even in the face of state oppression and opposition, just might be something rather important to consider.


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