August 24, 2007
Digital billboards

Is there anything about the phrase digital billboards that sounds like a good idea to you?

The prospect of digital billboards proliferating along highways pitted outdoor advertisers against scenery defenders Thursday at the Texas Transportation Commission, which proposed rules for public comment that would allow the technology.

The proposal, which can be commented on until Dec. 6 and would require another commission vote before it could take effect, would allow the electronic, changeable billboards on highways -- with numerous restrictions.

The billboards would be allowed only within municipalities or their surrounding areas. Cities would have to approve each billboard.

The signs would be subject to restrictions including a requirement for each message to be displayed at least eight seconds. A change of message would have to happen within two seconds. Only static messages would be allowed, with no movement of images or flashing lights.

Backers of the technology, including the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas and outdoor advertising giant Clear Channel Outdoor, said it would give businesses a fresh way to sell themselves through a long-used avenue.

"This new technology is just another way for them to present their business services to the traveling public. That stimulates the local economy, and that's good for Texas overall," said Lee Vela, president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas.

Is it too early to start saying "Lady Bird Johnson must be rolling over in her grave"? Because I'm pretty sure that she is.

I mean seriously. Houston drivers are distracted enough. Nothing good can come of this.

I do thank the pushers of this scheme for giving me a good laugh, however:

Blake Custer, president of the San Antonio division of Clear Channel Outdoor, told the commission that his company is "ecstatic" about the opportunity to use LED displays but, if allowed, would move forward "on a sensitive and balanced basis."

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! "Sensitive and balanced." You're killing me.

In Houston, a longstanding ordinance has prevented new signs off of business premises since 1980, said senior assistant city attorney Larry Schenk. He said he doesn't anticipate that changing in the near future.

Houston officials, in a position statement, said they're satisfied with the current law that prohibits such signs "and we frankly see no reason for the change," Schenk said.

Thank goodness for that. The rest of you, I hope your cities see it the same way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2007 to The great state of Texas

Anything to distract us!!
Now if we could stop Clear Channel Broadcasting from running those radio commercials with horns honking, sirens blaring and metal crunching. I don't pay any attention to their commercials, then suddenly I hear a siren, never in the distance, but right THERE and I'm looking for an emergency vehicle.

Posted by: merci_me on August 24, 2007 12:41 PM

Houston drivers are distracted enough. Nothing good can come of this.
I disagree. Drivers are distracted once they take their eyes from the road. This occurs before they see an advertising sign. You cannot blame an advertising sign on causing an accident.

Although I agree there has to be rules on placement and display so as not to confuse the driver who must read traffic signs, lights and emergency flashing lights. The rest of it, asthetics and all, is a matter of opinion. I see many more ugly cars and cars with distasteful messages on the highway than I do advertising signs. Possibly that is because I keep my eyes on the road. I do not see law enforcement pulling over cars and writing ugly car tickets. I have an ugly car, uglier than any billboard sign, and I have not been ticketted for it.

For the purpose of eliminating road tolls, the Toll Road Authority could get into the business of selling advertising sign space along their roads. The advertising rate would change depending on when the message is displayed.

The placement of advertising signs along any new Trans-Texas Corridor could pay for its construction. If there are not enough interested advertisers, the message to the state would be to find a route advertisers would like. This is how the internet pays for itself.

Obviously there would be opposition to this, but the opposition could care less how ugly or distasteful any car is, including their own car. This discredits their message.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on August 24, 2007 12:50 PM

I disagree. Drivers are distracted once they take their eyes from the road. This occurs before they see an advertising sign. You cannot blame an advertising sign on causing an accident.

I don't think this is entirely accurate. A sign caught in the peripheral vision can cause a more direct look, and the sign itself can cause the look to linger longer than it might have otherwise. The "draw your glance" factor is far worse with bright, glowing signs than standard ones.

I don't know how it is in Houston, but in San Antonio bright LED signs are becoming increasingly popular - Sonic is an especially bad place for them. The Sonic near my house has a sign at standing eye level that is so bright as to be nearly blinding when you go by it at night. They're horrible.

Posted by: Buhallin on August 24, 2007 1:49 PM

bright LED signs are becoming increasingly popular Those signs need to be regulated. I am looking for the emergency vehicle when I am near one of those. They are dangerous.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on August 24, 2007 5:33 PM

My daily commute through Hartford takes me past two digital billboards, and I don't notice either of them any more than I notice regular billboards. That includes my trip home (normally around 2:30 am) when they should stand out even more.

Posted by: Jeremy Mills on August 24, 2007 9:51 PM

There is a giant electronic billboard on I-5 southbound between Seattle and Tacoma. I always found it hugely distracting because it would be scrolling messages and be flashing graphics. Basically it was a like a jumbotron stadium scoreboard with lots of bright flashing messages.

I was always surprised there weren't more wrecks caused by that monstrosity. I hated it.

I would certainly not want to live anywhere near such a monster where it could be shining into your window.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on August 24, 2007 11:11 PM