Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digital Driver Distraction

Scenic America applauds the Distracted Driver Summit, convened by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for its inclusion of the safety concerns of digital billboards.

Presenter Dr. John Lee of the University of Wisconsin noted that billboards can be a cause of motorist distraction outside of vehicles. Dr. Lee also remarked that while the issue of digital billboard distraction is an active topic of FHWA research, prior studies on the issue have found that they can be a source of distraction.

In fact, the recently completed review of prior studies conducted for AASHTO found:

"...of those research studies that have addressed driver distraction and roadside billboards, nearly every empirical study undertaken since 1995, including that by Lee et al., and sponsored by the outdoor advertising industry, have demonstrated that there is an adverse relationship between distraction and digital billboards."

(link to pdf of study here.)

The bottom line is that a growing and sound body of scientific evidence has confirmed the intuitive notion that digital billboards -- essentially giant televisions on a stick that change ad copy as much as every six seconds -- pose an unnecessary safety risk.

State and local government officials need to protect the public safety and either prohibit or strongly restrict digital signs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Distracted Driving Summit webcast Wed & Thurs

The DOT will be holding a summit on the problems of distracted driving in Washington DC on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.  No word on whether billboards, and digital billboards in particular, are going to be part of the conversation.  It's likely that cell phones (calling and texting) will be the primary topic of conversation, since they were the subject of a study released over the summer and it's gotten heavy play in the media.

If you'd like to watch part or all of the webcast, you can do so here.

LA Billboard Ban Upheld in Tentative Ruling

LA supergraphics photos by

Giving hope to Los Angeles' civic appearance, a federal judge refused to grant Liberty Media an injunction against the city's recent ban on digital billboards and supergraphics. Scenic advocates in LA have been on a roller coaster ride of billboard litigation for years, but with the new ordinance and a seemingly determined new City Attorney, the LA billboard industry may finally be facing a permanent setback.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Digital Downturn

The slow down in billboard advertising has hit digital billboard manufucturers hard. Daktronics, for instance, has seen sales fall to a trickle, according to its CEO. Furthermore, its two largest clients, Clear Channel and Lamar, have indicated that they will be in hibernation for the next two years, according to the Argus Leader.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tune in to America's Best Idea

Ken Burns has it right when he calls our National Parks "America's best idea."

Filmed over the course of six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales, from Arcadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Flordia to the Gates of the Artic in Alaska - The National Parks: America's Best Idea is nonetheless the story of people: people from every conceivable background... who were willing to save some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.
Our national park system, which had preserved some of our most beautiful lands for posterity, is a signal American acheivement. And Scenic America is proud of our own commitment to preserving the scenic resources of our national parks and public lands.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reclaiming the Urban Landscape... NYC Edition

The New York Times covers the century long battle over billboards in New York City.

As the article notes, New York has had a rather restrictive ordinance over the years, but an unfortunate lack of enforcement has led to hundreds of illegal signs.

But that may soon change.

Encouragingly, the city already has begun to remove a number of billboards on city land, including some within view of the new and incredibly successful High Line trail.

And armed with a recent court decision affirming the authority of the city to strictly regulate billboards, a real possibility exists that the days of illegal billboards in New York City are numbered.

photo by Scenic America

Transportation Enhancement Funding Survives Attack

The United States Senate thwarted an unexpected and serious attack against important Transportation Enhancement (TE) funding last week.

The attack came when Senator Coburn (R-OK) sought to eliminate the requirement that states set aside at least 10% of federal highway dollars for Transportation Enhancement projects.

The TE program is a critical source of funds for projects that improve the physical and natural environment. Eligible TE projects range from billboard removal and streetscape improvements to installing wildlife crossings and bike lanes. (Visit the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse here.)

In presenting his amendment, Sen. Coburn took particular issue with "highway beautification" and wildlife enhancement projects.

While thankfully the attempt to end the 10% set-aside requirement failed, scenic advocates must work to ensure that even more funding is alloted to the program in the future. Indeed, the next long-term transportation funding bill, which sets funding priorities for the next six years, is expected to be enacted sometime next year.

Reclaiming The Urban Landscape... International Edition

The Christian Science Monitor covers the growing international movement to clean up the urban skyline from outdoor ads. Featured is the remarkable -- and increasingly successful -- crusade against illegal signs in Toronto by activist Rami Tabello (pictured above). Rami made a compelling presentation at the recent Scenic America conference in Saint Louis. The article also notes the success of Scenic America affiliate SCRUB in removing illegal billboards in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Missouri Residents Share Frustration with Billboard Blight

Editorial from Post-Dispatch

Two Missourians emailed me regarding yesterday's Op-Ed piece. I pasted their comments below.

Dear Mary,
Thank you for your article in the Post-Dispatch! I live in the beautiful state of Missouri and I appreciate your organizations efforts in trying to get rid of billboards. Driving down Missouri's interstates is like watching a non-stop TV commercial. It's shameful, and an embarrassment for the state. I travel a lot throughout our state and it just makes me sick that our state and local government can't see how grotesque our landscape has become. Of course, it's real hard for them to see anything when they have dollar signs (special interests) blocking their view.
Keep up the good work,
Jeff Kezele

I could not agree more with your article on Missouri billboard proliferation in the St. Louis Post this AM. As a travel writer living in St. Louis I do a lot of driving and am always disappointed when I travel across America and compare my state to others where billboard control is so evident. Even driving between Columbia and KC the signs seem to almost disappear (not sure if it is a result of zoning) and the beauty of the countryside rushes the highway.

I am elated that the possibility of removal of even some is possible as I thought I recalled many of the permanent huge steel pole signs were erected with very long term leases.

I also remember how disappointed I was when some years ago there was some sort of legislation that resulted in a flurry of billboards being erected.

Whenever people tell me they drove across Missouri and that this is a lovely state, my first thought is always that I wonder how they saw it with all the billboards?

Jim Winnerman

Welcome to the new Scenic America blog!

Welcome to the new Scenic America blog.  This will hopefully serve as a place to discuss billboards, signs, cell towers, overhead wires and any other issue of concern to our community. 

Ideally, the blog will grow and change and be a useful resource to everyone in our movement.

Scenic America