Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ten Things You Didn't Know About The Proposed Digital Billboard Ordinance

This was just published on the Indiana Forefront blog.  Availability to Had Enough Indy is still handled like a porn site on the City Hall internet.


Now that the proposed digital billboard ordinance has been voted out of Council committee, it might be a good time to review the problems with the proposal.

1) The proposed ordinance, drafted by lobbyists for the billboard industry, requires that in year three of the law, the Council must decide if the law should continue to allow conversions into the future or not.  Once the third year is over, the taxpayers would be on the hook to pay the future value of potential conversions to each billboard company, should the Council or the Mayor or the public decide to change the law back. Say a billboard company has 1000 signs in Marion County (as at least one company does). In year one they can convert 6, year two another 6, and in each year thereafter they can convert 2 to digital. That gives this billboard company guaranteed conversions for nearly 500 years. The future value would be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue for each conversion. Quick math isn't even necessary to calculate the payoff would be catastrophic to the taxpayers.

2) The proposal grants a monopoly to those billboard companies now operating in Marion County. Only these 3 or 4 companies with existing billboards may convert them to digital. Those billboard companies who are not so qualified, will surely sue the City. It won't be Lamar or Clear Channel that pick up the litigation costs. No, the taxpayers of Indianapolis will.

3) Digital signs can be bigger that those they replace. The proposal says that any sign face of more than 300 square feet can be replaced by a digital billboard face of 672 square feet. There are three legally allowed configurations that are more than 300 square feet - a 378, a 600, and a 672.

4) The size of a digital billboard along a freeway can be more than twice the size now allowed. The current billboards along freeways are 300 square feet, compared to the 672 square feet that would be allowed for digital faces.

5) There is no requirement that the pole for an existing billboard be taken down when the sign face is removed as part of a swap for a digital billboard. It is possible that this is required elsewhere in the City's laws, but it certainly is not specified in the proposed ordinance.

6) If a billboard was removed as part of the conversion, another company (perhaps even the same company) could apply for a new billboard permit at that exact location. As long as the location met the criteria for regular billboard sizes and distances, a permit would have to be granted. This would severely impact any expectation for an actual reduction in the number of billboards in the County.

7) By any lucid individual, a digital billboard would qualify as an Electronic Variable Message Sign. But, since the proposed ordinances declares that not to be true, it would not be regulated as an EVMS. Currently EVM signs must be 600 feet or more from homes. The proposal would allow a digital billboard to be 500 feet from a home - and it is far brighter than the much smaller EVM signs.

8) Current law requires billboards to be separated by at least 1000 feet on city streets and no more than 2 per mile along freeways. Digital faces need only be 500 feet apart.

9) The proposed ordinance would allow up to a 2 second gap between ads. Studies have shown that gaps between ads are a hazard to driving, drawing longer gazes off the road and traffic. Two seconds is the distraction threshold accepted by the scientific community as hazardous driving conditions that lead to accidents and near accidents.

10) There is language in the proposed ordinance that claims that digital billboards are not intermittently lit, despite what lucid individuals might actually think.  It is there not only to get around our local EVMS laws, but also to circumvent the 1971 agreement between the State of Indiana and the US Federal Highway Administration on the control of outdoor advertising along freeways. In 2007, FHWA issued a memorandum that said digital billboards did not violate the intermittent lighting ban. That memorandum is being litigated in the Courts. If, as some expect, the memorandum is overturned, it would leave Indianapolis in an unenviable legal position - rescind the digital billboard ordinance and pay the future value of thousands of conversions -- or stand in violation of Federal Law for any digital faces erected along freeways in Marion County and face losing federal highway dollars. Either way it would be entirely too expensive for the taxpayer.

This proposed digital billboard ordinance is not only an affront to a vigorous public process, it is bad law for Indianapolis.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Proposed Digital Billboard Ordinance is an Insult to the Public Process

I just posted the following entry on the Indiana Forefront Blog - because my Had Enough Indy blog ist verboten in City Hall.


The proposed digital billboard ordinance, coming before a Council committee Monday night, is an insult to the public process.

This lobbyist written law would overturn the compromise embodied in the current law, which bans digital billboards in Indianapolis.  The current law was created with a robust, public process that included all stakeholders and was led by a bipartisan Council effort.

The current law has been vigorously defended, both before the Boards of Zoning Appeals, the Metropolitan Development Commission, and in the Courts.

The proposed ordinance would declare that digital billboards erected in Indianapolis are not really illuminated by, among other things, intermittent lights.  Yah, right.  And the emperor is fully clothed.
This particular phrase is included as an end run around a long standing agreement between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration that, due to the intermittent lighting, bans digital billboards.

The lobbyists also included a provision that would allow the various ads to take up to 2 seconds to transition.  The literature clearly demonstrates that this is a particularly dangerous thing to do.  Two seconds inattention to the road ahead, is considered a hazardous driving condition.  The delayed changeover is specifically used in order to call attention to the ad, as drivers fix their attention, waiting for the next one to appear.

I could mention that a Michigan study demonstrated a statistically significant rise in accidents within 0.25 miles of digital billboards, even while the average accident rate on their highways fell between 2004 and 2012 – representing the years before and after  installation of electronic billboards.  The deviation is an 18% increase in accidents near such a billboard over the expected number.
I could also mention that a 2013 study of digital billboard induced driver distraction in Sweden, led that country to remove the signs and ban them.

Or, I could mention that an Israeli study that demonstrated a decrease in accidents of more than 30% when billboards were covered or removed along a busy Tel Aviv highway.  Injury and deaths from these accidents dropped 69%.

I could mention lots of studies.  But that is not the point I most want to make here.

The billboard lobbyists have been haunting the back rooms of City Hall for years now.  The total revision of our zoning laws has been going on for the last three.  The public could have been included in a review of the digital billboard ban in a comprehensive and valid way.

Instead, we are left out of the loop by some of our own elected officials.  Our previous efforts and our previous compromises are thrown aside as insignificant and meaningless history.

Its bad enough that lobbyists for any industry are allowed free rein to write our laws.  Its even worse when they are overturning a law that involved so many people, so many hours, and so much effort and money to create and defend.