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Conner A. Poe/Letter to the Editor: Digital Billboards Actually Beneficial to Communities



02.13.2009

One should always consider the source when reading an opinion. In Scenic Georgia's op-ed of Feb. 10 ("No Need for LED, digital billboards") there are several misconceptions and myths about digital billboards. When you disregard the hyperbole and look at the facts, digital billboards are beneficial to communities and advertisers. Fact: Digital advertising in this community will serve to increase public safety while allowing business the opportunity to reach the citizens of Marietta in a technologically efficient manner.


The technology Mr. Rooks refers to is now an important and vital tool for local and state law enforcement at no cost to taxpayers. The use of these digital billboards makes our communities safer by helping catch dangerous fugitives through FBI most wanted announcements, locate missing children through Amber Alerts and warns commuters and Georgia residents when dangerous state emergencies need to be announced like flood warnings, tornado evacuations and by providing shelter information in times of need. More importantly is that this information is seen where and when it is critical to the public, while traveling in their cars.


As recently as Dec. 19, the Cobb Police Department issued a Mattie's Call for a disabled man suffering from Alzheimer's disease reported missing. A photo with identifying information was immediately posted on more than 15 digital billboards around the metro area. The man was found several hours later in Atlanta later that evening. Think if this man's color photo was posted in Marietta, he may have been identified much sooner.


Digital billboards are also now used to carry Kimberly's Call. We all remember Kimberly Boyd, who was savagely killed by a carjacker just a few short years ago in north Cobb. Digital billboards will be used across our state by local officials to make sure that a dangerous criminal is caught before someone else is attacked.


Digital billboards are engineered and operated to have a brightness level consistent with the surrounding ambient light at each location. Each digital billboard is equipped with a light sensor that measures the surrounding light levels and adjusts the brightness accordingly.


Residents of Marietta and Cobb need to know that digital billboards display static (still) messages for a fixed period of time, not full-motion video or animation. In fact, Georgia has one of the longest and most restrictive static times in the country at 10 seconds. As for concerns about traffic safety, multiple studies have looked at digital billboards, driver distraction and accidents. They conclude that digital billboards when operated as proposed, do not increase driver distraction or cause an increase in traffic accidents. As for noise, LED displays are as quiet as a computer monitor.

 

The proposed digital billboards will not only follow Marietta ordinance requirements but will be required to follow state requirements on multi-message signs. Digital billboards are regulated on spacing from one digital billboard to another advertisement duration and message change duration, distances from public parks, public playgrounds, public recreation areas, public forests, scenic areas or cemeteries. Digital billboards also are prohibited by statute from showing any material that is considered obscene.


Given the economic situation, Marietta should be encouraging public-private partnerships like the ones formed in other municipalities in the area that increase public safety messaging at no cost, deliver cost effective means for advertisers to survive the recession and help create jobs, and showcase the area as a haven for new useful technologies.

 

Conner A. Poe
Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia

 

The letter above was in response to this editorial from Tuesday’s MDJ:

DEAR EDITOR: Marietta is to be commended for its sign ordinance that prohibits multi-messaging off-premise signs and disallows signs using LED, LCD or plasma panels or screens, or any similar electronic signage devices or technology.

Unfortunately your council is under a lot of pressure to change the ordinance to allow LED or digital billboards in exchange for removal of some unspecified number and probably much smaller current billboards.

It is tempting for municipalities to approve these requests by the outdoor advertising industry since it could potentially reduce the number of obtrusive billboards. The industry knows how badly citizens want to get rid of billboards. They are taking advantage of citizen's desires to reduce the number of billboards in exchange for an even greater gratuity from your government. However in this case "the cure is worse than the disease." LED or digital billboards carry a cost burden that is increasingly obvious. They create a traffic hazard since they are designed to purposely and repeatedly distract the driver's attention from the road even more than static billboards. They consume enormous amounts of power. The light they emit can be measured in the same frame of reference as our sun. And if you happen to live next to one you become aware of their noise. Furthermore they can severely impact the property values of any residence that is in close proximity.

Of major concern to the city should be the unknown liabilities and future costs associated with digital billboards. If studies under way definitively establish what we intuitively know, i.e. that a driver's eyes should not be distracted from the road, will the city be liable for accidents that are caused by rapidly changing and distracting signs that it has permitted? If the city decides in the future that they are not desirable (as many cities are now doing with moratoriums or total bans) the cost to buy them out of existence would be many hundreds of thousands of dollars per billboard. Is that a future the taxpayers want?

Beware of a Faustian arrangement that has persuasive arguments but hidden costs. Let your council members know that you do not want your city to become Las Vegas East.

Once digital billboards are permitted, they are in place forever. Marietta has a good sign ordinance now. Don't change it.

Wilton Rooks
Executive Director
Scenic Georgia, Inc.

 

 

 


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