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Digital billboards: Distraction commuters don't need

City Council should resist pressure to introduce a digital billboard along major roadways in the city.

UPDATE: SCRUB'S Mary Tracy reports Thursday that 'Councilman DiCicco has introduced an amendment to Bill 100552 deleting the special exception clauses which would have allowed a developer to erect a six story video sign. The Councilman wrote in an email that he was particularly concerned about the visibility of this sign on residents of Old City.'


With a flashing, multi-story digital billboard near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the evening commute could become even more risky for New Jersey-bound drivers than the typical rush hour of fender benders and worse.

No matter what the advertising image, the sign proposed for the side of a Philadelphia hotel is going to be one more distraction for motorists who should be keeping their eyes on the road.

That's why City Council should resist pressure to introduce a digital billboard at this busy intersection, as well as along other major roadways in the city. A hearing was held Monday in Council on a Bill 100552, sponsored by Councilman Frank DiCicco. (Update: Council approved the measure in committee, but further action has been delayed until January.)

The flashing signs that have been accurately described as "TV on a stick" have no place along busy highways where they're likely to distract drivers. In the Old City neighborhood where the 1,200-square-foot sign would be permitted, the city's sign laws have kept a lid on all outdoor advertising. But that sensible approach would be upended by the digital sign, argues the advocacy group SCRUB, which describes itself as a "public voice for public space." The Old City Civic Association also is lobbying against the sign proposal.

A similarly situated sign along a St. Louis interstate led officials there to impose a moratorium on such signs. That's happened in other cities, too. (See following video provided by Scenic America.)

Another sign issue coming before Council is not such an easy call. It would permit signs on buildings along East Market Street. This proposal is supported by the Center City District because building owners would have to commit to using sign revenues toward upgrading their properties.

No question, there's a crying need for sprucing up that stretch of Market Street, whose low-rent look belies its prime location. The CCD says there's no risk of Market Street ever looking like Times Square, but SCRUB also opposes those building signs.

Because the same traffic concerns are less relevant along streets where vehicles move at slower speeds, Council needs to take a close look at the broad implications for the Market Street signs. Further review by the City Planning Commission is warranted.

Whether or not Council decides to move ahead, Mayor Nutter should insist upon such a careful review before putting his signature to any new sign ordinance.