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Billboard Text Amendment. Joint City-County Planning Committee February 4, 2009 Prepared by the Durham City-County Planning Department. UDO Sign Ordinance Sec. 11.1.1, Purpose.

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billboard text amendment
Billboard Text Amendment

Joint City-County Planning Committee

February 4, 2009

Prepared by the Durham City-County Planning Department

udo sign ordinance sec 11 1 1 purpose
UDO Sign OrdinanceSec. 11.1.1, Purpose
  • Maintain and enhance the aesthetic environment, and the community’s ability to attract sources of economic development and growth
  • Eliminate physical and visual clutter
  • Improve pedestrian and traffic safety
  • Minimize possible adverse effects of signs on nearby public and private property
billboards in durham
Billboards in Durham
  • Billboards are “off-premise” signs
  • In the 1980’s and 90’s, Durham determined that billboards are aesthetically detrimental
    • Prohibited new billboards
    • Required removal of many existing billboards under a six-year “amortization” period
billboards in durham4
Billboards in Durham
  • The billboards that remain are protected under the Federal Highway Beautification Act
    • Located on Interstate or federal-aid highways
    • We would have to pay “just compensation” for their removal – value of property plus lost revenues
  • They are “nonconforming”
    • Legal when established but now prohibited
  • The goal for any nonconforming use or structure is eventual removal
    • In the meantime, it cannot be expanded or enlarged
nonconforming billboard restrictions
Nonconforming Billboard Restrictions
  • May not be enlarged, relocated, or improved through substantially different materials
  • May not add lighting; existing lighting may not be increased
  • Must be removed if repair or damage exceeds 25% of value
    • Lesser of declared value when permitted or replacement value
nonconforming billboards limited life span expected
Nonconforming Billboards: Limited Life Span Expected

They are removed due to:

  • Highway Construction

(Compensation by state if no relocation)

  • Property Owner Decisions

(Billboards lease space on private property)

  • State Permit Revocations
  • Maintenance Over 25% of Value
  • Acts of God

NCDOT, City Staff

durham billboard numbers
Durham Billboard Numbers


2000 101 billboards

2008 89 billboards

(46 owned by Fairway)

2010 Estimate removal of 8 billboards due to East End Connector ROW acquisitions

(all owned by Fairway)

NCDOT, City Staff, Fairway Web Site

national rate of attrition
National Rate of Attrition
  • National average rate of attrition for nonconforming billboards appears to be 1.5-2% per year
  • 11% have been removed in Durham since 2000, right at the national average
  • With 8 removed in 2010, we will exceed the national average
additional removals pending
Additional Removals Pending

Also anticipate removals for other

projects listed in DCHC MPO’s 2030

(adopted) and 2035 (proposed) Long

Range Transportation Plans

  • Alston Avenue widening (2011)
    • 1-2 likely removed
  • Others determined as project designs are completed and ROW acquisition begins

City Staff

billboard revenues
Billboard Revenues

Digital Signs are Lucrative

  • Revenue from standard signs = $1,000 to $2,000 per month ($12-24,000 per year)
  • Revenue from digital signs = $14,000 per month ($168,000 per year)
    • 7-14 times the revenue for standard signs
  • 12 digital signs = $2,016,000 per year
  • Sign technology costs $200,000 to $500,000 per sign

Inc. Magazine

tax revenues
Tax Revenues
  • Billboards are taxed as personal property
  • For instance, Fairway paid $2,605.60 to Durham County in 2008
  • Property taxes may rise for digital billboards, but would still not generate significant revenue

Durham County tax records for Fairway Outdoor

Advertising, Naegele Outdoor Advertising, and MCC Outdoor LLC

public service announcements
Public Service Announcements

Potentially Unconstitutional

First amendment rights can be

violated by sign regulations that

affect the content of a sign’s message.

Such regulations “should therefore

be avoided.”

SRF Consulting Group, Inc. for City of Minnetonka (2007)

public service announcements15
Public Service Announcements


  • Difficult to manage
  • Lost in the clutter
    • Average 7 advertisers per sign per minute
  • Construed as public endorsement of inappropriate advertising
    • Alcohol and sexually suggestive material
  • Make billboard removal harder
    • “Participating in the vice”
public service announcements16
Public Service Announcements
  • Have been used to assist in emergencies (Minneapolis bridge collapse) and crime-stopping
  • But cities are realizing they must balance PSA’s against other concerns
    • A City Council member in Mobile, AL proposed a moratorium for safety reasons despite a successful crime-stopping there

The Debate Over Digital Billboards: Can New Technology Inform Drivers Without Distracting Them?, Birdsall, ITE (Institute of Traffic Engineers) Journal, April 2008

other legal concerns
Other Legal Concerns
  • Liability for accidents
    • If billboards are allowed knowing that national safety studies are pending
  • Uncertainty about relevance of local “nonconforming” status
    • Is it really legal under state and federal law to relocate

Durham’s billboards or convert them to digital?

  • Controversy nationwide about whether digital billboards are legal under the federal Highway Beautification Act
    • How will the new federal administration interpret the Act

and its federal/state agreements?

other considerations
Other Considerations
  • Effects on property values
  • Effects on nearby households and businesses
  • Enormous compensation costs if signs are altered, moved, or removed
    • For highway construction
    • If found to be unsafe

Scenic America

tourism economic development
Tourism/Economic Development

“Billboards contribute a miniscule amount to our economic well-being, but they impose a high cost. They detract from Colorado’s attractiveness to tourists and from the pleasant surroundings for our residents.”

The Honorable Richard Lamm,

former Governor of Colorado

“The way a community looks affects how both residents and visitors feel about it. An attractive community has a better chance at industry, including tourism.”

Mississippi Research and Development Center

tourism economic development20
Tourism/Economic Development
  • Billboards can be considered both a cause and a symptom of urban blight
  • Billboard control is good for tourism
    • Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, and Alaska prohibit billboards
    • 50% increase in Vermont tourism revenues
  • Billboard control is good for business
    • Total sales rise when billboards are controlled - Raleigh, Williamsburg, and Houston studies

Scenic America

aesthetic concerns
Aesthetic Concerns
  • Brightest objects in the landscape
  • Become dominant visual element and overwhelm fundamental character
  • Distract from other visual/scenic qualities
  • Clash with historic or important architectural elements, even at great distances

Scenic America

how bright is a digital billboard
How bright is a digital billboard?
  • Sunlight is measured at 6,500 nits
  • During the daytime, a digital sign can be set at over 10,000 nits
  • The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found digital billboards to be 10X brighter than the surrounding area

Scenic America

environmental considerations
Environmental Considerations
  • One digital billboard consumes 397,486 kWh/year
  • The carbon footprint of one digital billboard = 49 traditional billboards or 13.39 homes
  • One digital billboard = 108.41 tons/year of carbon dioxide

Scenic America

One standard size digital billboard contains 449,280 light-emitting diodes (LEDs)


safety driver inattention
Safety – Driver Inattention
  • Driver inattention causes 22.7 percent of accidents.
    • More than any other factor - vehicle speed, alcohol impairment, perceptual errors, decision errors, incapacitation, other

Driver Inattention is a Major Factor in Serious Traffic Crashes, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration/Virginia Tech Transportation Institute(2001)

  • Numerous studies suggest that attentional/distraction problems are a major contributory factor to accidents.
    • Cognitive overload – confusion, inadequate time to process
    • Cognitive underload (long, boring trips) – drivers stop paying attention to the road and are easily distracted

External-to-Vehicle Driver Distraction , Wallace, Scottish Executive Social Research (2003)

safety length of distraction
Safety – Length of Distraction
  • Anything that distracts the driver from the forward roadway for more than two seconds significantly increases the chances of crashes and near crashes.
    • 23% of crashes and near-crashes in metropolitan environments are attributable to eyes off the forward roadway greater than two seconds.
    • Nearly 80% of the crashes and 65% of near crashes were caused by distractions that made the driver look away for up to three seconds.

Scenic America, citing 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, USDOT National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

safety outside distractions
Safety – Outside Distractions
  • 29.4 percent of distraction-related crashes were caused by an outside person, object or event.
    • Greatest source of distraction among the thirteen sources studied

The Role of Driver Distraction in Traffic Crashes, Stutts et al., North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (2001)

  • External distractions are likely under-reported because they are unconscious or because drivers are reluctant to admit that distraction contributed to the accident.

External-to-Vehicle Driver Distraction , Wallace, Scottish Executive Social Research (2003)

safety billboards
Safety – Billboards

“Roadside advertising billboards are designed by their very nature to attract attention, but the related potential threat to road safety is not acknowledged by the industry.”

“Prudence should be exercised when authorizing or placing roadside advertising.”

Driven to Distraction: Determining the Effects of Roadside Advertising on Driver Attention, Young & Mahfoud (2008)

safety digital billboards
Safety – Digital Billboards
  • Studies indicate that dynamic billboards tend to distract drivers to a greater degree than standard billboards.
    • “Zeigarnik effect” – a driver may be motivated, or even compelled, to watch for changes.

Local Regulation of Dynamic Displays: Bridging Research, Planning Policy, and Law, Baker and Wolpert (2008)

“It is a given that a billboard can constitute a traffic hazard. It follows that EMCs [Electronic Message Centers], which provide more visual stimuli than traditional signs, logically will be more distracting and more hazardous.”

Naser Jewelers, Inc. v. City of Concord, N.H. (1st Cir. 2008)

safety digital billboards29
Safety – Digital Billboards
  • Brightest object in the driver’s field of vision, especially at night
  • Causes inadvertent, instinctual glances
  • New images every 8 seconds cause lingering looks to see what’s next
  • Complex messages often take 5 seconds to comprehend

Scenic America

safety digital billboards30
Safety – Digital Billboards
  • Wisconsin DOT – Analyzed crash rates on I-94 after installation of a variable message sign at adjacent Milwaukee County Stadium
    • Eastbound lanes - 36 percent crash increase
    • Westbound lanes - 21 percent crash increase
  • Conclusion: The variable message sign had a negative effect on traffic safety, notably increasing the rate of sideswipe crashes.
    • Orientation of sign toward eastbound lanes accounted for the higher crash increases.

Research Review of Potential Safety Effects of Electronic Billboards on Driver Attention and Distraction, FHWA (2001)

industry safety studies
Industry Safety Studies
  • Two studies are cited by the billboard industry as establishing that digital billboards are safe
    • A Study of the Relationship Between Digital Billboards and Traffic Safety, Tantala Associates, for the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education (FOARE) (2007)
    • Driving Performance and Digital Billboards, Lee, McElheny and Gibbons, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, for FOARE (2007)
  • The conclusions, however, are not fully supported within the studies.
the wachtel report
The Wachtel Report

Also…the State of Maryland Commissioned an independent assessment of the studies. Conclusion:

“Having completed this peer review, it is our opinion that acceptance of these reports is inappropriate and unsupported by scientific data, and that ordinance or code changes based on their findings is ill-advised.”

A Critical, Comprehensive Review of Two Studies Recently Released by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, The Veridian Group, Inc., for Maryland State Highway Administration (2007)

safety other factors
Safety – Other Factors
  • Route Familiarity: With traditional signs, distraction decreases with familiarity. Digital signs, however, are always new.
  • Disability Glare/Discomfort Glare
  • Driver Age and Experience: Older or inexperienced drivers, who have less attention to spare, could be placed at even greater risk by digital billboards.

SRF Consulting Group, Inc. for City of Minnetonka (2007)

Research Review of Potential Safety Effects of Electronic Billboards on Driver Attention and Distraction, FHWA (2001)

safety bottom line
Safety – Bottom Line
  • Overall, the literature identifies a relationship between driver distraction and electronic outdoor advertising devices.
  • In the interest of promoting public safety, electronic signs should be viewed as a form of driver distraction and a public safety issue.
  • Studies conducted by FHWA and others cite the need for further research.

SRF Consulting Group, Inc. for City of Minnetonka (2007)

pending studies
Pending Studies
  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is planning research.
  • The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is sponsoring preliminary research leading to future investigations.
  • The Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is conducting a human-factors workshop and will manage AASHTO research.

Scenic America

aaa opinion
AAA Opinion

“Driver distraction has been acknowledged as a contributor to accidents. The question remains, how significant of a distraction are digital billboards to motorists and what should be done about it? The topic deserves more research and I am pleased that FHWA is doing it.”

Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, quoted in The Debate Over Digital Billboards: Can New Technology Inform Drivers Without Distracting Them?, Birdsall, ITE Journal, April 2008

other triangle cities
Other Triangle Cities
  • Chapel Hill
    • Prohibits all billboards
  • Cary
    • Prohibits all billboards
  • Morrisville
    • Prohibits all billboards
  • Raleigh
    • Prohibits electronic billboards
      • Standard billboards only in I with stringent restrictions
      • Most billboards removed in 1990’s
  • Oakland, May 2008 - Recurrent digital billboard malfunction
    • Brightness impairs driver vision
    • Caltrans inundated with complaints
  • Los Angeles, December 2008 – 3-month billboard moratorium, can be extended 3 months
    • Digital billboards have angered residents of many neighborhoods
  • State Legislature, January 2009 - Moratorium bill introduced
    • No new or digital converted billboards for 2 years
    • Safety concerns and driver distraction are the crux

Los Angeles Times, Curbed LA, San Francisco Chronicle

on premise signs in durham
On-Premise Signs in Durham
  • Digital on-premise signs are allowed in the Downtown Tier with a favorable recommendation by DDRT and Planning Director approval.
  • Otherwise, changeable copy is allowed only in limited situations and can change only 8 times per day (except time and temperature).

Digital billboards could open the door for digital on-premise signs.

planning department research assessment
Planning Department Research Assessment
  • The current ordinance provisions protect the long-term health, safety, and welfare of Durham citizens.
  • NHWA, AASHTO, and NAS targeted safety studies are pending and waiting for the outcomes is advisable.
  • Any proposed change should be fully assessed by independent technical and legal experts given the regulatory complexity and safety and liability ramifications.

Thank you for your attention.


Staff Contact:

Julia Mullen, Planner

560-4137 ext. 255,