Monday, December 27, 2010

The Signs, They Aren't A Flashin'

Last week, to recap, I discussed the ongoing efforts the City takes to improve our visual attractiveness and improve pedestrian and vehicular safety by monitoring and removing illegal stake and utility pole signs. If you missed the blog entry, or want to see my handsome face (my wife's statement, not mine), you can view the latest Video Dover Download with similar coverage,

This week I want to focus on Flashing Signs. In Dover, flashing signs include electronic message boards and other similar technologies which allow text to change. We have prohibited these signs since 2007.

The first one of these signs entered Dover in the early oughts. The Regulations at the time stated that signs that showed the time date and temperature were OK, and a few banks in Dover had them. An insurance company wanted to have its rates etc change, instead of the manual message board it had used. Upon applying to the Zoning Board for approval, it was determined that it took 10 minutes for a message to be removed and changed manually. The rule became that you could use an electronic sign, if the text or animation didn't change more than once every ten minutes.

This condition seemed to work well. And was adhered to for a number of years by the few business that used this type of sign. A jeweler, which had agreed to the limitation subsequently decided that it no longer wanted to, and challenged the City on this issue. We ended up in Court and the Court supported the City. At the same time, other communities were changing their regulations to prohibit the signs altogether. Dover chose to go this route. The State's Supreme Court held that an all out ban was legal, and in fact a better option that limiting certain elements of the sign (such as stating that time, date and temp were OK, but other speech was not).

Thus, in 2007 Dover outlawed all flashing signs. We have held internally that this includes LED letters for prices etc. Since 2008 we have had several requests to change the regulation to allow prices to be shown as LED letters. We have refused this change. Recently, a gas station owner asked me to bring the request to the Planning Board, which I will do in January.

Why don't we allow the flashing signs, or electronic message boards? Its a simple 2 part answer. First, numerous studies show that moving pictures and video, or flashing or scrolling text, can pose a dangerous distraction to drivers. It is a public safety concern. Secondly, as I went over last time, we have strong concerns about the impressions that people have of Dover. The community has a character that it is striving for and we hope that people in Dover and those visiting it have a positive feel for the City.

The Long
In certain circumstances, such as a pedestrian oriented entertainment
districts, video display signs can create mood, interest and energy, a vibe if you will. However, serious highway safety questions have been raised concerning flashing signs by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington and Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Want to see more reports, stop in.

As one might guess, these studies reveal that driver distraction continues to be a significant underlying cause of traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 25% of police-reported crashes involve some form of driver inattention. Driver distraction is one form of inattention and is a factor in over half of these crashes. These studies are similar to the ones that have supported bans on texting and other distractions.

Due to the constant changing (pun intended) nature of technology, it is not feasible for the community to develop technology based sign regulations, rather the regulations must address operational characteristics, capabilities and functions.

The Short
We don't want a Vegas strip feel as you drive through our City, and we want to make sure that as you drive through, you do so safely.

Well, that's the final blog post, presumably, for 2010. Have a Happy New Year and safe, productive and resolute 2011.

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