Traditional billboards are common in a city landscape, but now Tampa Bay may see a rise in digital ones, which are distracting, ugly and a waste of energy.
Two billboard companies have fought Tampa for years to put up more billboards. In 1996, the city signed an agreement with Clear Channel and CBS requiring them to take down signs in scenic areas of the city, but the companies complained they could not move the billboards to other parts of the city and sued in 2004, according the Tampa Tribune.
The Tampa City Council finally gave in earlier this month when it approved a settlement agreement in a 5-2 vote. The companies agreed to take down some signage, but they can get out of the deal if the city does not pass an ordinance allowing digital billboards, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Because digital billboards can switch between several advertisements, they are far more profitable to sign companies. These billboards will make the city less attractive, though.
Council member Mary Mulhern, who voted against the agreement, said to the Times, “We want to be like cities that don’t allow digital billboards. I see this agreement at the top of that slippery slope.”
Clear Channel and CBS have about 1,300 billboards in Tampa, and the companies have taken down only a few dozen in the past decade, according to the Tribune.
Tampa should not give in and pass an ordinance to allow digital billboards. Under the proposal, Clear Channel would only take down 70 regular billboards and put up 20 digital ones.
Mayor Pam Iorio wants to limit digital displays to about 40 citywide, keep them out of historic districts and put restriction on brightness, according to the Tribune.
Still, companies will likely want to put these signs in high-traffic areas and at major intersections – precisely where they shouldn’t be.
A study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Australia found that visual clutter, like signs and billboards, can be too distracting to drivers, especially older ones. They delay the driver’s ability to detect changes, such as someone switching lanes.
Digital signs also waste a lot of energy since they’re lit up all day. A study by a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in Texas found that one digital billboard consumes as much carbon yearly as 13 average homes.
Allowing just 40 signs in Tampa would be the environmental equivalent of 520 households.
Tampa does not need these signs distracting drivers, ruining the landscape and burning up energy. The City Council should not pass the proposed ordinance.