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Digital Billboards: Let's not rush, says Planning 

As promised in this week's QueQue, Planning and Development Services released an updated evaluation of the year-old Digital Billboard Pilot Program that went dark at the end of 2008. It calls for nine more months in which to evaluate the signs' impact before a final report is presented to Council.

Regular readers will recall that Council initiated the program -- which gave Clear Channel and Lamar the right to convert 15 existing billboards to digital faces in exchange for taking down a few old vinyl signs -- in December 2007. Clear Channel got 12 permits, Lamar 3. Clear Channel wasted no time plugging theirs in, many of them along Scenic and Scenic Urban Corridors, including a particularly obnoxious one at the 281/37/35 highway interchange by the Pearl Brewery redevelopment.

The ordinance called for City staff to evaluate the program, and the signs' effect on driver safety, before Council considered extending it, and City staff had initially planned to compare three months of data from before and after the signs were turned on, a proposal viewed as ludicrous by pros such as the Veridian Group's Jerry Wachtel. But after consulting with Scenic SA Chair June Kachtik, Planning spoke with Wachtel and others.

“I explained to `Chief SA Sign Inspector David` Simpson that, in my opinion, and in the opinion of others who have written on this subject, accident studies such as this, in general, and particularly those collecting data for only a six month total period, would not produce meaningful results,” Wachtel wrote in a January 17 memo.

Planning Director Rod Sanchez says the City simply realized that the data it had on hand didn't tell them anything.

The QueQue asked Wachtel to look at the new report; we'll follow up with him and you later this week. In the meantime, you can read Wachtel's memo here, on the Vance Jackson Neighborhood website (where Ted Trakas has amassed a thorough set of resources on the subject). Wachtel's currently working on a study to be released this spring that is aimed at supporting cities and states that want to regulate digital signs, but aren't sure how to say no to a powerful industry. (If LA is thinking about it, SA can, too.)

The May Day take: Since Clear Channel -- a major contributor to recent mayoral initiatives and select candidates -- has given every indication that it'll be back for more digital signs in the only major Texas city to be receptive so far, this is a live issue for the spring elections.

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