AUSTIN (KXAN) — One Austin group is worried about the environmental impacts, along with driver safety, related to digital billboards potentially coming to Austin.
Scenic Austin is worried a proposal headed to Austin City Council would allow certain existing static billboards to be converted into digital billboards, capable of changing advertisements every eight seconds. This translates into 450 times per hour or more than 10,000 message changes each day.
The proposal would not impact signs that operate on the property of local businesses and identify or advertise for that business (e.g. Frank Erwin Center sign). It would only apply to the billboards (typically larger and taller than on-premise business signs) that advertise goods and services located off of the billboard site.
Scenic Austin President, Girard Kinney, has lived in Austin his whole life and has been a part of the group since its inception in 1991. He wants city council to hear loud and clear why this is a hazard for those behind the wheel and detracts from Austin’s natural beauty.
“The whole purpose of a billboard is for you to look at them. Therefore, there’s a new message every eight seconds so there’s something else to see. So it’s even more distracting,” said Kinney.
According to SignOnAustin, a group that supports digital billboards, the digital billboards are compliant with “dark sky” laws and create less light pollution than floodlit vinyl billboards.
The city’s Public Safety Committee approved the billboard proposal last year, then sent it to the full City Council for approval. Council members decided to ask for more public input before moving forward. Kinney says they’ve talked with many stakeholders and homeowners who are just not sold on the idea of digital signs.
“We’ve heard from no one who is in favor of billboards,” said Kinney.
Council Member Don Zimmerman feels the signs would help with local economy and help local businesses. “Austin is behind on this digital technology deployment,” said Zimmerman. “It has an advantage for the consumers and it has an advantage for local business and plus for public safety can exploit this technology with instant emergency messages.”
“What we believe to be our gateways into our city, we’re welcoming people into our city with more and more billboards,’ explained Kinney. “The very people we’re asking to come to the city, we’re providing visual pollution that keeps them from enjoying our city as much as they would otherwise.
In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Texas Department of Transportation reversed long-held prohibitions of digital (intermittently changing) billboards to operate along federally regulated highways. Since these rulings, the billboard industry has erected 6,400 digital billboards across the country, with approximately 300 of those located inside Texas cities.