Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A Hazard To Passions

I have a lot of passions but one of them isn’t outdoor billboards.

I blog in objection to billboards because I have a passion for “places” and the things that make them scenic and unique. I saw first hand during the near decade I lived in Alaska just how much better it is without outdoor billboards which were banned there in 1959, almost immediately after achieving statehood.

I also have a passion for riding a Harley-Davidson Cross Bones where you see first hand how distracted motorists can be in general, without something like outdoor billboards which are put in place for the sole purpose of pulling your eyes away from where they should be.Save The View

Looking away from the roadway is responsible for 70-90% of unsafe driving events such as drifting, swerving etc. In fact, ten percent of drivers are responsible for 50% of the crash risks and things that distract drivers from keeping their eyes on the roadway are among the highest causes.

Studies show that a two-second distraction doubles your risk of an accident. A study by the Outdoor Billboard industry showed that even in daylight, digital billboards draw your eyes away from the road for two seconds or more twice as often as regular billboards or no billboards at all.

It is no wonder they elected not to do a night time analysis.

Spokesmen for the current bills in the North Carolina legislature argue they are just trying to modernize and that they know of no other business prevented from doing so.

The fact is, even without modernization, these structures are safety hazards and there are tons of examples where public safety trumps this type of so-called improvement. According to scientific opinion polls seven out of every ten North Carolina voters agree and eight out of 10 oppose them.

North Carolina must reject these bills, not just because they will line our roadways with up to seven digital billboards per mile and swath away tree screens from public roadways but more importantly because they override local control and are a purposeful and unnecessary hazard to public safety.

The people working in or representing outdoor billboard companies are not demons nor any more flawed than the rest of us. From what I know of them personally, they are honorable people. But they are wrong and according to an interview in Planning Journal, the courts have ruled for many years that outdoor billboards do not derive their value from private land.

They fall under the what courts term the “parasite principal.” Billboards derive their value from the publicly built and maintained roadways and the public has a right to determine if and where they exist.

Judging by the value of their absence to Alaska, Vermont, Maine and Hawaii and thousands of cities and towns, in North Carolina, the debate needs to be whether we can afford to have them at all, let alone turn our roadways into a drive through yellow pages as the proposed bills allow.

Scientific polls show that 78% of Independent voters, 70% of Democratic voters and 68% of Republican voters all agree that outdoor billboards detract from community appearance.

To quote from a recent interview, “these entire states and thousands of cities and towns and counties have found that beauty and place-making are good for business; ugliness and excessive commercialism are not.”

For more information on the bills before the General Assembly, click here.

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