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Watson Digital Signs

Watson Digital Signs

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Published by Trevor Pritchard

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Published by: Trevor Pritchard on Jun 15, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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March 30, 2012His Worship Mayor Jim WatsonMayorCity of Ottawa110 Laurier Ave. WestOttawa, ON K1P 1J1Dear Mayor Watson,We represent the community associations of
Centretown, Sandy Hill, Old Ottawa East, Old OttawaSouth, Carlington and the Rockcliffe Park Residents Association
. We are writing to you to expressour concerns regarding proposals to amend the City of Ottawa Permanent Signs on Private Property by-law to allow the use of digital signs. We have serious reservations about the haste with which the Cityappears to be prepared to enact by-law amendments to allow digital signs of all types to be erected.We believe that:
the City is not sufficiently prepared at this time to institute a regulatory regime that adequatelyprotects residents and their right to enjoyment of property against light pollution, distraction andvisual blight generated by digital signage;
the City does not have a reasonable grasp on the traffic and pedestrian safety impacts of thetechnology to allow digital signage to proliferate;
it’s uncertain whether digital advertising billboard technology provides a net benefit to thecommunity; careful consideration should be given as to whether the City should even allowdigital billboards;
a moratorium on digital billboards should be imposed until concerns about safety risks and thenegative impact to residents can be adequately addressedWe believe the City should defer consideration of any sign bylaw amendments until it is better prepared tointroduce an appropriate regulatory environment that, at a minimum, ensures the following:
digital signs and digital billboards ARE NOT visible from residential properties or areas;
digital signs and digital billboards ARE NOT visible from parkland or heritage areas/districts;
digital signs are not allowed where billboards are currently prohibited;
the existing notification radius for digital sign applications is widened to ensure that a digital signor digital billboard is NOT visible from residential properties given the increased illumination;
all adjacent ward councillors are notified of digital sign and digital billboard applications due to theincreased illumination and projection of the digital technology (not simply the ward councillorwhere the digital sign resides);
strict controls are placed on the apparent brightness of digital signs and billboards when viewedfrom nearby land uses, with a meaningful metric defined and applied;
digital signs are not allowed to be any larger than the largest allowable billboard under currentregulations (e.g. so-called “art walls” should be prohibited);
the size of a digital sign and digital billboard dictates the level of control and restriction (i.e. thelarger the sign the stricter the control and regulation)
City Acting in Haste and With Insufficient Data to Provide Good Regulatory Guidance
The haste placed by the City on new digital sign by-law amendments short-circuits meaningful publicdebate on the role digital signs should play in our City. The City has also failed to address seriousconcerns in the community about the many detrimental impacts that the introduction of digital signage willinevitably bring. This failure will only serve to repeat (within communities across the City) conflicts,outcries and controversies similar to that which occurred over the introduction of the Royal OttawaHospital Sign.The City has not yet sufficiently evaluated the results from its current pilot program on City-ownedproperty to allow an intelligent roll-out of digital signage. What’s more, the City’s pilot project was toonarrowly focused to guide sweeping city-wide changes in the regulatory environment to allow proliferationof digital signs of all types. Under the circumstances, the City is ill-prepared to construct or enforce anappropriate regulatory regime that protects residents’ safety and their right to enjoyment of their propertyAGAINST industry efforts to install digital signs for profit.In fact, the City’s pilot project appears to have been poorly and superficially conducted based on aconcerted push by the City to allow a prompt introduction of digital signs and billboards at the behest thesign industry. Even if the City were to conclude its pilot program today, it would still be necessary to taketime to reasonably assess the results and appropriately gauge public reaction before instituting newregulations for digital signage throughout the City.
Adverse Impacts of Digital Signs on Neighbouring Residents
One of the principal concerns regarding digital signs is the intensity of illumination and movement addedto the visual environment by this technology. These signs have far more intrusive effects on residentiallyzoned lots and parkland than non-digital illuminated signs. The negative impacts are exacerbated by theintensity of light projected by digital signs. This results in light shining directly into homes and residentialneighbourhoods. Digital signs are also distracting due to their frequently changing messages. All of theseimpacts are often disregarded or dismissed by the industry, so the City must ensure that regulations andreview processes adequately protect residents.The concern over light trespass must not be ignored. It has substantial detrimental impacts on individualsand to the health and well-being of urban core communities, especially to those near traditional mainstreets and those adjacent to gateway nodes to commercial zones. Residents must be protected from thenegative impacts of significant light pollution. The regulations governing location, positioning, setbacksand illumination of digital signs need to be more stringent than is currently the case for existingilluminated signage.
Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Hazards
The City appears ready to accept the sign industry’s arguments that traffic and pedestrian safety are not aconcern. The sign industry has thus far successfully shifted the burden of proof away from itself.However, independent behavioural studies
(see enclosed table of references) show the measurabledistraction and safety risks caused by this technology. With significant traffic safety reports pending fromTCA and FHWA, it would be prudent for the City to place a moratorium on digital signs until these reportsare issued.

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