I wrote Saturday
that the Little Rock Board of Directors is about to approve a deal with the billboard industry to allow conversion of some billboards on Interstate 630 and Shackleford Road to expensive and flashy digital billboards — a conversion that all but guarantees they’ll never expire as facts of life on nominally “scenic” corridors.

The deal is that — in return for conversion of existing billboards to digital (lighted) displays — some billboards elsewhere will be taken down and the cap on city billboards reduced by that number. (It’s not clear if the city will pay from its billboard removal fund for those boards taken out of service)

City Director Ken Richardson raised an issue about this Tuesday that isn’t considered in the ordinance:

Electronic signs size and brightness are a contributing factor to the quality of life and driver safety when dealing with digital format billboards.

We should review the International Sign Association’s paper Recommended Night-time Brightness Levels for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers (EMC’s)..

The International Sign Association’s paper does address the importance of ensuring appropriate night-time brightness, recommended brightness standards, and brightness measurement methodology. The paper also has specific recommended legislative language concerning digital format billboards (EMC’s) .

The billboard industry can be expected to say that it takes these issues into account and, at least so far as U.S. highways are concerned, is bound by existing regulations. That doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t be looking out for its citizens rather than simply rubber-stamping a deal put together by a billboard company.

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The deal allows conversion of four billboards — three on I-630 in Richardson’s part of the city and one at Shackleford and Kanis — to digital and removal of up to 13 elsewhere As yet, no information has been provided on which 13 would be removed. I’d like to see what the industry is giving up.

Personal disclosure: I spent the summer of 1968 working in the billboard industry from the ground up. I dug post holes, cut weeds, scraped poster panels, creosoted the planks on which billboard posters walked and otherwise sweated in the humid Louisiana sun for Lamar Advertising.  I ate lunch lying under our truck to get a little shade. I vowed to have a career in an air conditioned office.

The proposal is on the agenda for the next City Board meeting, April 5.

UPDATE: Richardson says the billboard company has assured him it won’t seek money from the city for any billboards removed. But he said he has still been unable to get a firm commitment on the number to be taken down and any locations. Plus, he’s also seeking a commitment on which billoards on I-630 might become digital. The boards between University and Fair Park are a particular concern to me. Merging and exiting traffic there is already dangerous. More distractions wouldn’t be helpful.