(Note: I did an interview on CBC about this issue on Oct 7. Listen here)
When Dundas Square was proposed, and public concern was raised about the proliferation of annoying LED billboards in the city we were told not to worry. “This is ONLY for Dundas Square”, we were told. “We won’t allow huge electronic billboards in other areas of the city”.
Well, guess what? Once again, the incremental intrusion of the Outdoor Advertising industry is about to take a huge leap forward – and it’s NOT in Dundas Square.
A report is going to the Planning and Growth Management Committee at City Hall tomorrow, proposing SEVENTEEN new LED screens in Toronto, at ten locations. These locations include many residential areas – including the neighbourhood I grew up in – York Mills and Leslie.
The residents of these neighbourhoods have NOT been properly notified, which violates the intent of Toronto’s new Sign Bylaw which is supposed to guarantee community consultation for corporate advertising in public spaces. It also violates our Mayor’s commitment to ‘transparency’ and ‘listening to taxpayers’.
For now, these signs would only show ‘static’ digital images, rather than motion video. But the images would change every few seconds, they would be incredibly bright, and would no doubt lead to motion video down the road.
The argument in favour of these new signs, is that the ad company will remove a whole bunch of regular billboards in exchange for these new video signs. City staff have calculated that this will amount to an overall reduction in signage and help us “manage the impact and contribution of signage to the visual character of the City’s public realm.” They are wrong. Their math is horribly flawed because they are only looking at one factor: square feet of signage. They have no system for measuring the impact of factors such as brightness and motion. Personally, I’d rather have 100 static billboards in my neighbourhood – than a single LED billboard.
I would suggest a few ideas to the Committee:
1) Each of these LED billboards should have to go through the proper Variance procedure.
2) Affected residents should be notified and given ample opportunity to provide feedback.
3) If the project proceeds, it should move forward as a pilot project with a single sign, followed by a community opinion survey.
4) Any signs slated for removal, that do NOT have proper sign permits, should not be included in this staff report. They should simply be removed, for violating Toronto’s sign bylaw.
5) Staff should investigate and report on any studies that look at the potential safety hazards of electronic signage in highways and arterials, in terms of distracting drivers.
(You can send your opinion to the Committee by clicking on the “submit comments” button at the top of THIS page.)
These electronic billboards are popping up across North America, and in many cases the community response has been very negative. Let’s move slowly on this, and make sure that we’re taking the right steps, and giving residents a chance to participate in the process. Otherwise we could find ourselves in a big mess, as other cities have found.