Opponents Sue to Stew Onrush of Flashing Digital Billboards
By Neal Peirce
Hardly a DriverIs Now AliveWho Passed On HillsAt 75Burma-Shave
Once upon a time, advertising in America was fun. As a boy, I didn’t want to miss the Burma Shave jingles – one line per sign in a quick roadside series – as my father took me on my first drive across America.
Today it’s different. Massive, glaring, digital billboards, commandeering attention as they flash new messages every few seconds, are proliferating across most states.
Around 2005, the first appeared. By 2008, there were 1,800. Last year there were 3,600, and this year the figure is likely to be close to 5,000. The industry (some 250 independent contractors) is licking its chops. It reports the cost of new boards is dropping rapidly, the “dynamic new content” allegedly outperforms television, radio and newspaper ads, and there’s “an increasingly favorable regulatory environment” – states and cities agreeing to the signs.
Unless, of course, regulations strike back. That’s precisely what Scenic America, a nonprofit public interest group, is trying to force. It has sued in federal court to force the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to clamp down, to reverse its 2007 ruling that permitted the garish signs as long as they don’t flash new images more frequently than every four seconds.
How the “Bikelash” Faded in New York and Other Cities
By Jay Walljasper
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch envisioned bicycles as vehicles for the future, and in 1980 created experimental bike lanes on Sixth and Seventh avenues in Manhattan where riders were protected from traffic by asphalt barriers. Some people immediately roared their disapproval and within a few weeks the bike lanes were gone.
Twenty-seven years later New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan saw the growing ranks of bicyclists on the streets as a key component of 21st-century transportation and began building protected bike lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
These “green lanes” were an immediate hit with the public, but a noisy reaction came from a small group of well-connected people. ANew York magazine cover declared the situation a “Bikelash.”
Pressure grew for Bloomberg to sack Sadik-Khan and rip out the green lanes. Anthony Weiner, then a member of Congress from Queens and mayoral hopeful, told Bloomberg he would spend his first year as mayor attending “a bunch of ribbon cuttings tearing out your bike lanes.” Bicyclists everywhere braced for a setback, which would once again slow progress toward safer streets in New York and around the continent.
Two years later, Sadik-Khan is still commissioner, Weiner has had well-publicized Twitter problems, and bike lanes continue appearing across the city, including 11.3 new miles of green lanes last year alone. Two-thirds of New Yorkers call bike lanes a good idea in the most recent New York Times poll, compared to only 27 percent who oppose them.