Posted on

Digital Signage Report

As digital signage continues to proliferate around the country, a new report examines the technical, environmental, economic and regulatory issues surrounding this emerging technology.

Although much attention has been paid to the driver safety impacts of digital signage, there has been relatively little research regarding the environmental and energy-consumption issues raised by this new technology.

This report, Illuminating the Issues, for the first time, provides citizens and regulators with a solid starting point for exploring those issues and sets the ground for further discussion.  The New York Times has even provided coverage of the report with the questions Do Digital Billboards Waste Energy?

The paper was authored by Gregory Young, LEED AP, an architectural designer and urban planner active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, his research was supported by a generous grant from the Samuel F. Fels Fund, and performed in collaboration with Scenic Philadelphia.

Click here to read the report

Posted on

City Council Hears Testimony on 401 Race Signage

Your Voice has been heard! Thank you so much for all your letters and communications to Philadelphia City Council.

Council has reported over 200 emails and letters received on the issue of a hotel proposed for Old City to include a controversial electronic sign and live entertainment. The voices of those who care about Philadelphia’s skyline as well as the safety of our drivers are being heard!

Compelling Testimony Given at yesterday’s City Council session, as Philadelphia residents, representatives from Scenic Philadelphia, AAA as well as environmental groups and civic groups from across the City each voiced their opinions. At the request of Scenic Philadelphia, the representative of AAA gave illuminating testimony on the potential life-threatening effects of having an electronic sign like the one proposed at the foot of a major city gateway like the Ben Franklin Bridge.


Councilmen DiCicco on bill amendments:

Hello All: After further review of the site lines of the proposed digital sign, I have decided based on those graphics that the sign would be visible to the residental communtiy. I will therefore introduce an amendment this Thursday to remove the sign from the current ordinance. I apologize for any inconvinence that this issue may have caused you the residents of Old City and other interested parties. My original support for the sign was based on what I was led to believe, that the sign would only be visible to traffic heading west on the Ben Franklin Bridge and that I would not move forward with the bill until I had evidensce to support that theory. Thank you, Frank

Posted on

Bill 100552

Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:14 Mikhael
City Council will soon consider Bill 100552, which would allow the construction of a six story digital sign as part of a hotel complex in Old City. The proposed sign would be located on a building directly facing drivers traveling into Philadelphia on the Ben Franklin Bridge, an already challenging driving environment.

Bill 100552 deletes the provisions in Philadelphia’s sign control laws that have protected this area of our city from a proliferation of outdoor advertising signs, including digital and full motion video signs, for over 20 years.

Bill 100552 ignores the findings of traffic safety studies that have led other cities such as Houston, St. Louis, Denver, and Los Angeles to place a moratorium or total prohibition on digital billboards.

Bill 100552 also does not incorporate the City’s goals of sustainability since digital billboards are huge energy consumers. In fact, one 1200 square foot digital sign uses more energy than 30 homes. While Philadelphia is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint, the City will remain far from its goal of being the greenest city in America if it allows the proliferation of this energy guzzling technology.

The developer of Franklin Place claims this project cannot be successful without the digital sign. We believe that driver safety, community preservation, aesthetics and energy conservation should trump a poorly designed business plan.

Posted on

Court Allows Citizens 3 Minutes of Testimony at City Council Meetings

Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, Philadelphia residents’ voices can be heard loud and clear if they choose to stand up against the recent “Billboard Bills”(Bill 100552, Bill 100553, and Bill 100720). The ruling provides clear guidelines with regards to who give public comment at council hearings as well as the various other aspects to the process.

The hearings for the above bills have been put on hold, giving the community time to galvanize its efforts to protest this blatant attempt to proliferate billboards and other outdoor advertisement in the city. Below are the deatails of the new guidelines for public commenting procedures at city council hearings:

  • Who may speak: Comments may be offered by Philadelphia residents or taxpayers. No proof of eligibility will be required.
  • In what order: The Chief Clerk of Council will maintain a list of those wishing to speak, and speakers will be heard in the order in which they sign up. To add your name, call the Chief Clerk’s office at 215-686-3410 or 215-686-3411. If you have not called to sign up by 5 pm on the Wednesday before the Council session, you should sign up in Room 400 City Hall before the Council session starts. However, no one will be denied the opportunity to provide public comment because they have not signed up in advance.
  • When: There will be a single public comment period, which will occur immediately before Council votes on bills and resolutions.
  • For how long: Each speaker will have 3 minutes. However, the Council President reserves the right based on circumstances to establish a different time limit. The Council President may also limit repetitious comments in order to enable Council to conduct its meeting.
  • About what: Speakers may comment on any of the bills or resolutions that are on Council’s Calendar (also known as the Agenda) for possible action at that day’s Council session, even if those items are not actually called up for a vote. This consists of any items on the “Final Passage” and “Second Reading and Final Passage” sections of the Calendar.
Posted on

Billboards in the ‘Burbs 2.0

Billboards are a hot topic in suburbia too.  Several Delaware County communities have been fighting billboards and a company known as Bartkowski Investment Group or B.I.G for over a year now.  Like the other major outdoor advertisement companies, they want to erect some big billboards in Delaware County. One of the Delco Communities not taking this lying down is Haverford Township.The first billboard hearing in Haverford Township was May 2009, and the hearings have not yet concludedwith the case still being heard by Haverford Township’s Zoning Hearing Board.

In Haverford Township, the battle has been quite heated and neighboring municipality of Lower Merion Township has been involved as well due to the fact that the signage proposed for Bryn Mawr in Haverford Township is directly across the road (Lancaster Avenue) from Lower Merion Township and visible to its residents.  Suffice it to say, just like their more urban neighbors, suburban residents are exercising their rights to say “no” to billboards and fight for their communities.

Haverford Township demonstrating the height of potential billboards.

Residents have a duty to be involved in issues that affect their communities.  The bottom line is simple: people have a right to have opinions contrary to the legal cases in favor of billboards that attorneys put forth to support the billboard cause.  After all, the First Amendment is a two-way street: billboard owners use it as a defense in favor of erecting billboards, and residents have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights in opposition to the visual blight that  are billboards. And remember, four states in this country prohibit billboards: Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont.  In addition, two other states, Rhode Island and Oregon have prohibited the construction of new billboards. For further information on the Delaware County Billboards fight, please visit:

Posted on

Knight Foundation study: Aesthetics gain support in the face of DiCicco’s “Billboard bills”

Scenic America
While it seems intuitive that a community characterized by beauty and green spaces might be attractive to residents, researchers are now establishing the critical nature of aesthetics to community attachment and well-being. In fact, extensive research conducted by Gallup and The Knight Foundation for the Knight Soul of The Community project has shown that aesthetics is one of the three most important qualities in determining community attachment. Beauty, along with openness and social offerings, was consistently rated by residents as a key driver for community attachment ahead of other areas such as local economy, leadership and safety.


These important findings buttress additional research conducted recently. (See for example this study conducted by Richard Florida for the Martin Prosperity Institute.) The research conducted Soul of the Community Project has also shown that that beauty and the other key drivers of community attachment also correlate highly with local economic growth. So for community leaders looking to inspire passion and loyalty in residents as well as growing the local economy, fostering policies and programs that lead to good aesthetics and green spaces is a great place to start.
To read more about the updates with Councilman DiCicco’s recently proposed bills visit PlanPhilly.
Posted on

45 years on, Highway Beautification Act still fails to live up to promise

October 22, 2010
WASHINGTON – On October 22, 1965 President Johnson signed into law the Highway Beautification Act (HBA), legislation intended to clean up and protect the roadsides of America’s growing interstate and federal-aid primary highway systems.

The driving force behind the bill was Lady Bird Johnson, a special hero to Scenic America who believed that beauty is not a luxury, and that our landscapes have an intrinsic value that should not be ignored or defiled. Lady Bird intended for the HBA to result in a drastic reduction in the number of billboards lining our country’s roads, to be replaced by scenic landscaping enhancements such as wildflowers and native plants.


A Missouri highway scarred by billboards.

Unfortunately, the HBA has largely failed to live up to its promise, having been tainted from the earliest planning stages by the billboard lobby and other corporate interests. Crippled by amendments, loopholes, inadequate appropriations for the program and a lack of enforcement, the HBA has become a protective tool for the billboard industry, which, unsurprisingly, portrays it as “a law that works.”

The fact is, as the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General said in 1984, the HBA “has been ineffective in improving highway beautification as the number of signs located adjacent to the nation’s highways continues to increase…It has had little impact on enhancing the scenic and recreational value of our highways.”

Upon its signing President Johnson said, “This bill does not represent everything that we wanted. It does not represent what we need. It does not represent what the national interest requires. But it is a first step, and there will be other steps.”

As we recognize the 45th anniversary of the bill’s signing, it is clear that we will have to take many steps forward if the HBA is ever to be effective at achieving the goals of Lady Bird and all those who share her vision of a more beautiful America.

Unblemished highway of billboard-free Vermont.

For more information on the Highway Beautification Act, visit:

Contact: Max Ashburn, Communications Director, Scenic America, or 202.638.1839

Posted on

URGENT: Fairmount Park Ordinance

Input is requested on a new ordinance proposed by the Commission on Parks and Recreation.  The ordinance titled “Protecting Public Lands” lays out a process by which a private entity can purchase, lease or alter the use of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park and recreational grounds.

In summary, a private party must submit an alternative use analysis report to the Parks Advisory, and City Council.  After review the Commission makes a recommendation to City Council, who is not bound by the recommendation, but must give it increased weight. The report if approved by council could then result in the sale, transfer, altered use of sections of Fairmont Park, or Recreation Land in the City.

Scenic Philadelphia’s attorneys are working on making a recommendation to include stronger language with a more robust process to be sure Philadelphia’s Parkland is protected for generations to come.

To read the ordinance and share your concerns

  • go to
  • Attend Public testimony and Commission response to public comments andquestions at the Commission Meeting on 10/27/10  at 6:00PM at Free Library Commission meeting to vote on final ordinance on 11/17/10
Posted on

Fairmount Park Future in Jeopardy.

The Parks Advisory Council, created by the Department of Parks and Recreation, has presented a draft ordinance that will amend chapter 15-100 of the Philadelphia zoning code.This new ordinance will allow the city to sell land that has previously been designated as public parkland for commercial, industrial, or residential purposes.Not only will this ordinance drastically change the make-up of Philadelphia’s current parkland environment, but it will potentially do so at the expense of the public’s interest.  It directly contradicts long standing legal protections and precedents that have been in place for years for the sole purpose of protecting parks.

While the proposal includes a provision that states that there will be no net loss in the overall amount of parkland in the city, non-recreational development on dedicated parkland is not what many people had in mind when they voted to disband the Fairmount Park Commission. After all, the Fairmount Park Commission’s sole mission and purpose was to protect and preserve Fairmount Park for over 150 years.  This public space that has been a safe haven from the hustle and bustle of urban and industrial development.The current ordinance stipulates that replacement land will be acquired and converted into parkland in other areas in the city.  Instead of using the parks as a place of solace for the people of Philadelphia, it seems like the city would prefer to use it to generate revenue. Click here to see the video of the discussion of this issue hosted on Plan Philly.

Posted on

Shocking Zoning Legislation Proposed by Councilman DiCicco.

Councilman DiCicco introduced legislation, bill 100553, that disregards the visual integrity of communities located along the I-95 corridor.According to Plan Philly, there is a provision that states that these owners can relocate without following any of the proper channels to receive permission or zoning code variances.So, hypothetically, there could currently exist illegal billboards that would be relocated to nearby locations while still retaining their illegal status.Essentially, this bill would allow billboard owners to circumvent the codes that are put in place to protect our city from the blight of visual pollution.

salmon brothers beer 015

Neighborhoods across the city vigorously advocated for bills to be put in place that would protect As a result, it is imperative that the zoning codes be honored instead of disregarded so that the areas surrounding I-95 will not be further scarred by the blemishes of billboards.

I 95 Billboards


Click here to read the Plan Philly article.

Click here to read the bill.


Posted on

Renegade Ads by SEPTA

 img_0527             img_0531

Imagine a world where billboards are as present as street signs.Wherever one turns, one’s gaze will be abruptly interrupted by a bombardment of outdoor advertisement.A world like this must be plagued with a blatant disrespect for the beauty of the environment that is driven by a desire to increase profit margins.Now consider Philadelphia where organizations like SEPTA also show a similar disregard for this city’s environmental well-being; there is a fine line between the two.

If one didn’t know any better, it would be easy to mistake the above fantasy world for present-day Philadelphia.Billboards plague significant portions of the city of Philadelphia.With the way this problem is perpetuated by the lack enforcement of the very laws that guard against it, one would think that there are no laws in place to protect Philadelphia’s visual environment. However this is not the case, for there are complex long-standing codes that have been in place for years for the sole purpose of preventing the explosion of outdoor advertisement that has unfortunately taken place. This is epitomized by the outright disregard for codes and laws that actively prohibit the proliferation of billboards in our city. Instead of using an iron fist, the government turns a blind eye toward all of the advertisement companies and business owners who seek extra profit at our city’s expense.

We have seen examples of this in several different locations, but the latest act of defiance has been seen in the Old City district of Philadelphia.SEPTA has used one of their terminals as a platform for advertisement as the entire structure is completely covered with a Red Bull wall wrap-style sign.Not only is this sign in the public right of way, which is explicitly outlawed in the advertisement code, but it is also located in a historic district where any non-accessory signs are prohibited.This is just one of the many examples of how businesses neglect the law in order to earn some extra cash.This type of disregard for the law has gone on for too long and must be stopped.In order for this to happen, the movement must start from the top with improved leadership and judgment on behalf of those who are supposed to be the leaders of this great city.

We’ve contacted the SEPTA spokesperson, Richard Maloney, and we are waiting for a response.

Call 311 to report any such illegal advertisement in your neighborhood.

Posted on

Commonwealth Court Rules in Favor of Keeping Philadelphia Beautiful

On August 9, 2010, the Court in the case of Callowhill Center Assocs. LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, 2 A.3d 802 (Pa.Commw. Ct 2010)  ruled against Callowhill Center Associates’ appeal against the Zoning Board for its denial of a variance to erect a mega-sized vinyl advertising wall wrap located in a protected area of the Vine Street Corridor.  For the second time, the building owner appeared before the state court appealing a denial of a variance for the 9,750 square foot sign at 413-53 North 7th Street.

Continue reading Commonwealth Court Rules in Favor of Keeping Philadelphia Beautiful

Posted on

Bridesburg Community Battles Billboard Blight


At 4855 James Street, in addition to the adult video store and spaces for parking, there is a double-sided piggy-back billboard  with a total of four sign faces. The owner, Risque Video,

applied for a variance to replace this nonconforming billboard structure to an LED digital billboard whose bright glaring messages will flash and change at 4 to 6 second intervals shining into the homes of several nearby neighbors and a church.

Due to prohibitions against rebuilding nonconforming billboards and putting signs with intermittent and flashing lights within 1,000 feet of residences (14-1604(8)b), the city refused the owner’s request for a permit.

The owner applied for a variance and appeared before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) on April 6.Despite the failure for the owner to show any evidence of hardship the board granted the variance.

Scenic Philadelphia staff found a petition opposing the sign in the file from neighbors living within 500 feet who were directly, adversely and substantially impacted. The Baptist Worship Center, located directly across the street from the billboards was also opposed. Scenic Philadelphia recruited a volunteer attorney, Judge Hall, to represent the church and the residents and he filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.

Risque Video, filed a motion to quash on the grounds that the parties had no had standing to appeal the matter.  Scenic Philadelphia, The Baptist Worship Center and the neighbors filed an answer to the motion to quash, and the court held a motion hearing on Wednesday, August 4th at City Hall, 10:00 in Room 426.

Judge Idee Fox ruled in favor of the church, neighbors, and SCRUB, agreeing with Attorney Hall that the zoning notice had been improperly posted.She remanded the case back to the ZBA for a full hearing.

Upcoming Bridesburg Billboard Case:Owners of the towering 110 foot billboard that stands adjacent to Risque’s billboard is also seeking a variance to rebuild the sign structure.The ZBA hearing on this case is August 18 at 2:00, 1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor.

Posted on

PennDOT Requests Electronic Ads on Highway Signs Used for Traveler Notifications

If state officials get their way, electronic signs along highways informing drivers of accidents, construction sites and traffic jams will also be used to display commercial advertising. Private billboard companies will update and maintain these signs as well as sell advertising space. The revenue will be shared with the state.

As appalling as it sounds, the same sign that tells you to slow down for safety reasons could be used to pitch you the buffet dinner at the next exit, the casinos in the nearest city or promotions for cell phone plans.

Pennsylvania has joined California and Florida in an application to the FHWA to waive the regulations that prohibit commercial advertisements on state controlled, overhead and roadside changeable signs in the right of way. The three states intend to contract with outdoor advertising companies to upgrade the current signs. The signs would be converted to digitalized ones, capable of showing fully colored, changeable, commercial images. They would be used like digital billboards, but they would target motorists looking for crucial traveling information!


Posted on

Scenic Philadelphia Fights the City’s Want of Billboards

Posted Jun 17, 2010

Scenic Philadelphia Fights the City’s Want of Billboards

By Randy LoBasso

Everyone needs a cause, including those against…billboards. They’re called Scenic Philadelphia and they’re suing the city of Philadelphia for a deal the city made with four billboard companies in 2006.

The city agreement, with CBS Outdoor, Steen, Clear Channel and Keystone, takes away legal rights from residents and community groups who want to get rid of billboards, the suit says.

The suit seeks to void the agreement and require that billboard companies comply with existing regulations.


Posted on

Pa. asking feds to allow ads on highway signs

The Associated Press: Updated: 07/03/2010 02:05:52 PM EDT

 HARRISBURG, Pa.—Electronic signs along state highways that warn drivers of accidents, traffic jams and construction could be pitching them products if state officials get their way.

Pennsylvania has joined California and Florida in asking the federal government to allow the sale of advertising on electronic highway signs to generate money to fix roads and bridges.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says the advertising could generate $150 million annually for each state. But traffic safety advocates argue that the ads could distract drivers and pose a road hazard.

The states are asking the Federal Highway Administration to waive several regulations that bar advertisements on overhead and roadside changeable signs. States would contract with private companies to upgrade and maintain the electronic signs, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg said, citing an application it had obtained.

If the waivers are granted by the federal government, state lawmakers would need to sign off on the plan because Pennsylvania law also bars commercial advertising on traffic signs. The state could begin a pilot program to test the idea if the Legislature approves that.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike allows ads on tollbooth windows and ticket machines that generated about $519,000 last year, said Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Advertising has been permitted on tollbooths along the 545 miles of highway since 2000.

Safety organizations say the electronic signs are risky.

“They can be distracting,” said Fairley Mahlum, a spokeswoman for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Most of the current concern centers around some of the new technology that is being used for signs, especially the ones that are big that use very bright LED lights that often change. Something like that could be very distracting.”

Mary Tracy, president of the nonprofit Scenic America, which aims to preserve roadside scenery, said electronic message boards should be identified as a distraction like cell phones.

Posted on

Global Resistance to Billboards Gains Momentum

Is the problem of visual pollution limited to the urban districts of the United States? Residents of Cairo and Mexico City would give a resounding “NO” to this question as the outdoor advertising epidemic has overtaken major cities in Africa, Central and South America.

In Cairo, Egypt, residents as well as government officials have begun to take notice of the growing need to regulate outdoor advertisement.Both have witnessed the natural and architectural beauty of this historic city become overshadowed by the visual pollution that is outdoor advertisement.Despite this glaring issue, little has been done to slow the spread of this cancerous blight.

According to the Denver Post, citizens elsewhere have taken more aggressive approaches.Mexico City, considered one of the busiest and largest cities in the world, has tried to control the explosion of billboard through several aggressive legislative attempts in recent years(some more successful than others). The sentiment is that “[the billboards] are ugly and distract drivers.”

The recent trend that has emerged in places like Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil, show that some cities, where opposition to the dissemination of billboards has reached an all time high, are willing to take strong measures to gain control of their public space.

Posted on

A one-man sign crusade

By Bennett Hall, Gazette-Times reporter | Posted: Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dave Picray is taking the law into his own hands.

On May 11, angry at what he calls “visual pollution,” Picray removed several commercial signs from the public right-of-way along Corvallis streets and lectured some of the owners on the city’s sign ordinance.

He relocated a couple of sandwich boards propped outside the Verizon Wireless store on Northwest Third Street, confiscated a pair of Bula Realty signs planted along Northwest Fourth Street and uprooted a Keller Williams real estate sign on Northwest Walnut Boulevard.

According to Picray, city code prohibits such signs in public areas such as sidewalks and parking strips, the patch of ground between the sidewalk and the curb. But that provision is widely ignored, leading to a proliferation of sandwich boards, lawn signs and other freestanding advertisements all over town.

Posted on

Visual Pollution Along the Nile







Looking at the epidemic that is outdoor advertisement in Philadelphia, one would not think that the same blight could be seen along the Nile River, one of the great natural wonders of the world. In previous years one could walk along the historic river and enjoy everything that it has to offer as an aesthetic beauty. However, now one’s attention will be jarred by the numerous billboards that sprawl over the once beautiful Egyptian landscape in Cairo, one the major centers of life in the African continent.

In his article appropriately titled, “Billboard Blitz (Drink This!) Alters Landscape (Buy That!) of City,” Michael Slackman of the NY Times discusses the emergence of a new issue for the everyday people of Cairo to deal with.  This issue is one that stems from the recent outburst of outdoor advertisement throughout the city. This trend is seen throughout all of Africa’s major metropolises as the rate of commercialization has reached an all-time high. As a result, we are all witnesses to the atrocities that can take place when wise government policy making takes a backseat to maximizing profits.

Read more about how billboards are affecting people’s lives in Cairo.