Monday, October 27, 2008

Chesterfield County: A "Sign" of the Future

Many of you have emailed me about the yesterdays piece in the Times-Dispatch regarding the issue of electronic signs and bulletin boards being approved by the County. The Board of Supervisors will hear two cases regarding signs in Midlothian District:

1. 08SN0224- Heritage Signs for a sign at 1231 Gateway Center Parkway

2. 08SN0235- Holiday Signs- a sign at the corner of Hull Street and Turner Road

Though niether of these cases impact the Robious Road corridor, the Robious Road Community Coalition (RRCC) is well aware that any precedent set by such cases will surely impact the business areas in and around the Robious community. Just as the Village of Midothian Volunteer Coalition is concerned about maintaining the charm of the Village of Midlothian, the RRCC wants to ensure that no measure is taken that could result in further expansion of the County sign policy with regard to electronic signs.

Currently, "Villages" are prohibited but as witnessed in the Mataoca High sign case the Board has been inclined to provide exception. In this case, the sign was approved 3-2 for placement, though signs in the County policy are to be excluded from residential areas and rural areas. The sign in this case was not even positioned in the front of the school.

Case number 08SN0235 will demonstrate how serious the Board is at adhearing to the current policy given Hull Street road has been considered a "no-sign" zone for quite some time. Should the Board make an exception in this case it could open the door to more attempts for placements along the entire Hull Street corridor. And if Hull Street is opened up, why not Midlothian, Rt. 10, Courthouse or Huguenot and Robious?

The Board should endeavor to create a new policy if it so wishes and present such policy before the People in public session to be heard. The idea of making exceptions to the current policy has very little transparency and many never learn of such exception until the sign is erected.

The question the Board faces is that with the increase of mixed-use developments incorporating residential, commercial and retail, a policy needs to be inacted that can set the standards for just how and where an electronic sign can be implemented by the business community. Obviously, size and shape of the sign is of major concern as well.

Frankly, and this is unrelated to the electronic sign debate, I find all these signs for leasing firms to be nothing more that ornaments of blight. If you drive down Rt. 60 or Rt360 from the East it is wall to wall leasing signs out on the road system. Nothing smacks more of "commercial sprawl" that large yellow and blue now leasing signs throughout the district. It is my view that these signs should only be in the window and not on the roadway. We should be looking at things aesthetically as well, especially if we seek to attract homeowners to our older areas that flank these commercial corridors. If you are coming from out of state and you see all these signs, what do you think the takeaway is; how about an area in "decline".

I realize that signs and cell towers appear to be minor issues on th surface, but they all go to what the future will be here within our community and what our community will look like.


Anonymous said...

1) Do You still want the American dream & opportunity to work hard & achieve success, paying your share of taxes to help others, & choosing your own add'l. ways to help others, maybe in a church hcarity, or a public charity, or even on your own.


2) Do You just want hand-outs from the government, keeping you in one place forever. Remember, in this government, if you achieve higher, your pay will be confiscated by higher taxes, & redistributed to those who don't work, or make very low pay. You also will not be able to build an estate for your children ( a house, insurance policy, & any cash, etc. ) as the govt. will take more than halfl of it upon your death.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what Anon question has to do with electronic signs, but I for one am someone who does not feel government should be in the business of being the life preserver of industry.
Business that succeed should be rewarded, those that do not succeed should fail. Don't like that standard; become a non-profit and get out of everybody elses way.

Anonymous said...

Here is where Chester sits...

WHEREAS there is a proposal to be heard before the planning commission on November 18, 2008 related to the placement of Electronic Message Center Signs in Chesterfield County.

WHEREAS according to a study completed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation in April 2006 entitled The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data determined through a major study of driver inattention that:
• Any distraction of over two seconds is a potential cause of crashes and near crashes.
• 23% of all crashes and near-crashes that occur in metropolitan environments are attributed to eyes off the forward roadway for two seconds
• Nearly 80% of the crashes and 65% of near crashes were caused by distractions that made the driver look away for up to 3 seconds.

WHEREAS according to a study completed by Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1937, 2005 entitled Traffic Safety Evaluation of Video Advertising Signs finds that “On the basis of the eye fixation study and the public survey data, it is apparent that video advertising can distract drivers inappropriately and lead to individual crashes,.

WHEREAS according to current website advertising for Electronic Message Center Sign products, digital signs are designed to pull drivers’ attention from the roadway using bright lights, vibrant colors, and image changes or motion.

WHEREAS Electronic Message Center Signs are the brightest object in driver’s field of vision and attracts inadvertent and unwilling glances. In addition, intermittent messages cause glances to linger. These factors compete for drivers’ attention with the safe and efficient operation of traffic control signals

WHEREAS these Electronic Message Center Sign products will divert driver attention from official traffic control devices and real time traffic conditions that are necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the vehicles.

WHEREAS complex advertising messages take longer than two seconds to comprehend

WHEREAS traffic control signal clearance intervals range from 3 to 6 seconds and require drivers full attention based upon a perception reaction time of 1 second, a deceleration rate of 10 ft/s2 and traveling the posted speed limit.

WHEREAS Chesterfield County’s traffic control signals have the heaviest traffic volumes with the most complex driving tasks, particularly for young drivers.

WHEREAS many of the over 2,500 annual injuries and deaths in Chesterfield occurring at or near the approximately 230 signalized intersections. The worst signalized intersection experienced 48 deaths or injuries with the average experiencing 10 injuries or deaths per signalized intersection in a three year period.

WHEREAS the aforementioned facts present the use of Electronic Message Center Signs near traffic control signals as a public safety hazard in Chesterfield County and it is the role of Planning Commission to protect and promote the health, safety, and well being of its citizens.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Chester Community Association requests that no Electronic Message Center Signs be allowed within 500 feet of any traffic control signal and further request the proposed ordinance before the planning commission include language prohibiting the use thereof.

J.T. said...

Sounds to me like the Robious Road Community Coalition (RRCC), the Village of Midlothian Volunteer Coalition and the Chester Community Association shall align in opposition to such electronic signs not only in the Village areas of Chester and Midlothian but along our major roadways as well.
We will soon learn just how much this Board places safety above business interests in the County and the Chamber of Commerce.

Anonymous said...

Cell phone towers should be able to be installed at church sites up in the steples where they are virtually invisible to passerbys.

Huguenot Road Baptist Church has one and you would not even know it and it is my undertanding that it provides a stream of revenue for the churches to use as well.

These are the things the County should be getting behind and not blocking them. It makes no sense to grow the way Cehsterfield has gorwn and invite thousands of new residents on the one hand and then not provide the means of availability of service for cell towers for those citizens.

Anonymous said...

The Planning Commission recently approved an electronic sign proposal for Robious Road on behalf of Victory Lady Fitness Center though staff recommended denial.

It seems there is a rush of these cases in order to get in under the radar or before the policy is changed.

Anonymous said...

Funny how the this discussion of oppressing small businesses's opportunities to succeed in the county would be posted on a blog enititled "ALTER of Freedom" Maybe the blog should be renamed "AlTERING of Freedom". How will those who oppose the newest techonogical advances in business advertising feel when businesses in your commuinty fail because they were forced to use out dated advertising mediums? Small businesses are suffering and we should provide the ones in our community with every advantage to not only survive but suceed. The individual who posted the comment citing studies of traffic accidents is only telling half of the story. I see no mention in these cherry picked comments that relate directly to signs. Instead they relate to driver distraction. Driver distraction can be caused by many things other than signs. How many of you have every driven down a county or country road with no signs at all and looked away from the road for 2-3 seconds at something? Maybe a deer in a field or a car for sale in someone's yard? Or maybe in an urban area where you saw someone walking down the street that you thought you knew. Ever change the radio, pick up a cell phone to see who was calliing, see a helicoptor hovering over an area, eat while driving? The facts are that there are many many things that can distract drivers. Most metro areas are loaded with distractions, that is just a fact of life. Well designed and appopriately sized signs actually promote traffic safety by informing drivers of their intended destination so that they have time to plan to make the turn they need.
This individual also cited a study about VIDEO Advertising, however, Chesterfield County is NOT considering the allowance of VIDEO to be used on Electronic Message Centers that are approved for placement in the county. They are also considering a hold time of changeable message ranging from 6-10 seconds with no fancy flashing or scorlling messages.
There are many studies that have found that Electonic Message Centers have no negative impact on the flow of traffic or saftey. The SBA has an article on their website entitled: "Electronic Message Centers: Safe and Legal". I would invite anyone who is concerned to read the article. Furhermore, if Electronic Message Centers are such a traffic saftey hazzard, then why would the Federal Highway Adminstation and VDOT be installing and using them on the most heavily traveled roads, where the traffic is traveling at the highest speeds, ie., Interstates? While many in Chestefield County are oppressing the advancement of our community, many businesses are locating or relocating to our neighboring communities with less restrictions in order to be able to maintain a viable business venture.

Anonymous said...

Well gosh... Electronic signs must be great!

(That's why you need all of this stuff to argue for them?)

I'm skeptical allowing these fancy signs around our traffic signals...

I think making a lane change or a turning decision well before a traffic signal is appropriate and a city block ahead seems reasonable to me to allow a motorist to see a fancy sign and turn into a business.

We are not recommending the prohibition of these fancy signs that will save our businesses... we are looking to eliminate as many distractions where most of Chesterfield's injuries and deaths occur.... at or near traffic signals...

Gosh! Fancy signs save the world...

Anonymous said...

WHEREAS, someone has not looked at the subject objectively; there are just as many, if not more, studies citing the safeness as the negative impact about LED signs. Ask: James R. Barrett, C.P.E.S.C.
Regulatory and Compliance Manager
Asset Management Division

“Our study has turned up no accidents reported to local police in the vicinity of the digital signs we’ve been monitoring.”

Maybe you are not recommending the "prohibition" of LED signs but you are discriminating against businesses within 500 feet of a traffic signaled intersection when there is absolutely no scientific proof that these signs cause any more of a distraction than an ordinary sign or other event.
So any business with a location within 500 feet of an intersection shouldn’t be allowed to have the same sign allowances as a business 502 feet from an intersection? That sounds a little like discrimination to me. As a business owner in Chesterfield County, I fail to see the fairness in that way of thinking.

In addition, most of these signs as with all freestanding signs would be placed in the direct vision angles that the driver would be looking at as they drive forward. The drivers would not be required to look left or right to see these types of signs. They are placed in the direct site line of drivers.

As a business owner interested in these types of signs to increase my business, I have done my fair share of research, and have determined that there is not clear answer here. I don’t think that I would want full video capabilities to be allowed on these signs as I would suspect that that type of action would be distracting, however, I can find no research that says such. I would definitely need more scientific study to make a judgment on that case.

These types of signs should be regulated, of that I am absolutely positive. However, they should be regulating fairly across the board. No business should be “punished” just because they are located within a certain distance of an intersection, a park, a childcare, a school or any other discriminating criteria, unless there is ample proof that this type of placement would be detrimental to the safety of the public. That which I have yet to see, but am still wiliing to consider if it is shown.

Anonymous said...

Burning the midnight oil... maybe a full night sleep may be best for your business...

Let's use some commonsense... distractions of any kind increase crashes. You want to put up a fancy sign right next to a traffic signal and place the fancy sign so that it competes with the drivers' attention and the traffic signal. Not only that you want to place a fancy sign in "direct line of sight"... Smart... Death and injuries are sure to follow. I don't need a study to tell me that...

Jim Barrett is a nice fellow; however, he is not an engineer and certainly not qualified to make blanket statements about the subject that transfer over to Chesterfield County policy.

You like the word discrimination a lot... How about developing a good business plan for once... It seems real shaky to me that you need a fancy sign to save your business...

Maybe if you looked at it from a public interest standpoint, you would see the error of your fancy sign mentality...

No fancy signs next to traffic signals!

Anonymous said...

My business is doing fine and I have a good business plan, thank you. However, as any good business person, I am always looking for and open to ideas that can increase my business and it is proven that these types of signs generate an increase in most businesses that utilize them.
You really sound anti-sign and anti-business with your “whereas” statements which refer to no actual scientific studies related to signs. Your comments argue more against distractions than the actual signs. Distractions do cause accidents. We can agree on that, however, there are many distractions along our roadways. Maybe we should outlaw people jogging along the heaviest traveled corridors of our community like say Route 10 there in Chester. Or maybe we should only allow that activity for unattractive people; after all they will most certainly be less of a distraction than attractive people. Maybe if we remove all of the distractions from our major roadways, maybe there would be no accidents at all. Yeah right.
All freestanding signs are placed in the direct line of site of the driver, not just these types of signs. They are placed that way to eliminate the driver from having to look sideways to see where things are. Maybe you are unaware of the fact that there is already a precedent set for these types of signs in Chesterfield County and a few of them are well within 500 feet of an intersection. I haven’t seen a single news story or report that there have been any accidents in the vicinity of these signs nor have I seen any news story or report where these types of signs were listed as the direct cause of an accident. True that Jim Barrett is probably not an engineer, however, his degree is irrelevant. What is relevant is the statistics which he cites. Why would one need to be an engineer to be able to understand the data that is available? All on really needs is to be able to read and comprehend the available data with an open mind.
I am not sure of the actual percentage, but I would venture to guess that there are a pretty substantial number of businesses in Chesterfield County that are located within 500 feet of a traffic signal and it just seems unfair to me to allow these type of signs for some business but not others.
Look, I am not for the unregulated proliferation of these types of signs. I agree that they do need to be regulated. And I am not, as you say, recommending that they be placed “right next to a traffic signal”, but I find it to be a little unfair to single out businesses within 500 feet of an intersection and lock them out from being able to use the tool. No signs can be placed right next to a traffic signal anyway, if you have read the Chesterfield County sign regulations or if you have ever purchased a sign, then you know that there are setback requirements for the placement of freestanding signs.
It is apparent that you have read a few studies on “Driver Distraction” and automatically interpreted them to mean digital signs. Have you read any studies on actual Electronic Signs?
I am all for protecting the public interest and am most certainly for promotion of public safety, what kind of person wouldn't be for that? However, I try to make my judgments on actual data. Your right, you don’t need studies to tell you what you believe, for those studies just may contradict your opinion and you have already made up your mind on the subject without looking at the issue objectively.

Anonymous said...

Let's just focus on the fancy sign studies then... I'll select a few...

The current major national study is entitled, "Safety Impacts of the Emerging Digital Display Technology for Outdoor Advertising Signs". It will be released at the end of the year. Why would anyone, let alone the National Cooperative Highway Research Program funded by the Transportation Research Board, want to study such an issue if there is no concern?

Jerry Wachtel, a nationally respected human factors researcher is currently wrapping up his research and his preliminary findings about the fancy signs have caught the attention of highway safety engineers across the country. That study is currently under peer review.

His peer review of some of the other "studies" conducted by the Outdoor Advertising companies was not favorable due to their biased findings...

There is a Federal Highway Administration Study underway. The Transportation Research Board has formed a subcommittee this past January due to safety concerns. This has also been a major topic at the State Traffic Engineers annual meeting this past June.

You are on the wrong side of this issue. When a private business puts the public safety aside, government regulation is needed.

The question is this... Should the government through its regulations exacerbate an existing high crash location with additional known distractions.

Midlothian is ranked 12th in the state for injury and death. Hull is ranked 16th. It is your customers on those roads. And you want to add more distractions. Unbelievable!

I believe a private business seeking additional traffic should look for a safer means of advertising around traffic signals. If there are folks who don't believe it, then I think they are placing their profit margins ahead of the health, safety, and welfare of the general motoring public.

One thing that people have a finite amount of is their attention. When a driver is distracted and not focus on the signal indications from green to yellow to red, crashes occur.

These fancy signs are distractions; otherwise they would not be effective if they weren't.

Why would one want divide someone's attention and cause a crashes resulting in severe injuries or death?

But you have already convinced yourself that the fancy signs are your savior... go for it!

Anonymous said...

Wow!! You two are really on opposite ends of this discussion. Is there no happy medium? I see the anti-sign person's point and I also see the pro-sign business owners point. These signs are not new, so there has to be some data about their safety and effectiveness that could be used to make a interlligent & fair decision on how to regulate them.

Anonymous said...

The happy medium is fair and balance regulation that takes both the community safety and the businees owner's interest to heart. The anti-sign person has once again mis-interpretted my statements. Their response indicates that I am for these types of signs regardless of the consequences. That is simply not true. What I am for is a fair and balanced regulation. The current regulation policy is simply not working. The policy is out dated. I am all for regulation that puts safety at the front, however, if we are going to regulate them harshly based on a perceived issue with the safety of them, I think that it would only be fair to compare the data of various studies to come to an intelligent conclusion as opposed to regulating with a knee-jerk reaction based on perception and not based on statistical data. The anti-sign person has their beliefs againt the safety of the signs. No matter how many studies or how much data is provided to the contrary, this person will still believe what they believe. They have yet to agree with one point that I have made, I on the other hand have agreed with several points that they have made. This person's mind is made up. They are biased on this issue and lack objectivity. I am not on the wrong side of the issue, I am in the middle of the issue. As a business owner, I believe that I should be allowed to advertise my business in the most cost effective way possible and that my access to these types of signs should be equal to all other businesses in the county. As a parent and person, I also see the other side of the aisle and the concern over safety. I certianly wouldn't want to have a sign that caused someone to get injured or killed, but I just don't see any actual data backing up the safety argument. I know there are safety concerns over these types of signs as there should be. And studies have been done and are continueing to be done. However, I haven't seen any conclusive data that they are unsafe.
I also believe that some people within the county are against these types of signs no matter what. They are anti-sign and anti-business because they want Chesterfield to be the way it was 30 years ago. They are against the progression of our community and always will be.

Anonymous said...

Remember in any argument to capture the middle... I'll just label you the anti-safety person... M-kay?

Unless highway safety is your field of expertise, then express what the experts are saying...

Here are what the experts are concerned about...

 Their brightness at night can overpower driver’s ability to see traffic signals and brake lights; can cause glare – temporary blindness, particularly with older drivers; can attract eye gaze from enormous distances
 High visual fidelity can attract and hold attention longer
 Periodic image change can have visual effect of flashing
 Messages can be “sequenced” to hold attention longer
 No acclimation; displayed message can be always novel
 Targeted messages can be very distracting

How Are these Safety Concerns Manifested?
 Driver distraction increasingly recognized as safety concern
 Particularly on urban arterials with high speed, high volume traffic
 Can cause traffic delays as drivers slow to read messages
 Can attract drivers’ gaze farther away, repeated looks, longer time
 Image quality plus interest can compel longer glances
 Frequently changing messages can compel more glances
 Sequenced messages can hold gaze until entire message can be read
 Brightness and flashing appearance captures attention at greater distances
 Multiple electronic signs in close proximity exacerbates these concerns

We agreed that the fancy signs should be regulated and we agreed that they should not be put in conflict with the operation of our traffic control signals... You are not clear as to what provisions you would include to limit the distractions near traffic control signals; although, you recognize the inherent dangers.

Interestingly you did not comment on my fancy sign studies or sources...

When presented with the facts, does one change their mind? From a crash perspective, we are most at risk at our signalized intersections. What would you do to regulate this fancy signs around our traffic signals to reduce their inherent distraction to motorists.

Anonymous said...

Your fancy sign studies were not commented on because they contain no factual evidence. Just as your last post citing the CONCERNS of so called experts contained no factual evidence. Statistics or actual data would be a far more compelling way to back up your argument than the citing of people's concerns and opinions. The fact is there is no evidence that these types of signs are safety hazzards, at least not that i can find or that you have presented. If you know where I can locate statistical data or factual eveidence as opposed to opinions and concerns, by all means, please lead me to the promised land.
I would suggest if Chesterfield County really wants to make an informed decesion on how to regulate these types of signs then they should pull the statistical crash data from several locations containing these types of signs.

I know from my research on these types of signs that many have automatic dimming features. The brightness at night is not as bright as it is in the daytime because it doesn't need to be. I also know from personal experience riding by these types of signs that they are normally placed a decent distance from the roadway. I haven't personally found them to be distracting at all. I also know, according to some of the articles that I have read on the subject, that Chesterfield County will most likely regulate how often the signs would be allowed to change messages. I don't believe that they will be allowing animation, video, flashing or scrolling text either. These seem like reasonable restrictions to promote the public safety to me. However, apparantly they are not enough to satisfy you. Would I change my mind if I were presented with facts? Maybe so, however, with all due respect, you have presented NO FACTS, merely opinions and concerns. Please present me some factual information instead of opinions and concerns and maybe I would change my mind.

Anonymous said...

Nice... I quote respected research in the field of highway safety and you say I have not presented any facts... pretty convenient...

It should be just as easy for you to prove the opposite case. Prove to me that not one crash has occurred as a result of the fancy signs.

The fact is that these fancy signs are inherently dangerous around traffic signals. You even agreed to that point.

Here are some recommendations from the experts to include in proposed ordinances:

>Site specific brightness control based on ambient light and driving task
>Prevent multiple signs within visual range to reduce potential for message sequencing
>Site specific message change interval based on sight distance
>Prohibit at locations of high task demands, or high accident locations

Now look at that last recommendation... why would they even mention it? In Chesterfield County, traffic signals are high crash locations and have high task demands of the driver. You just agreed with the language in the first bullet on dimming at night... Congrats! Why don't you take a stab at agreeing with points 2 through 4...

Oh that's right... you are a bottomline type person who needs statistics or something...

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am a bottom line person. I am the type of person who doesn't believe something based solely on opinion, concern, or theory. I need proof that this is the way things are. I rely on actual data to make choices as opposed to biased opinions. Everyone has an opinion and rarely does everyone see something from the same point of view. Opinions and theories don't prove anything. The VDOT official said that they didn't have any increase in accident reports in the vicinity of these types of signs that they are monitoring. Sounds like a plausible, statistical and factual comment to me and a contradiction of your stance, but you dismiss his comment because "he is not an engineer". I just want to see something official that says they aren't safe. Statistics would be nice, for sure, because numbers are normally black and white, not much gray area in numbers. Take the number of accidents in certain areas before the placement of an Electronic Message Center vs. the number of accidents after. If these types of signs are truly such a hazard then these statistics should show a substantial increase in the number of accidents in the vicinity of a large number of these types of signs. Wouldn't you agree? We don't need to experiment in our community in order to look at the statistics. I am sure there are many comparable communities that already have these types of signs. I know that our neighboring communities have a few, let’s look at their statistics as well as statics of other communities which are comparable to Chesterfield. Since we already have these types of signs in Chesterfield, we could even look at our own statistical data.

Anonymous said...

These types of signs are MURDERERS and should be placed in the same arena as guns and bullets!!

Anonymous said...

I am a business owner in Henrico County, VA and I have one of these signs. My electronic message center is a full color unit and is located within 300 feet of an intersection that is controlled by traffic lights. I haven't seen any increase in accidents since my sign was installed 2 years ago. However, I have seen an increase in my business. I see the safety concern point of view but don't see that these signs are any more distracting that any other type of sign. We are not allowed per the ordinance to change the message more often than every 10 seconds and we are also not allowed to have flashing or animation either. My investment was well worth it and I have had no complaints from the community.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Henrico County Business Owner. Someone was finally able to comprehend the point I was trying to make: These signs are no more of a distraction than any other type of sign or event. I have no problem with regulation of these signs, size, dimming them at night, min. message interval. I have issue with singling out businesses located near an intersection and telling them they can't have one, but their competion up the street 300 feet can, especially when I have seen no statistics to back up that type of policy. That seems unfair to me. I just think that there are probably quite a few business that fall in the category of being within 500 feet of an intersection. With that being said, I don't think I would want this type of sign locate right next to a traffic signal, but I am almost positive that there are set back requirements for commercial signs at intersections anyway. I know I had to set my sign back from the right of way and the property line a certain distance, so I am sure that there are rules that apply already and 500 feet seems like a long way. I bet some properties may not even have 500 feet of frontage. I have no problem with the regulation of these signs, but feel that it should be fair across the board, not one set of rules for you and one set of rules for me. The rules in any giving zoning should be the same.