Ads might appear on city bus shelters

Bill sidesteps law from last year banning construction of billboards

March 30, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In an apparent exception to the city's ban on new billboards, the Planning Commission gave unanimous support yesterday to a City Council bill that would allow advertising on new bus shelters.

Despite the objections of several city residents, seven commission members, including 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, voted for what she called "an economic partnership" that would allow private advertising firms to build city bus shelters -- and advertise on four of every five shelters.

Thomas E. Hampton, senior government relations officer for the Mass Transit Administration, and husband of City Council President Sheila Dixon, said the city and the MTA would split the fees paid by the advertising companies, which, he estimated, could exceed $1 million annually.

Replacing bus shelters

The immediate goal, Hampton said, is to replace the existing 335 bus shelters -- which he said were in poor condition -- and after that, no limit is set for providing shelters. The city has about 3,000 bus stops, officials said.

The bill requires that signs on bus shelters not exceed 25 square feet. By city law, they cannot advertise alcohol or cigarettes.

A bill signed into law last year by Mayor Martin O'Malley bans construction of billboards.

As is the usual process, the bill will proceed to the City Council's land use committee, with two suggested amendments: to restrict advertisements on bus shelters in residential districts to those on major streets, such as Park Heights Avenue; and that the planning commission approve each advertising site.

No date has been set for a land use committee hearing on the matter.

`No means no'

The pitch did not go over well with Shawn Z. Tarrant, president of the Ashburton Area Association in Northwest Baltimore. "No means no," he told the commission, emphasizing that he and his neighbors do not wish to see signs of any sort on nearby bus shelters.

Katharine W. LeVeque of Charles Village, a social worker who frequently rides the bus, spoke to support the bill. She said it would enhance protection from the cold, rain and other elements.

Others were worried about shelters becoming a haven for crime. Clifford A. Downing, 46, of the 200 block of E. Biddle St., told the panel that shelters could become "yet another place where [former] prisoners, just released, can do harm."

Opponents voiced qualms about bus shelters causing visual distractions, obscuring drivers' and passengers' views, and whether the private companies would show good will in negotiating with neighbors.

More study sought

Saying the organization had not had enough time to study the issues, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association asked the commission to defer consideration.

Alfred W. Barry III, a CPHA board member, said, "We're concerned about degrading the esthetic quality of our neighborhoods and residential corridors ... and we'd like to engage citizens in dialogue."

Rose Fleming, a representative of CPHA's Riders Transit League, also asked for more time to consider a position.

Although she did not take a stance, Joan Floyd, vice president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, asked a question that remained unanswered: "Is advertising the only way we can truly fund needed shelters?"

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