Balto. Co. debates change in changeable-sign law

October 29, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Does a flashing roadside advertisement draw your attention as you zoom by? And will you crash your car if you try to read it?

Those were the kinds of questions posed yesterday as the Baltimore County Council debated the merits of updating an 11-year-old law to take into account new electronic technology in so-called "changeable copy signs."

Backers of the proposed new regulation are concerned that rapidly changing digital signs are distracting to drivers, and an eyesore. The bill was introduced by Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, who proposes that the text in the signs change no more often than once every half-hour.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina was more accommodating and co-sponsored an amendment that would allow the signs to change twice a minute. "You want to prevent the flashing and the blinking," he said. "If it's changing every 30 seconds, you're not seeing that sign change constantly. The 30 seconds is more than reasonable."

Opponents of the proposal, which is up for a vote next week, argued for an interval of three seconds, which they said would better serve the interests of businesses seeking to draw customers.

"My business and others like mine are under assault," said Harry S. Cohen, owner for 23 years of Carney's Firehouse Tavern. Cohen, who is on the board of the 300-member Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, said that the ban on smoking has been particularly damaging and that an onerous restriction on ad signs would be too much.

But Robin Beers, a board member of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association, said changeable signs are a "devastating distraction," a "blight" and "disastrous for the aesthetic appeal of our roads." She suggested that Baltimore County follow the lead of Montgomery and Howard counties, which allow such signs to change their texts only once a day.

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