The Picture Worth 1,000 Words

Certain jurisdictions across the nation have banned conventional, freestanding signs by enacting new sign codes which permit only monument signs. Sign companies and their advocates generally have opposed such bans and, in particular, have disputed the common rationale suggesting that pole-mounted signs somehow exacerbate traffic hazards.

As this photo shows very clearly, however, a conventional pole sign affords substantially better visibility, thereby eliminating the need for motorists to abruptly slow down or stop when trying to locate a particular store or other business. The two signs pictured here illustrate why it’s important for cities and towns to preserve reasonable latitude in determining allowable sizes and heights for freestanding signs.

Particularly those installed along the margins of highways in busy commercial districts, monument signs such as the one shown here are practically invisible to drivers passing at speeds of 45 mph or more. Still greater hazards are presented when such regulations are applied to multi-tenant signs for strip shopping centers or malls. The combination of a monument sign’s reduced surface area, plus the multiple tenants which the sign must identify, dictates the use of very small font sizes which are virtually impossible for drivers to read when traveling at highway speeds.

Far from posing traffic hazards, therefore, conventional pole signs actually provide improved visibility and greater advance notice for approaching motorists. This enables drivers to detect signs at longer distances and respond in a safe manner. Monument signs, on the other hand, are close enough to ground level to be obscured by various objects including parked vehicles, landscaping and vegetation. Thus, while they might be appropriate for walkable neighborhoods having speed limits of 35 mph or less, monument signs are poorly suited for primary, commercial corridors such as the one shown in this photo.

The USSC Foundation recently published a research study analyzing freestanding sign heights and how these dimensions impact sign visibility and traffic safety. The study provides empirical support useful in development of sign codes that provide sufficient latitude in terms of height regulations.

The takeaway message is that municipalities should recognize that the differences in various types of outdoor signs normally reflect the nature of the places where they are installed, and the need for adequate visibility regardless of a sign’s location. But when local jurisdictions impose comprehensive bans on particular types of signs without reference to the zoning districts involved, this might deprive local businesses of their ability to advertise effectively.

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas, a 40-year veteran of the on-premise sign industry as a fabricator, installer and journalist, is President/Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI).

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