Think billboard blight is just a problem in America? Think again.
More, and bigger, billboards are coming soon to Canada’s largest city, as the Toronto City Council approved a request to install “super-sized” digital billboards on various corridors in the city. Measuring nearly 700 square feet, these monstrous signs exceed the city’s current signage size limit.
The City Council granted approval for these signs to move forward despite many citizens and elected officials speaking out against the proposal, noting their concerns about the impact on traffic safety, the negative impacts on nearby residences and businesses, and the dangerous precedent such an exception to existing sign codes would set.
As one council member, Shelly Carroll, noted in her blog, “On a high-volume highway in a densely populated area, these billboards are so distracting that they can be downright dangerous.”
Carroll provides further detail about the existing sign code and how it came to be:
In 2010, then-Mayor David Miller and Council used our new City of Toronto Act powers to collect a tax on billboards. At the same time, we had staff design a strict sign bylaw to control the location, size, proximity, and speed of image changes of billboards. This bylaw was key, as it ensured that we wouldn’t inadvertently fill the city with visual pollution just to balance our books with the new billboard tax revenue.
Like with most laws and bylaws, there is an appeals process. Advertising companies apply to the Sign Variance Committee when they want to build a billboard. If they don’t like the Committee’s decision, they can appeal to City Council….
The proposed location contravenes a number of points in the sign bylaw: It’s too close to North York General Hospital, the residential towers in Concord Park Place, and homes in Henry Farm. It’s also too close and too bright for homes on the other side of the highway… It’s also too close to the 401 itself, which City Council declared as a prohibited zone for third party signs back in 2010, knowing that signs here would not contribute positively to the city’s appearance.
Knowing that there are a number of bylaw contraventions in this application, the applicant and his lobbyist are being very clever. They’re offering to remove five older billboards around the city in exchange for the approval of this billboard. I understand why this is a tempting offer to other Councillors, but it’s not a good deal.
The problem with this removal offer is that it takes away smaller, older billboards that have already been deemed “legal non-compliant”. This means that the current signs are allowed, but if they’re taken down no one would be able to put up new ones. The applicant is offering to take these down because these five signs have become less profitable and are no longer in demand by advertisers. The applicant thinks this is a fair trade for a giant billboard in an area that is not permitted and sadly, our Provincial Government agrees…
The advertising industry is playing a game of “Go Big or Go Home”. They know that smaller, static billboards don’t grab attention anymore, so they’re doing everything they can to keep your attention while driving. If we don’t take a stand now, this new Super-Billboard location in the heart of Don Valley North will open the floodgates for several more across the city.
Let’s keep bigger, brighter signage like this out of our cities, towns, and transportation corridors. Scenic America remains committed to helping communities in their fights against scenic intrusions and billboard blight, and in helping to educate elected officials on related issues.