Provo City Council cracks down on digital signage

The Provo City Council voted to change the digital signage laws in Provo at their meeting on March 30. Digital signage like this one at Blue Rock Medical on University Ave. will be required to implement a one-minute minimum hold time for each message programed into the display in order to keep drivers focused on the road instead of the messages on the signs. (Molly Ogden Welch)

The Provo City Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance requiring businesses with electronic signs to implement a one-minute minimum hold time for each message in order to keep city drivers focused and safe.

Despite pushback from local business owners, the council decided to move forward with amending the Provo City Code during its March 30 meeting. 

Provo citizens and city officials have expressed concerns for the effects of bright lights and message-changing advertisement boards on the safety of citizens driving throughout the city.

This ordinance is meant to address those concerns by “updating terminology and definitions for hold times, adding residential zones that ban electronic signs and adjusting corridors that allow electronic displays,” according to the Provo City Council blog.

The current rules for digital signage along the freeway require that message-changing advertisements have a hold time of at least eight seconds before changing to another message on the board. This ensures that drivers will only see up to one change on the display as they are driving past, which decreases the risk of distracted driving. 

While the eight-second rule works on the freeway, it does not work as well when people are driving more slowly on city streets and are more likely to see more message changes as they drive past a display.

“We tried to come up with what is the underlying principle there and the principle that we’ve felt comfortable with was trying to minimize the number of times that a motorist passing the sign would see more than one message change,” Council Chair Dave Sewell said. 

The ordinance proposes a one-minute hold time minimum for digital signs in the following areas

  • University Parkway, from 100 West to the boundary of the City of Provo
  • North State Street, from Cougar Boulevard (1230 North Street) to 1720 North
  • Cougar Boulevard, from Canyon Road (200 East) westward to North State Street
  • Freedom Boulevard, from 100 North northward to University Parkway
  • 820 North Street, from I-15 eastward to 1350 West Street
  • Draper Lane from 820 North to 600 South
  • University Avenue, from 600 South southward to Lakeview Parkway (1860 South)
  • 4800 North from Provo River to University Avenue
  • Towne Centre Boulevard
  • University Avenue from 4800 North to 5200 North

“We’re trying to chart a course that is sustainable long into the future so that businesses can have digital signs and residents can be happy that they do, which hasn’t always been the case,” Sewell said. 

Business owners with locations in Provo expressed their concerns with this ordinance during the meeting. 

Mapleton resident Dr. Wendell Gibby works at Blue Rock Medical, which is located within the affected section of University Avenue. He said this ordinance “discriminates against different businesses. You treat me differently than you do a similarly situated business down the street.”

Gibby also quoted information from Deco Technology Group, who created the digital sign for Blue Rock Medical, stating that these displays “need to be rotated between seven and 30 seconds (to prevent) heat buildup … which will cause discoloration of the LED and premature failure.”

Salt Lake City resident Rick Magnus read the following at the council meeting on behalf of America First Credit Union: “Further limiting the functionality and placement of LED signs will likely cause frustration among the businesses that have invested in these resources while causing other potential operations to locate elsewhere because of such restrictions.”

Councilman Travis Hoban said despite these concerns from businesses, Provo will be more safe because of this city-wide ordinance. 

“We were looking to the future,” Hoban said. “‘What’s the big deal if we got a few signs on State Street right now?’ If you think about a good chunk of the static signs that you see right now turning into digital signs, is that how we want our city to look? That (is) a safety concern for me.”

Sewell said he understands the struggles of these business owners as a business owner himself.

“I really do sympathize with the struggle of small businesses,” Sewell said. “This has been hard to find the right balance and I don’t know that we’ve got it perfect, but we’ve been working on it for a long time and all I can say is our intent really has been to expand the use of digital signage in the city in ways that residents could feel good about.”

More information about digital signage in Provo can be found on the city’s website.

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