NO WAY TO RAISE EIGHT ROAD SIGNS – THE ISSUE Virginia Beach erects several LED traffic signs. WHERE WE STAND Given the city’s ban on electronic signs, greater public involvement was required.
IN JUNE 2010, Virginia Beach’s City Council banned electronic signs in the city, calling them garish, distracting to drivers and dangerous. Rather than impose stringent restrictions on signs in front of churches and businesses, the council said the bright signs, if not already in place, would not be allowed at all.
That vote was in character with the city, which banned new billboards a quarter-century ago and encouraged landscaping and beautification projects in medians and other public spaces.
City government itself is exempt from the electronic sign ordinance, however. Light-emitting, attention-grabbing signs beckon passersby to Virginia Beach’s convention center and its performing arts center. Outside public schools, libraries and community centers, the signs are colorful reminders of upcoming events.
Now, according to reporting by The Pilot’s Kathy Adams, the city is erecting eight LED signs to warn drivers about traffic problems on Shore Drive, Princess Anne Road, and Independence, General Booth and Northampton boulevards. Not only are city officials defying the spirit of the ordinance, but they failed to talk to neighborhood groups about the signs’ locations, size and hours of use.
Traffic engineers determined the locations. The federal government paid for the $60,500 signs with “congestion-mitigation” money.
So now, instead of the city partnering with private companies that own the 30 billboards in Virginia Beach to allow limited electronic messages and city use for public safety issues — as some on the City Council had proposed in 2010 — the city has eight more signs towering over roadways.
Monday-morning quarterbacking does no good unless it serves as a lesson for the future. In the case of LED signs, the city failed a basic tenet of good government: It didn’t involve affected communities in the planning.
Virginia Beach should have solicited suggestions for designs that don’t run afoul of the aesthetics of the surroundings. It should have asked the public for ideas for traffic alert locations that would actually help drivers with alternative routes.
And because the city violated rules that bind the rest of us, it should have made the case publicly for why its signs are a safety feature, not a hazard.