Let’s talk about this whole billboard shenanigan that seems to have the city in the throes of turmoil, much to PittGirl’s confusion.

The facts:

1.  Lamar wants to replace regular wallpapered billboards with some high-tech digital billboards.

2.  Lots of people hate digital billboards and secretly wish the pigeons would leave the Birmingham Bridge alone and start working on bringing the LED billboards down.

3.  Yesterday, just before the deadline from a moratorium imposed by City Council, Lamar placed applications to put up 42 LED signs throughout the city.

4.  The rule is that for every LED sign Lamar puts up, they agree to take down five or six of their regular signs.

5.  I haven’t read everything there is to read about this issue, but I think I’ve got the basic understanding right.  Right?

Ok.  Prepare yourselves.  I’m not upset about this.

I absolutely HATE billboards of all kinds.  In fact I make it a daily practice to give my finger and the evil eye to those new gargantuan billboards at the intersection of Routes 30 and 48 because I’m pretty sure even God is all, “Dang!  Those are big!”

But if I have to choose between the old traditional wallpapered-on billboards that look extremely bad when the paper starts peeling off, sometimes left for months with half a Sheetz ad, a quarter of a Steidel and Steinberg ad, and a quarter of an “Are you driving a lemon?” ad, or the high-tech ever-changing clean digital billboards.  My God, the digital billboards are the lesser of two evils.

I remember the first time I went to Toronto about eight years ago, and driving near the perimeter of the city, I was just amazed at all the digital signs and billboards.  It gave the city a thriving, pulsing, vibrant feel, painted in ever-changing blues and reds and I remember thinking, why don’t we have these in Pittsburgh?

Do I think they should put a digital billboard right on Shiny Happy Cherry Tree Lined Drive in Big Brick Houses with Kids and Toys, PA?  No.

Do I think if there’s a street with six gross old billboards, that they should take those down and put up one nice clean digital sign?

Well.  Yeah, I do.

Yes, the Burgh is a working-class town borne out of industry and sweat and tears and the Steelers.  Yes, the Burgh is about the regular man.  Yes, the Burgh is awash in glorious history and rich architecture.  But the Burgh is not The Acropolis.  This is a metropolitan center that must learn to grow, to change, to accept the future and the changes it will bring while still holding fast to our history and how it has shaped us all into a friendly, hard-working, I’ll do anything for you kind of town.

LED billboards are not going to take that away from us.

The error of my ways?  You know I listen to reason, especially from those that are more knowledgeable than me.  I’m curious to hear where you think I’ve gone off the deep end here.  But be nice or I’ll cry, yo.


  1. Loyal PittGirl Minion
    March 19, 2008 9:03 am

    Well said, PittGirl.

  2. mudbugs
    March 19, 2008 9:12 am

    Amen, PG.

  3. bucdaddy
    March 19, 2008 9:14 am

    We have one or two of those here, and they can’t possibly be any more distracting than people yakking on their damn phones while driving.

    You’re right, it does give a town a little more of a “Blade Runner” look, but it a not-so-bad way. When the billboards start speaking to you, I’ll change my mind.

  4. plexxer
    March 19, 2008 9:15 am

    I’m a high-tech, gimmie-the-future, I-want-my-flying-cars kind-of guy, and reducing the billboard clutter with a 6:1 ratio is awesome, but just realize it won’t last. I’m sure there was some moratorium against the number of billboards allowed at some point and compromises (or palm greasing) allowed them to get to where they are at now. At some point in 20 or so odd years, not only will there be just as many digital ones as there are now, they will probably all be animated, and then walking downtown results in the same kind of headache you get walking around a slots parlor for too long.

    As much as the billboards suck now, they don’t move and glow. As it usually is with technology, it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the boneheads that implement it.

  5. Fisticuffs
    March 19, 2008 9:22 am

    The only thing I’m not sure about is the 5 or 6 down, 1 LED up. I thought that was just for the Grant St. gigantor one.

    But other than that, I can’t really argue with what you’re saying, PG. My beef with the whole thing is the Hey-F-You attitude that the administration has (which started all this). And the manner in which Lamar is trying to slide this by. It might even be legal, but it’s still a shitty way to operate. This issue just highlights the problems the city and administration has in its operations oversight.

  6. Brother Anthony
    March 19, 2008 9:28 am

    LED billboards are distracting and dangerous. No, they may not be more distracting than cellphones and stereos, but they’re more distracting than when they don’t exist.

    I hope they don’t put LED billboards at ice level of the new arena.

  7. Katrina
    March 19, 2008 9:29 am

    While I agree with you (pretty and shiny over old and peely any day!), to play devil’s advocate, there is the whole “light pollution” dilemma. Having a lot of these things around glowing 24/7 is putting more light into our city at night, effectively taking away our stars. And there are a lot of people who really want their stars.

    HOWEVER. To argue with myself, we do live in a CITY. CI-TAY. We gave up stars when we got the first gas-lamps. If you want stars, try Elk County. I hear they have a surplus.

    Shiny and pretty. Not old and peely.

  8. cultlord
    March 19, 2008 9:29 am

    All it’s going to take is one mischievous person to hack into the board and show goatse to the Pittsburgh populace and they’ll be gone. I eagerly await the day for this to happen.

    If these signs were actually going to be used to promote downtown and not car dealerships or reminders that in Sunday’s Post-Gazette they will be headlining the teacher sex scandal then I’d be in favor of them. But no, what do we get? Jeweler, car, Edgar Snyder and newspaper ads.

    We have adblock for Firefox, where’s my adblock for real life?

  9. Brian
    March 19, 2008 9:29 am

    I have two opposing comments on this matter. I agree the LED billboards are something that’s going to be the future for pretty much everywhere. Pittsburgh loves to be behind the times in just about everything, but you know, slowly introducing these signs to our landscape (which is what’s been happening) is a good way to do it, so let’s just embrace some technology for once. And actually, I do like them. I thought it was neat when Pitt was doing well at the start of the year, the LED board after the Homestead Grays bridge toward Sq. Hill had Panthers ads and update on their record. Very cool.

    On the other hand, I too hate billboards in a way because they also serve as a distraction to drivers who, trust me, don’t need another damn distraction. Like, OK, I was driving across the Birmingham Bridge O’Doom this past Sunday, and halfway across there’s a Downtown Chic billboard with this blonde girl, and I couldn’t help but think some 50-something hornball, oversexed idiot is going to drive his pick-up truck into someone/something because he’s admiring her legs. Not that I mind seeing picturesque ladies, but the LAST thing some people need is to see that and have, “Well gee Susie Lea, you sure do look pertty in that turquoise skirt,” going through their heads instead of, “That light has turned yellow and I’m 100 feet away. Maybe I should slow down my vehicle.”

    I also worry the changing LED boards also will serve as a distraction because people will be itching to see what comes on after that Toyota ad instead of who’s trying to cross the street or whatnot. “Come on, McDonald’s! SHIT! It’s … Steidl and Steinberg.”

  10. Eat At Moes
    March 19, 2008 9:32 am

    I think the problem is that Luke was just letting computer billboards go up without using the zoning process that everyone else does.

    Also instead of putting the downtown one up for competetive bid bid, they just gave it to Lamar (less money for taxpayers, more free redd up billboards for Luke).

    No one is saying LED signs are evil, they are just saying the public should have input.

    Also, there was only one sign agreement to take down old boards and as of yet none of them have come down.

  11. BagitTagit
    March 19, 2008 9:48 am

    No Bid Contracts???

    Aww… our little Lukey is all growns up!

  12. Pensgirl
    March 19, 2008 10:00 am

    The LED billboards are dangerous in certain situations. Driving home to Pittsburgh, at the end of my trip, I come around a curve on the turnpike and suddenly there’s an LED billboard with a bright white display right in my face, and BAM there goes that whole “ability to see” thing I had going. It’s completely blinding, and let me tell you those are a terrifying thirty seconds as you desperately pray for your eyes to readjust (let alone those of everyone around you). It doesn’t matter whether you’re ready for it or not, because its big size, insane brightness, and aimed-right-at-traffic positioning combine to just overwhelm your entire field of vision.

    I highly doubt that that one billboard is the only one that messes with nighttime drivers that way, and it’s damn scary to go through that at 11pm when you’re already tired from four hours of being on hyper-alert for rigs that like to play “cut off the passing cars.”

  13. Burgher in Maine
    March 19, 2008 10:05 am

    Billboards are illegal in Maine. When I go home for holidays it makes me ill to have ads shoved down my throat every 1/2 mile.

  14. Magnus Patris
    March 19, 2008 10:08 am

    I agree that the LED billboards are far better looking than the old paper/vinyl styles. What I’d like to see is some percentage of non-advertising information on these such as:

    1. Severe Weather information
    2. Information about unusual traffic conditions near a particular billboard
    3. Information in time of national/regional emergency.
    4. Amber alert information.

    99.5% of the time the signs would spew out their ads, but when necessary, Pittsburgh would have a world class public information system. This is especially necessary in the days when more people listen to iPods or CDs in their cars, and aren’t tuned into radio stations and their Emergency Alert Systems.

  15. BBM
    March 19, 2008 10:16 am

    I’m all for the LED billboards, just not at 6:30 in the morning. True pain is felt in mornings when I drive up the parkway North and that bugger blasts its stupid bright lights at me like *Wake up! Wake up!* There’s nothing worse than having Steidl and Steinberg yelling at you that you aren’t supposed to sleep while driving.

  16. unsatisfied
    March 19, 2008 10:26 am

    I may glance at a billboard while I am driving somewhere — but, I don’t think I have ever been DISTRACTED by one to the point of where it affects my driving in the least. I hardly even look at them.

    though, if there must be billboards, I agree — I’d rather have LED than the old-school ones.

    and, I like magnus’ list of items above — kudos.

  17. TC
    March 19, 2008 10:35 am

    It really will all depend on placement. I can think of about 6-8 boards in the entire region, and 3-4 of them are in the city limits.

    42 new boards within just the city alone is, pardon my well manicured french, a holy assload of digital boards.

    And somehow I doubt these boards will be distributed evenly. Don’t expect to see one soon in Westhamptershirechesterbottom or whatever we’re calling Homewood these days; They’ll sacrifice the low-audience boards to convert the ones downtown and along the major roads into digital ones.

  18. megan
    March 19, 2008 10:39 am

    I don’t want us to become Vegas, with all the billboard lights. I want to drive into downtown and see the city lights, not billboard lights. I just assumed that everyone, like me, ignored all billboards – and as a result, they would all go away.

  19. Mrs Pitsberger
    March 19, 2008 10:40 am

    I wouldn’t mind the digital boards so much if they weren’t bright enough to be visible from space.

  20. Sooska
    March 19, 2008 11:15 am

    Does anyone remember that quite a number of years ago there was a billboard near the defunct Irwin rest stop on the west bound Turnpike which featured a car bursting through the billboard and it looked like a real life accident coming at you? I think it was the front end of a Volkswagon. Well just you wait until they start showing action ads which will cause already zoned out, inattentive drivers to jam on the brakes, swerve or do some other sudden unexpected manuver that will kill a family of 6. just wait. I am betting that currently there are no laws on the books regulating the use of such ad tactics.

  21. Brian
    March 19, 2008 11:15 am

    I personally hate the digital boards. They are very distracting for me, especially at night when you go from a very light ad to a dark toned ad or visa versa.

    I do applaud the idea of loosing other traditional billboards in the deal. So I’m torn.

  22. Bram R
    March 19, 2008 11:29 am

    Well, PittGirl, you are mostly on solid turf, except for one key ingredient.

    The way the law works, when someone wants to put up a bright, glowing LED billboard, you get invited to a zoning board hearing and a city council hearing, and you get to talk about your opinion, and what you think it does to your particular neighborhood, and the effect on the pigeons and the feng shui …

    … and if you happen NOT TO LIKE the final decision, you know who made it and how. This helps to motivate decisions is more pleasing to more people, whether it is more in favor of less in favor of the billboard.

    WHAT HAD HAPPENED WAS, our favorite mayor changed the rules so that none of that good stuff happened … so that one guy (Mr. Patrick Ford) gets to make all the calls instantly, without hearing from neighborhoods. In fact, he didn’t “change the rules” at all — he just ignored the law and said the law holds us back from being, um, business-friendly.

    That’s the issue.

    “The rule is that for every LED sign Lamar puts up, they agree to take down five or six of their regular signs.”

    Actually, that’s a minor mistake. That was never a “rule”, that was a made up rule of thumb again by Patrick Ford, in his capacity as development genius who does not, strictly speaking, work for the city.

  23. Bram R
    March 19, 2008 11:32 am

    I mean, we specifically have a rule for the Golden Triangle District (downtown) that says, “There shalt be no electronic billboards without requesting special public hearings.” It sounds like we already decided this issue, and STILL left room to make an exception.

    Except we were told that a sign isn’t a sign and electronic doesn’t mean electronic, so it’s okay.

  24. TheJim
    March 19, 2008 12:15 pm

    If you’re “distracted” while driving past LED billboards, you should probably have your fucking license revoked anyways. Look at the traffic in front of your Camaro, you ADD-addled, yinz-heads.

    That being said, there’s one LED billboard on Biz 22 in Monroeville (right near Elmer’s) that is the single most obnoxious piece of lighting ever devised by man. I’m not saying they should legislate to take it down, I’m thinking a private citizen should just knock it down with their SUV and then back over it 7 or 8 times to make sure it’s truly dead.

  25. curtO.
    March 19, 2008 12:17 pm

    I find them to be very distracting. At some point a driver will kill a family of 4 and blame the billboards for it.

    If they want to do it right, there should be a sensor to make the signs “night friendly” not so the blind can see the signs 24/7.

    When driving outbound on the Parkway West, there is the one sign between the Greentree and Carnegie exits that light up everything…I would be so upset if I lived in one of those houses across the Parkway and my bedroom window was facing that light. I sometimes have trouble to get to sleep when there isn’t complete darkness…couldn’t imagine trying to fall asleep to the flashing lights coming through my blinds…

  26. Eric W
    March 19, 2008 12:22 pm

    My beef isn’t with digital billboards but the back-room deal that’s behind their increased presence.

  27. toni
    March 19, 2008 12:29 pm

    Not only a sign isn’t a sign and electronic doesn’t mean electronic…but the rule about SIZE of signs is basically ignored with the original digital sign that started this whole brouhaha off.

    It just ticks me off royal that a secret deal was made ONCE AGAIN. I mean it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. So they say you can put up 1 electronic billboard if you take down 5…whose to say they don’t renege. It’s all about the $$$…whose plams get greased.

    I’d rather have a few electronic than all the old paper ones. But of an appropriate SIZE…not football fields flashing at you as you go down the road.

  28. Brian
    March 19, 2008 12:32 pm

    TheJim, totally agree with you about the Rt. 22 billboard. It’s way, way, way distracting and totally out of place and an eyesore. That’s the wrong way for a companby to push LED billboards.

  29. Pgh33
    March 19, 2008 12:43 pm

    I completely agree with the whole billboard thing. Pittsburghers…you’re blowing this up into something that’s not even worth it.

    A deer could run out in front of your car at night and you could get in an accident. I shouldn’t have said that…now someone will say “I didn’t see the deer because I was blinded by those new billboards!!”

    They have them up on the highways in Akron & Cleveland and I think they look somewhat “classy” (for lack of a better word) like PittGirl said… You look at them and think this is a metropolis that keeps up with the times.

    If you want to find something to fight…fight the Turnpike commission for wanting to Toll Interstate 80 and fight whoever is in charge of the Parkways and ask them why we only have 2 inbound and outbound lanes in a major metropolis.

  30. Marc
    March 19, 2008 1:13 pm

    I like the idea. The one on 79 light up the road to the point that it was bright but not distracted and the one on 51S after the tubes is not too bad either. As long as they get rid of some of the nasty paper ones it’s great.
    How long until someone hacks one of these and we get still shots of porn on them as we’re driving to work, now that’ll cause some accidents

  31. unsatisfied
    March 19, 2008 1:48 pm

    “How long until someone hacks one of these and we get still shots of porn on them as we’re driving to work, now that’ll cause some accidents”

    it shouldn’t — just pull over to the side of the road.

  32. PAGirlinFL
    March 19, 2008 1:55 pm

    Pgh33 – funny that you missed the link. Turnpike wants to toll 80 so that one of the projects they could fund is expansion of the Parkway East….plus they have already paid a very large amount of money to PennDOT (prior to being allowed to collect tolls on 80) in anticipation of when they are allowed to. The only new roads that are being built in PA are being done by the Turnpike, while PennDot tries to get what they have together…i.e., Birmingham Bridge and the I-95 pier that was found cracked earlier this week and has brought traffic around Philly to a major logjam….

    Plus if you read the 80 tolling proposal, if you are a local and only going between a couple of interchanges, you won’t be tolled….

  33. Magnus Patris
    March 19, 2008 1:57 pm

    “How long until someone hacks one of these and we get still shots of porn on them as we’re driving to work, now that’ll cause some accidents”

    Or worse yet, a Luke Ravenstal/Dan Onorato/Ed Rendell for Mayor/Governor/Vice-President campaign sign. Not there’s some electric pr0n for you!

  34. Pgh33
    March 19, 2008 2:02 pm

    PAGirl – I did miss that link. Thanks for the information. I’d love to read it if you do have the article or whatever. Thanks.

    I still think Tolling 80 isn’t the greatest idea but I don’t live around 80 and I do live around the Parkway East so if that gets a major revamp (without having to pay tolls to reap the benefits) then I will be excited.

  35. Geeo
    March 19, 2008 2:28 pm

    I agree with Pitt Girl. I’ve also driven into Toronto on the QEW and was impressed with the number of moving billboards entering the city. Denotes an alive and vibrant urban area. I like the LED billboard around town, especially in the center city. It just makes it more alive. And it they help get rid of some of those old and boring billboards, all the better. And I think City Council has more important things to worry about, what with the city in receivership and all. Perhaps they should be looking at how to lower business taxes, the parking tax, and a host of more important issues.

  36. Eat At Moes
    March 19, 2008 2:41 pm

    Council has never said NO to LED billboards in general. They’re saying Lamarvenstahl should follow the law and put them up according to the zoning code.

    The zoning code allows for public input so that the bright LED signs aren’t shining into your house or distracting drivers.

    I mean it would suck if one day an giant computer screen just popped up and lowered your property value and you had no say in the process.

    Council is saying follow the law, not banning signs. It’s really not a hard point to follow, Geeo.

  37. Mia`
    March 19, 2008 2:52 pm

    I like that billboards being illegal thing. We need to figure out how Maine managed that. Now there’s some legislation I could be thrilled about.
    Either that or I should just move to Maine…

    Honestly, we have ads shoved down our throats all day every day. Do the billboards actually accomplish anything? How many people look up at the billboard while attempting to drive and think…oh! perfect! I was wondering where I should buy my next piece of jewelry/car/whatever!
    Seriously. Does this happen? How about we leave the little bit of nature that’s left, the little bit of greenery that we see and don’t have to worry about mowing…can’t we just leave it visible? Do we really need to hide behind any type of billboard?

  38. Bram R
    March 19, 2008 3:20 pm

    LEDs strike me a huge waste of energy. I can see putting the original one up Downtown if we want to make the NE corner of Downtown kind of Times Squarey. But having them up all over would be tacky.

    Whatever happened to that creepy, slowly moving triangle overlooking Three Rivers Stadium?

  39. Kelli
    March 19, 2008 3:48 pm

    I would just like for the proper procedures to be followed. That is all.

    I mean, from what I understand, the procedure was followed when CAPA wanted their LED board – is it asking too much to have everyone follow the same procedures?

    Also, this makes me think about the Bayer sign. From what I understand, it had to be specifically grandfathered in when this procedure was developed. And now, major improvements can’t be made to it unless it undergoes the same public-hearing procedure. But that some folks don’t want changes made anyway, because there just aren’t signs like that anymore.

  40. cultlord
    March 19, 2008 3:57 pm

    NE corner like Times Square… I would think it’s not doable there, I can’t think of a place where it would be. What else is there to attract people like in NYC’s? Amtrak and Bus Station. Classy.

    There’d need to be shopping, more places to eat other than the Fish Market

  41. pat
    March 19, 2008 4:08 pm

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, Never! UGLY! UGLY! a failure of Government!
    What happened to the movement to remove billboards from our landscape? Way back when I was in advertising (when the dinosaurs roamed the lands, each with a stone tablet sandwich board “EAT AT OOOG’s Blue plate special $IIV.L) the rule, the law about billboards was that they were no new billboards permitted in Allegheny county. In fact, exisitng billboards were not even allowed to be maintained. The hope was that they would all disintegrate and the entire medium would be forgotten. That was a long time ago, just before Jim Roddy became County Executive…HEY! Wait a minute! Wasn’t Mr. Roddy an owner of an outdoor company? D’OH!

  42. Windy City Steel City
    March 19, 2008 5:30 pm

    Oh my your bright lights frighten and confuse me. I am just an Unfrozen Caveman Yinzer. All these ads in the newspapers and websites and magazines are damaging me. The talking video box in my living room interrupts my 6hrs of morning news and beckons me with words like “sausages” and leaping elfish gnomes named Edgar Snyder. I might not know where to buy things like toilet paper and beer without them. I cannot make up my own mind. Please keep me away from this devilish style of commerce lest we move into the 19th century.
    Oops, what I mean is: Just don’t look at them, especially when trying to merge while talking on your cell phone.

  43. Still A Fan
    March 19, 2008 5:46 pm

    the logic in a situation like this scares me. you cant compare a flashing LED sign with a deer running out in front of you. why? nobody controls the deer. when you drive a car (especially in western PA) a deer jumping in front of your car is VERY likely to happen. a kid chasing a ball is very likely to happen. swerving to avoid a pigeon is very likely to happen. avoiding drunk drivers and people yakking on cell phones is a necessity. the point about driving distractions is not to be taken lightly. drivers…..especially young drivers…do not need 1 more thing competing for their attention. not one! its funny to me that governments want to ban cell phone talking in cars but allow scrolling signs along the highway. think about how idiotic that is when you get down to the rule itself. they cant make money off of you talking. they can make money off of the signs. i dont care one way or the other – but i dont think for a second you can claim they dont grab your attention, even if for a millisecond.

  44. justretiredguy
    March 19, 2008 9:43 pm

    I’m just glad he’s gone so I won’t have to look at a big, smiling, 20 foot tall f-ing Pete Defazio head on one of these things.

  45. larrytahn luvah
    March 19, 2008 10:22 pm

    damn straight, pitt girl! i am with yin (the singular of yinz) all the way on this one.

  46. Geis
    March 21, 2008 11:03 am

    Lamar says they will take down 5 or 6 traditional billboards for every LED billboard they put up. And while this sound like a win, I have every expectation that the empty space will not remain empty and add free. Some other ad company will buy up those spaces to put up billboards.