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Councilors think digital billboards getting out of hand in Boston

Blade Runner - Geisha eating candy

City Councilors Ed Flynn and Kenzie Bok say Boston now has so many flashy electronic billboards that the signs are beginning to detract from the "safe, healthy, livable neighborhoods," Bostonians want.

On Wednesday, Flynn (South Boston, Chinatown, South End, Downtown) and Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill) will ask the rest of the council to approve a hearing on how to limit the colorful menaces, which they say increase car crashes by distracting drivers, wreck the historic nature of many spots in this historic city, increase energy consumption, reduce property values and are simply a further visual assault on residents "already exhausted by the amount of screentime built into work, school, and leisure."

The councilors note city zoning codes currently only allow the devices along Lansdowne Street and in the Theater District and the South Boston Waterfront, and yet, they keep showing up elsewhere.

The council's regular Wednesday meeting begins at noon.



Take them all down.


Billboard law is surprisingly tricky because the courts treat advertising as a form of speech. Austin tried banning digital billboards but the courts pushed back on them.

Some places do restrict brightness levels, animation, and frequently changing messages. That might help.

I guess people care a lot? We live at the core of a 4.9 million person metropolis.

I just could never care enough to stop someone from trying to put up a billboard they think will give them maximum ROR. Focus on the bigger issues today like the special election, COVID, etc.. Do this neurotic stuff some other time if you want, fine.

This was just one item on a fairly long agenda; they have plenty of other things to keep them busy.

I wrote about it because it seemed interesting, and I will probably write about some of the other items after the meeting.


It may be viewed as 'free speech' but if we already have laws on the books banning advertising & (in some neighborhoods) even light-up signs for businesses, this shouldn't be a question. I certainly hope they succeed--this city has done an admirable job (Seaport & TD Garden areas notwithstanding) of not allowing billboards or large company ads on buildings.


One of the big issues in previous court cases is that you can't discriminate against billboards (generally defined as signs that advertise services not offered on the premises) versus non-billboard signs. Like, you can't discriminate against a sign based on the location/proximity of the thing being advertised.

I don't agree with it, but that's how courts have previously decided it.

How about the size of the sign? I say 2x4 feet max.

but that doesn't mean you get to say your piece through a megaphone next to someone's ear.

Regulating brightness and animation is the right approach.


What's the legal difference between a noise ordinance barring an audio billboard and an active LED type billboard? Both are projecting information in a more impactful manner than a passive sign.

At last week's East Berkeley Neighborhood Association meeting, the Pine Street Inn presented a request to replace two existing conventional billboards with electronic billboards. Their attorney stated that the new electronic billboards would actually be less bright than the current billboards. (Sorry, I don't remember by how much.) Also, the new billboards would be dark between midnight and 5:00AM, unlike the current billboards that are on 24/7. The way it was presented, digital sounded like an improvement over conventional.

They could also make the conventional billboard less bright, and turn off its lights between midnight and 5 am.

Anyone who falls for that rhetoric is either stupid, or dishonest in their intentions and trying to fool someone else.

1. It's easy to make the current billboards less bright, and nothing precludes the owner from doing so.
2. It's easy to make the current billboards unlit from midnight til 5am, and nothing precludes the owner from doing so.

Electronic billboards draw more eyeballs during the day -- our brains can't not look, unlike traditional billboards. Furthermore, every time the dang thing changes, our brain wants to look again.

They're terrible and have no business in our cities.

The councillor buried the lede. He doesn't give a (expletive) about history or energy.

Yes but often neighborhoods with high property values have those high property values because they are pleasant places to live.


Are you going to tell me that the sun sets in the west?

It will also be really shitty of billboard companies if they ruin the view we all enjoy in the public garden.

Any billboards outside of current zoning are grandfathered, I think. For example, the billboards in the South End. It's highly unlikely that the city would approve a zoning variance for billboards overlooking the Public Garden.

would support a billboard across the street from his mother's house, if the proponent was a good guy, represented by the right lawyer, with a recommendation by a generous lobbyist.

[Voiceover on blimp]

"A new life awaits you in the 'outside of Rt 128' subdivisions, a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure."

[Interior Amrheins]
Leon: Is this the test now?
Holden: Yes. You're in Southie walking along when all of the sudden you look down-
Leon: What street?
Holden: What?
Leon: What street?
Holden: It doesn't make any difference what street, it's completely hypothetical. The street your apartment is on.
Leon: But how come I'd be there?
Holden: Maybe you need a Dunk, who knows why you're there? You look down and you see a space saver on the curb, Leon,
Leon: Is it my space saver?
Holden: Yeah, someone moved it and parked in your spot.
Leon: What do you mean someone took my spot? That I shoveled last week?
Holden: I mean, you're getting mad. Why is that Leon? -- it's just a parking spot, Leon. In answer to your query, they're written down for me. It's a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. -- Shall we continue? Describe in single words, only the good things that come in to your mind about... your mother.
Leon: My mothah?
Holden: Yeah.
Leon: Let me tell you about my mothah..


I'm still trying to figure out the marketing strategy. Help me out.

How about this proposal: Zone the city for no billboards.

If you want to do some commercial speech, buy a banner ad on the Internet, a 30-second commercial on whatever TV show people watch these days, or the back cover of the Yellow Pages. Don't trash our city.