Will Toronto let there be (more) light from outdoor ads?

The City of Toronto is seeking public input on potential changes to its sign bylaws that deal with electronic and illuminated signs and billboards. The potential changes – based on what the city called a “comprehensive” research project that included a planning and design review, an update of traffic safety implications and a public opinion […]

The City of Toronto is seeking public input on potential changes to its sign bylaws that deal with electronic and illuminated signs and billboards.

The potential changes – based on what the city called a “comprehensive” research project that included a planning and design review, an update of traffic safety implications and a public opinion poll – will be introduced next week during a meeting of the city’s Planning and Growth Management Committee.

Among the recommendations being presented at the meeting are:

• Reducing the maximum illumination level for signs between sunset and sunrise, and revising the maximum level for light trespass above ambient light levels when measured at a distance of 10 metres

• Applying requirements to electronic signs installed in transit shelters that include display-only electronic static copy with a message duration of 8-10 seconds; maximum illumination from sunset to sunrise equivalent to the illumination of non-electric advertising signs in the transit shelter or 3.0 lux (1 lux = 0.09 footcandles) above ambient light, whichever is less

• Limiting projected image signs, such as wall projections, to first-party signs where approved through a signage master plan, or by special permit

• Permiting third-party signs to display static electronic copy in a Commerical Sign District, an Employment Sign District and a Utility Sign District provided the following conditions are met:

- The sign is located a minimum of 60 metres from a street intersection
- Copy does not face an open space, institutional or residential premise located within a 250-metre radius
- The sign is located a minimum of 150 metres from any other third party advertising sign

Out-of-home advertising companies including CBS Outdoor Canada and Pattison Outdoor are increasingly adopting electronic signage, which offers the ability to include multiple advertisers on a single advertising face and the ability to offer daypart-specific advertising.

Earlier this year, Astral Out-of-Home – which is in the midst of a 20-year contract to supply the city of Toronto with street furniture including transit shelters, park benches, etc. – lobbied Toronto council to permit digital advertising on some of its nearly 2,500 ad-enabled transit shelters.

An Ipsos-Reid poll of 1,504 Torontonians age 18+ conducted in July found that the “vast majority” (70%) of city residents believe that illuminated and electronic signs (which include signs for shopping plazas, cultural centres and billboards) are a normal part of public spaces in large cities.

More than half (55%) of respondents agreed that illuminated or electronic signs contribute to the look and vibrancy of cities, while 43% agree they are an attractive element of Toronto.

However, the poll found that Torontonians are generally split about the negative impacts of such signs on their neighbourhood or the enjoyment of their home, with about one third agreeing, one third disagreeing and the remainder falling in the middle.

About two-thirds of Torontonians (63%) find electronic and illuminated signs useful to them, while slightly more than half (55%) believe the city needs to do more to control the use of these types of signs.

Photo: Pedro Szekely

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