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Detroit Lakes City Council showed foresight in updating sign ordinance

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Detroit Lakes City Council showed foresight in updating sign ordinance
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

The digital billboards suddenly cropping up in Fargo are a sign that the Detroit Lakes City Council was wise to update its sign ordinance when it did.

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According to a story in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Fargo's first digital billboard was installed just a few weeks ago on the corner of 13th Avenue and 42nd Street.

It flashes different advertising images about every 7 seconds. While it's like a TV screen, the billboard is made from LED light bulbs controlled through the Internet and can show more than 12,000 exposures per day to passing motorists.

You won't be seeing that kind of quick-change activity in any digital billboard that comes to Detroit Lakes.

Last month, the Detroit Lakes City Council acted to restrict electronic, or digital, billboards.

Their messages must be static for 15 minutes and then change instantly to a new message -- no billboards that play like giant TV screens or that change every few seconds.

There must also be 2,000 feet between digital billboards -- much more than the 300 feet of space required between regular billboards, according to Community Development Director Larry Remmen.

The digital billboards cost from $150,000 to $500,000, but bring in more revenue than ordinary billboards. And they allow billboard companies "to reach advertisers who want something quicker," said Kari Newman Ness, the CEO of Newman Outdoor Advertising based in Jamestown, N.D. Ness told The Forum: "It's going well. They'll catch on."

The 13th Avenue billboard is one of three installed in Fargo in the past two weeks. The others are on 32nd Avenue South and 25th Street. Two more are in the works on Main Avenue and another on 13th Avenue east of Interstate 29.

While businesses have used smaller digital signs in the past, these are the first digital billboards in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The new billboards have some city officials alarmed.

"I think they change it too much," Fargo Planning Director Jim Gilmour said of the billboard's frequency. "It is a concern for public safety."

He told The Forum that the new signs can be hazardous to motorists, distracting them more than the standard billboard.

He's right, according to a study done by the League of Minnesota Cities to examine their affect on driver attention.

The study found that digital signs attract drivers' attention at greater distances and hold attention longer than conventional billboards.

It also concluded that there is a relationship between outdoor advertising signs and crash rates.

That's why Detroit Lakes limits them to every 2,000 feet, Remmen said.

"We're trying to avoid constant motion every 300 feet, for drivers and passengers -- we're trying to keep it esthetical and also trying to keep it safe."

The city deserves recognition for being ahead of the curve on this one, as do the citizens on its sign committee that worked for over a year to help craft the new ordinance.

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