RENO — Opponents have long cited digital billboards as unsafe and unsightly, and a new poll appears to put them in the majority — at least locally.
A survey of 600 registered voters living in Reno reports that 55 percent of respondents oppose lifting city ordinance restrictions on the construction of digital billboards.
Commissioned by the nonprofit group Scenic Nevada, the poll also found that two-thirds of voters would object to seeing a digital billboard from their home or office. And 80 percent said Reno already had too many billboards.
The Oregon-based communications firm M.J. Ross Group conducted the poll April 16-19.
“It’s interesting that so many people today feel the same way as those who voted 11 years ago to prohibit new construction of billboards,” said James Barnes, Scenic Nevada board chairman.
The city of Reno is reportedly considering permits for new digital billboards similar to those seen at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, at car dealerships along Wells Avenue or outside the Wild Orchid strip club near downtown Reno.
Billboard industry lobbyists argue that digital signs could benefit small businesses.
“Digital billboards are a welcome advertising medium for local businesses, serving as an affordable way to reach a large number of customers with dynamic messaging,” said Nicole Hayes, spokesperson for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
Lobbyists also argue that digital displays can provide a necessary service to the community at large.
“Reputable studies have found that commuters feel digital billboards are attractive and provide an important community service, especially in emergency notification,” Hayes said.
But opponents argue that digital signs increase driver distraction, waste energy and amount to little more than eyesores.
Not so, industry lobbyists contend.
“Safety can be among the most contentious questions raised about digital billboards,” Hayes said. “However, studies have found no connection between traffic accidents and digital billboards. In fact, governments across the country use digital billboards to spread public service messages about driver safety.”
As Reno officials mull over a change to policy, the future of digital billboards in the city might be determined by just how much they add to or subtract from the region’s splendid views of mountains and valleys.
For example, 80 percent of poll respondents said it was important to “preserve, protect and enhance” Reno’s scenic character.