Cincinnati Professors Study Sign Visibility Along 3,000-mile Route 50

University of Cincinnati professors Chris Auffrey (School of Planning) and Henry Hildebrandt (School of Architecture and Interior Design) drove the entire 3073 miles of US route 50 and took photographs of its signs, and then measured the probability they were seen by motorists. Their report was published in the June 2017 Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, which is produced by the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education (AACSRE). 

3M’sVisual Analysis Software (VAS) was used to predict the probability that the selected on-premise signs would be viewed by passing motorists. Results show that for all signs (n=467), the average probability of being viewed was approximately 57%, with that rising to approximately 66% for a “primary signs” group (n=100).

To read the entire study, go to https://ijsw.shareok.org/home/article/view/8.

 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Publishes Sign Visibility Annotated Bibliography

John D. Bullough, Ph.D, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center, has published an annotated bibliography of sign visibility, legibility and conspicuity research in the June 2017 Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, which is published by the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education (AACSRE).  

This paper summarizes published research studies, technical reports and codes and standards related to the visibility (i.e., conspicuity and legibility) of signage. Publications are grouped and discussed according to myriad topics. First, the typographic and symbolic characteristics of signs and the information they carry are described (e.g., letter size, font selection, etc.); second, photometric, colorimetric and temporal properties of signs as they affect visibility; finally, environmental considerations (e.g., daytime versus nighttime viewing, whether a sign is located in a rural or urban area, etc.) as they influence sign design are reviewed. Annotated summaries of each publication in the literature review are included at the end.

To read the entire paper, go to https://ijsw.shareok.org/home/article/view/9

 

SGIA Journal's January/February Issue Features FASI Article on the Reed v. Gilbert Aftermath

Wade Swormstedt, the Executive Director for FASI, wrote an article for the SGIA Journal's January/February 2017 issue entitled "Content Neutrality and Signs: The Reed v. Gilbert decision and the aftermath." Although the actual article is only available online to subscribers, the basic copy is presented here.

On June 18, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) unanimously agreed that a Gilbert, Arizona sign code violated the First Amendment freedom-of-speech rights of Rev. Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church. The decision potentially made virtually all U.S. sign codes unconstitutional because of the concept of “content neutrality,” which concerns the regulation on signs based on what they say. Reed v. Town of Gilbert is undoubtedly the most important sign-related court case of the past 35 years.

The background

Rev. Reed’s church held its Sunday services at different facilities, so it needed temporary signs each week to announce the location and time of its service. The signs would be posted on Saturday and removed on Sunday. The Town of Gilbert cited him for exceeding the time limits in 2005. Reed filed suit, based on freedom-of-speech issues.

Between 2005 and the SCOTUS decision, of course, several of Reed’s appeals were turned down. A group called Alliance Defending Freedom took up Reed’s cause. (A more complete report on the entire sequence of events, in addition to some commentary from Cleveland State University law professor Alan Weinstein, was published in the August 2015 issue of Signs of the Times magazine. It can be read online in a digital edition at http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201508/index.php#/64.)

SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas noted the town exempted 23 categories of signs from needing permits. Three of these categories were Ideological Signs, Political Signs and Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event (which characterizes Reed’s signs). Ideological signs could be a maximum of 20 square feet, with no time limits. Political signs could be 16 square feet (on residential property) or 32 square feet (otherwise) with a time limit of 60 days prior and 15 days after an election. The temporary directional signs were limited to 6 square feet with a 13-hour time limit (12 hours before and 1 hour after the event).

Verbatim excerpts from the Thomas opinion are as follows:

“On its face, the Sign Code is a content-based regulation of speech. We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the Code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.” (The 1980 Central Hudson SCOTUS case established the “strict scrutiny” requirement that states governmental restrictions are permissible if the governmental interest is “substantial,” if the restriction “directly advances” the governmental interest, and if the restriction is no more extensive than necessary.) 

Thomas continued, “The restrictions in the Sign Code that apply to any given sign thus depend entirely (emphasis added) on the communicative content of the sign.”

What this means for sign codes

In other words, SCOTUS clearly showed that signs can’t be regulated differently, based on their content. Quite often, the definitions in a sign code are more important than the regulations themselves. Typically, these definitions are fraught with discrimination. A red flag should arise when any sign code has dissimilar regulations for such things as political signs, real-estate signs, religious-organization signs, etc. The ONLY way to distinguish these signs is the CONTENT; thus, dissimilar regulations favor one type of speech over another.

In contrast, a sign code that stipulates different regulations for banners, projecting signs, freestanding signs, etc. IS content neutral, because the message on the sign isn’t a factor.  As SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito cautioned, in a concurring opinion, “This does not mean, however, that municipalities are powerless to enact and enforce reasonable sign regulations.”    

Additionally, most sign codes violate the content-neutral concept much more for temporary signs than for permanent signs. Additionally, while temporary signs are already difficult to regulate, the more restrictive the regulations for permanent signage, the more likely that people will resort to using more temporary signs, which exacerbates the temporary-sign conundrum.    

Planners’ reactions

Expectedly, the Reed decision immediately caught the attention of city planners -- the people who write local sign codes. The American Planning Association (APA), which has more than 35,000 members, held its annual National Planning Conference in April 2016. Planners deal with myriad civic issues, so signs are typically a very minor, yet often perplexing, concern. The annual APA conference typically offers more than 150 sessions, and only 1-3 are related to signs.

However, the 2016 conference’s April 4, 10:30 am session, entitled “Regulating Signs after Reed v. Town of Gilbert,” attracted more than 500 people and ranked #4 out of the 170 sessions, reported Professor Weinstein, who was one of the four speakers in the session. James Carpentier, who serves as the manager of state and local government affairs for the International Sign Association, was instrumental in having the session placed on the docket. He served as the moderator of the session.

Another speaker, Wendy Moeller, formerly served as president of the Ohio chapter of the APA. Last year, Moeller conducted a survey of cities nationwide and produced a report called Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signs. (Her full report, as well as an executive summary of it, can be found on The Signage Foundation website (www.thesignagefoundation.org).) In the aftermath of Reed, Moeller revised the study and co-authored, with Professor Weinstein, “Practice: Temporary Signs,” in the February 2016 issue of Zoning Practice.

Writing sign codes presents numerous obstacles for city planners, because the vast majority never received any collegiate instruction related to signage. Thus, planners typically seek existing sign codes, at least as a starting point, to write their own codes. But, as a subset of overall sign codes, the regulation of temporary signs is even more challenging, thus Moeller’s research provides some guidance in two ways.

Court reactions

In its May 2016 online edition, the Harvard Law Review, in an article entitled “Free Speech Doctrine After Reed v. Town of Gilbert, wrote, “In Thomas v. Schroer,79×79. 116 F. Supp. 3d 869 (W.D. Tenn. 2015). the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee found that a sign code distinguishing between off-premises and on-premises signs was content based.” HLR continues by saying the federal government is worried enough about Reed that it filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with regard to the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Beautification Act (HBA), which has governed billboards within 660 feet of the federal highway since 1965 in various iterations. Such briefs offer related perspective to a case in which the provider isn’t directly involved. HLR said a challenge to the HBA is “inevitable.”

In Springfield, Illinois, a prohibition of pan-handling signs had been upheld. After Reed, the decision was overturned by the same court. HLR wrote, “Rather than limiting the amount of protected speech subject to government regulation, Reed requires legislatures to regulate all speech in order to regulate any speech.” In other words, cities may subsequently be more restrictive of ALL signs in order to not be too restrictive on a few.

Soon after the decision, an August 15, 2015 New York Times article stated, “The court struck down a South Carolina law that barred robocalls on political and commercial topics but not on others. Last week, a federal judge in New Hampshire relied on Reed to strike down a law that made it illegal to take a picture of a completed election ballot and show it to others.”

End users’ reactions

In the shadow of Gilbert, the city of Chandler was sued in August 2016 by the Goldwater Institute, which is currently representing five businesses, including three shopping centers. Although the suit stemmed from a dispute about setback and property lines, it blossomed into a broad-based, legal challenge holding that Chandler’s sign code is “impermissibly vague” and alleging that it “imposes an unconstitutional prior restraint and is unequally and arbitrarily applied.” It specifically references Reed v. Gilbert and says Chandler’s sign code imposes different rules based on signs’ “communicative content.”  

The Goldwater Institute website explains: “The City of Chandler—right next door to Gilbert— imposes different rules for signs based on what they say, and who is saying it, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court’s Town of Gilbert ruling. Chandler’s sign code forbids some signs, requires permits for others, and allows still others without any permit—all depending on what signs say. The code divides signs up into 11 different categories based on the messages they convey, and imposes different size and location requirements to the different categories. Thus no permit is required for “political signs,” “grand opening signs,” or “residential real estate” signs, but a permit is required for “development signs,” “subdivision direction signs,” and “non-residential real estate signs.”

Meanwhile, in nearby Tucson, the 1985 sign code will probably be significantly revamped early in 2017. Changes in definitions based on content neutrality are likely to occur, but the triumvirate of Dark Skies, the Sierra Club and Scenic Arizona are resisting any changes. In the interim, a sign company trying to retrofit a legal, nonconforming, fluorescent sign with an electronic message center (EMC) is being denied. EMCs are allowed in the sign code.

Less than a month after the Reed decision, three counties in the metro Atlanta area – Cherokee, Forsyth and Hall –ad opted moratoriums so they could re-examine their sign codes. Similarly, in Garfield Heights, OH, the Supreme Court reversed a pre-Reed decision that had sided with the city, concerning the removal of a sign, placed on a lawn, that criticized a local councilwoman. In Norfolk, VA, Central Radio Co. revised its suit against the city, which had demanded that Central Radio remove a sign that criticized the city for enacting eminent domain and taking its property. 

The general aftermath

Robert Niles, writing for Bloomberg BNA’s The United States Law Week (April 18, 2016 edition), said, although Reed could conceivably be interpreted to mean that strict scrutiny (which stems from Central Hudson) would apply to all speech, lower courts were still making a distinction between commercial and non-commercial speech, and applying intermediate scrutiny to commercial speech.  

He writes: Nowhere in Reed does the court suggest that it intended to upset commercial speech doctrine: Reed doesn't discuss Central Hudson or other of the court's commercial speech cases.”

Niles continues: “Though Reed will certainly have substantial impact on free speech doctrine in challenges to regulations of non-commercial speech, the first wave of lower-court decisions suggests that reports of the death of government regulatory power in the face of First Amendment challenge after Reed were greatly exaggerated.”

In other words, cities, although reticent at first, will continue to write sign codes with whatever level of restriction they prefer, but they will have to be more careful. Instead of defining signs by content, they will probably define them by physical characteristics. This doesn’t, in any way, infringe free speech.

Again, the general fear for the sign industry is that cities, worried about being inconsistent, will simply place restrictions on ALL signs. 

Summary

The Goldwater Institute has produced an article called “Heed Reed,” with a subtitle of “Guideposts for Amending City Sign Code’s.” The 2600-word document can be obtained from the institute. Here are its summary suggestions for establishing sign codes post-Reed.

“In light of Reed and changes in state law, local sign codes around the state must be revised. Doing so need not be difficult, so long as the guidelines set out in this report are followed. Following these guidelines will not only protect free speech, but will also lead to simpler sign codes that are easier to follow and enforce, and protect taxpayers from costly and time-consuming lawsuits. 

·         If a sign code requires enforcement officers to read a sign to determine whether it violates the code, the code is probably content based and violates the First Amendment. 

·         Commercial messages cannot be treated differently than other types of messages. 

·         Signs must be allowed in public rights-of-way.

·         Sign walkers cannot be restricted from holding up signs on public sidewalks.

·         Sign codes must be easy to understand, and (a) clear standards that do not allow enforcement officials to pick when to enforce the restriction, (b) a definite time limit within which a permit will be granted or denied, and (c) an opportunity for meaningful judicial review in the event the permit application is denied. Cities should avoid permit requirements whenever possible.

·         If a municipality determines that removing or allowing a particular sign is integral to traffic safety, it must provide clear evidence that justifies its determination.”

  

Penn State to Present Lighting Study at American Planning Association's 2017 National Planning Conference

Penn State University's Philip Garvey, the Senior Research Associate at the university's Larson Transportation Institute, will be a featured speaker at the American Planning Association's 2017 National Planning Conference. His session, entitled "A Guide to National Sign-Illumination Standards," will be presented on Saturday May 6 at 2:30. He will be joined by his colleague, Jennie Nolon Blanchard, and Cleveland State University Professor Alan Weinstein.

The APA website's preview of the session states, "Take the guesswork out of developing lighting regulations for signs. Learn about new, first-of-their-kind national sign-illumination standards, based on research conducted at the Larson Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University."

FASI Awards First Collegiate Scholarship to Michigan State Student

The Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI) has awarded the first of what it hopes will be numerous scholarships to collegiate members of the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education (AACSRE). Stephanie Onwenu, a junior in the Landscape Architecture program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University (MSU), has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

Dr. Pat Crawford, Associate Director of Planning Design & Construction at MSU stated, “Stephanie is part of the research team exploring perceptions of on-premise signage in urban streetscape environments using the IBM VAS software. She will also be exploring, first hand, urban signage in Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy during her study abroad in March and April 2017.”

In a letter to FASI, Stephanie wrote, “This opportunity will allow me to compare and contrast the various ways and forms that signage is manipulated around the world. Following on into the next school year, I plan to begin my Masters in Environmental Design [MED] graduate courses through the dual-degree program here at MSU. For my area of study, I plan to include an element of focus on signage in urban designed spaces.”

Wade Swormstedt, FASI’s executive director, said, “FASI is very proud to assist in the education of college students with an interest in signage. FASI hopes to announce many more of these scholarships throughout the year. FASI believes such scholarships support the groundwork laid by the National Signage Research & Education Conferences [NSREC] sponsored by The Signage Foundation.”   

FASI (www.fasi.org) is dedicated to serving as a resource for the on-premise sign industry, and a clearinghouse of information for and about on-premise signs. FASI strives to proclaim the societal benefits of on-premise signage, and to support the efforts of on-premise sign organizations, including associations, universities, trade publications and end-user groups. 

Villanova Professor's Study Examines Value of Illuminated On-premise Signs

Professor Charles R. Taylor,  a marketing professor at Villanova University, and a Research Fellow at the Center for Marketing and Policy Research, conducted a survey of business owners as to the value of illumination for their on-premise signs. Surveys were sent to 750 business owners, and 333 useable responses were received. Here are some of the highlights:

The average business had 1.7 signs, which were lit for 13.9 hours daily. The average business was open for 10.8 hours per day, which indicates the need for identification even when the business isn't open. More than 80% reported doing so, and 30% said their signs were illuminated 24/7.

Approximately one fourth of the respondents faced restrictions on their illuminated, on-premise signs. Most common was restrictions on the type of illuminated sign (24%); others were brightness (8%) and allowable hours of operation (3%).

On a scale of 1-7 (the higher the number, the more the respondent agrees with the statement), these business owners were asked to assess the following statements about an illuminated signs' function:

Reinforces advertising as part of integrated marketing communications (6.14)

Brands the business's location (6.14)

Enhances the store's image (6.22)

Helps communicate the business' location (6.19)

Brands the business even when it's closed (6.22)

Respondents said restrictions on lighting on-premise signs inhibit their ability to effectively perform marketing functions. A majority said they would lose sales if government regulations prevented them from lighting their signs. They estimated this would cause a 21% loss in sales.

The full 31-page report can be found on The Signage Foundation website at

http://www.thesignagefoundation.org/Portals/0/Economic%20Impact%20of%20Illuminated%20Signs%20-%20Ray%20Taylor.pdf

Penn State Study Examines Font Legibility

The Larson Transportation Institute at Penn State University conducted a study on font legibility through a grant from Gemini Inc. (Cannon Falls, MN), a manufacturer of dimensional letters. The following is the Executive Summary from the report. For information about the full report, contact Philip Garvey at pmg4@psu.edu.

Background and objectives

The enormous font selection available for on-premise signs fosters creativity, but also limitations, because of the unknown of a given font’s legibility at various distances. Although a small number of studies have broached this topic, this research effort is intended as the first to address the visibility of a large set of existing on-premise fonts.

Laboratory experiment

Method

The study was conducted at Penn State. Sixty-four signs were tested, using 34 unique fonts. The fonts were displayed as scale-sized, one-word, on-premise signs on a high-resolution computer monitor. Sixty-four subjects from 19 to 87 years of age participated. The legibility distance of each font was determined, and the effects of age, uppercase vs. lowercase, serif vs. sans serif, word-superiority, and art/word combination were evaluated.

 

Age group effect

The subjects were divided into three age groups. Not surprisingly, and consistent with earlier research, the young group and the middle age group were both able to read the signs from further away than the more elderly group.

 

Font effect

Large differences in font legibility were found. Gill Sans uppercase provided the best legibility, while Mistral lowercase had the worst. Also, simply choosing a font with a 5-ft./in. or larger ratio of distance to letter height insures better legibility, both statistically and practically.

 

Case effect

For all 31 fonts presented in both upper- and lower-case conditions, the upper-case words were more legible. In 22 of those cases, that difference was statistically significant.

 

Serif vs. sans-serif effect

There was no statistical difference between the serif and the san-serif fonts when shown in uppercase. A statistically significant effect was found in the lower-case analysis; however the difference was not practically significant.

Font family effect

Several fonts tested had more than one “weight,” such as bold or condensed.  The upper- and lower-case fonts were analyzed separately with the following results:

  • For upper and lower case, Times Bold was significantly more legible than Times New Roman.

  • For upper and lower case, Optima Bold was significantly more legible than Optima.

  • For upper and lower case, Garamond Bold was significantly more legible than Adobe Garamond.

  • For upper case, Helvetica was significantly more legible than Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Light and Helvetica Medium Condensed. Also, Helvetica Bold was more legible than Helvetica Light. For lower case, Helvetica was more legible than Helvetica Bold and Helvetica Light.

 

Word superiority

The 64 words showed large differences in legibility. The most legible word was Sunday, which was more than twice as legible as the least legible word, Crawfordsville.

 

Words and art

All of the signs tested included words and a graphic element. In 10 instances, the graphic directly related to the word (e.g., a drawing of a flower and the word “Flower”). This relationship minimally impacted sign readability.

 

Summary

This research sought to determine the relative legibility distances of a large set of fonts used on on-premise signs.  It allows users to compare legibility distances and make an informed decision about which font to use on their signs. Several results are clear:

  • Although font selection can significantly impact on-premise-sign legibility, many fonts have equivalent legibility.

  • Case (upper vs. lower) sometimes, but not always, can greatly impact sign legibility. Upper case often performs significantly better than lower case, at least under this study’s conditions.

  • The choice of serif vs. sans serif alone doesn’t measurably affect legibility.

  • Font weight can dramatically impact the distance from which a sign can be read. Fonts from the same family (e.g., Times) can have dissimilar legibility.

  • Word selection can greatly impact sign legibility. Not surprisingly, simpler, shorter words can be read at greater distances, regardless of font.

  • Matching a word to an image or graphic on a sign doesn’t, generally, positively impact legibility.

 

Gemini Grants $100,000 Scholarships to Incoming Univ. of Minnesota and Michigan Students

Gemini Inc. (Cannon Falls, MN) has awarded two $100,000 Ross Wagner Engineering Scholarships. The four-year scholarships will go to Matt Moskal, a senior at Cannon Falls High School, who will attend the Univ. of Minnesota. Bjorn Pearson, also a Cannon Falls senior, will attend the Univ. of Michigan. For the full story, go to http://www.signweb.com/content/gemini-announces-ross-wagner-scholarship-recipients

Duke University Economic Professor Applies "Game Theory" to Signage

David McAdams, an economics professor at Duke University, has authored a paper entitled "The Economics of On-Premise Signs" in conjunction with the United States Sign Council. In it, he contrasts the philosophies and ramifications of sign codes in Henrietta and Brighton, New York -- two communities with similar demographics, both of which are near Rochester, NY. Henrietta's sign code will allow up to 80 square feet of signage, while Brighton limits it to 30 square feet.

In the paper, McAdams assesses the Strategic Rationale, which suggests that, if one company benefits from a larger sign, other businesses will suffer. This has also been referenced as a "zero net gain." McAdams counters, however, that better signs will encourage other businesses to acquire better signs, which will create more business for everyone, and benefit the town in the form of higher tax revenue.   

An overview of the McAdams paper can be read at http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201512/index.php#/92. The full study is available from the United States Sign Council website, http://www.ussc.org/USSC-publications.php

Texas A&M Studies EMCs and Traffic Accidents

In 2012, Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute conducted a study to see if EMCs cause traffic accidents. Research included data from the FHWA’s own Highway Safety Information System (HSIS), a comprehensive database of crash records from several states. They identified 135 cites in which EMCs had recently been erected. Researchers used the empirical Bayes method to perform a before-after statistical analysis of the safety impacts of what was called the on-premise digital signs.

The research team used digital-sign installation information provided by sign manufacturers to identify locations in selected states where digital signs had been installed in the 2006–2007 time frame (this time frame was selected to provide adequate numbers of crashes in both the before and after periods). 

HSIS data was studied two years before and two years after the on-premise digital signs were installed. For example, if a sign was installed in 2006, the "before" period was calendar years 2004 and 2005, and the "after" period was calendar years 2007 and 2008. The surveyed area was 528 ft. (0.1 miles) before and after the signs. HSIS data was available for California, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.  

The researchers wrote: “The results of this study provide scientifically based data that indicate that the installation of digital on-premise signs does not lead to a statistically significant increase in crashes on major roads. The overall results show that there is no statistically significant increase in crash frequency after installing the onpremise digital sign. Based on the analysis performed for this research effort, the authors are able to conclude that there is no statistically significant evidence that the installation of on-premise signs at the locations evaluated in this research led to an increase in crashes.” 

For the full report, go to http://www.thesignagefoundation.org/Library.aspx.

Also, to read about the Federal Highway Administration's study of EMCs and traffic accidents, go to:

https://fasi.squarespace.com/config#/pages|/rhetorical/2016/4/15/electronic-message-centers-dont-cause-traffic-accidents