Bismarck needs to clarify its policy on movable signs. The Tribune editorial board believes priority should be placed on the public’s safety, but the concerns of sign companies should be addressed.
City commissioners are considering a proposed ordinance from staff that would limit the display of small movable signs to 180 days a year. Under the proposal, businesses wouldn’t be permitted to display signs for more that six periods of up to 30 days each.
The proposal also would place a limit of one movable sign for each street frontage or land in front of a building.
Ben Ehreth, director of community development for Bismarck, told the commission the city has received complaints about the signs.
“Some of the complaints are for encroachments on the right of way, blocking traffic control devices, signs being located within what we call ‘sight vision triangles’ — so at an intersection,” Ehreth said.
Obviously, these issues can create safety problems if motorists can’t see traffic signs or their ability to see traffic is blocked. The policing of signs should address these problems, but it will take the time of city staff or police officers.
Of course, the goal of the signs is to draw the attention of motorists and pedestrians to the business. The question then becomes: When does getting someone’s attention become a distraction?
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The Tribune believes the movable signs are probably less of a distraction than the use of cellphones, podcasts or music by motorists. That doesn’t mean common sense shouldn’t be used in the placement of signs.
One movable sign owner, Dwayne Hagel of Awesome Signs, told the Tribune that the proposed restriction on the number of days a sign could be displayed would put him out of business. We don’t think that’s what the city commission intends.
It’s certainly within the rights of the city commission to regulate signage. There are rules on the size of signs, lighting and placement. There also are restrictions on where residents can place rummage sale signs.
Mandan doesn’t allow businesses to display temporary signs for more than 240 days a year, according to the city's website. The rule doesn’t apply to construction, real estate or political signs.
The proposal before the commission also mentions “visual clutter” as another community concern — the aesthetics of the city. Bismarck residents are rightfully proud of how the city looks. Overall, Bismarck is a clean and green community.
On Sept. 25, the commission will review the proposed ordinance, and the public will have the opportunity to testify. We believe commissioners should balance the need for safety with the desire of businesses to advertise. A reasonable limit on how long a sign can be displayed doesn’t seem outrageous.
Sign companies should be ready to explain the impact of the proposal. There should be a way to improve public safety without driving companies out of business. Commissioners need to find that balance.