A recent story in the Journal-World pretty much put to rest any questions about whether waving an advertising sign at a busy intersection in Lawrence is a job most people would want. The question that it didn’t answer, however — and the question city officials perhaps should ask themselves — is whether those signs constitute a nuisance that should be addressed by a city ordinance.
When reporter Chad Lawhorn talked to the sign-wavers at 23rd and Iowa streets, he learned that it was common for motorists to wave at the workers or perhaps offer a less-friendly gesture. When Lawhorn invited motorists to express their opinion of the sign-wavers by honking their horns, the drivers complied.
With all the current research and conversation about drivers being distracted by cell phones or other electronic devices, it seems logical to ask whether these human billboards at busy intersections constitute a dangerous distraction. When motorists are waving, honking or just reading the signs, their attention is being drawn from their primary activity: driving. It’s not hard to imagine that distraction contributing to rear-end collisions or more serious accidents.
City officials say sign-holders in the public right of way don’t need to have permits and attempts to regulate the practice would be complicated by concerns about protecting First Amendment rights to expression. Nonetheless, it seems that there would be ways to rein in a business practice that many residents find visually annoying, if not hazardous.
The city may not be able to regulate political speech, but could it eliminate signs that are being waved to advertise a commercial venture? Or require that sign-holders advertising a business be located within a certain number of feet of that business?
Nothing against the intersection sign-wavers personally, but many people see them as not only distracting to drivers but also detracting from the general appearance of the city. The business owners who use them must think they attract customers, but some observers may wonder whether the sign-wavers project the kind of image a business would want to foster.
The city has all kinds of regulations governing the placement of permanent signs in the community. The goal of those restrictions is to contribute to a desirable visual character in the city and to make sure signs don’t obstruct the view of motorists. From both a safety and aesthetic standpoint, regulating human signboards at busy intersections might be worth a look by city officials.