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Woodward not a place for digital signage

The cities of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, along with other communities along the Woodward corridor, had quite a surprise this summer, when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) advised the cities that they intend to install an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), which includes digital message signs on 85-foot monopoles, at several intersections, flashing information to drivers.

For the last decade or so, Birmingham has been considering putting Woodward on a “road diet,” similar to what Ferndale did, narrowing the roadway and lowering traffic speeds. Bloomfield Hills is a quiet and insular community which prefers to stay that way. The plan by MDOT appears to be a direct contradiction to what the local communities endeavor towards. Worse yet, that state planning lacked consultation with local communities.

MDOT is a state agency which has long had a tendency towards autonomy, often to the chagrin of cities and others, which have to work hard to gain cooperation for projects along their state roadways, such as pedestrian crosswalks, road narrowing, speed limits, safety paths and other community improvements.

MDOT has informed Birmingham and other communities along the Woodward corridor that they plan to install the Intelligent Transportation System for the purpose of “traffic monitoring, incident management and advance notification” along Woodward, Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus informed city commissioners in his July monthly manager's report. He said MDOT said “the system is proposed to include connected vehicle technology, traffic signal controller and cabinet upgrades at several intersections, and related equipment.

“Based on the proposal submitted by MDOT, 'related equipment' includes new 85-foot monopoles, large dynamic digital message signs, cameras, bracket arms and utility cabinets along Woodward Avenue that are commonly used on high speed freeways separated from the local street network,” Markus said.

“The addition of interstate-scale equipment and signage will have a significant negative impact on the aesthetics of the corridor and will not be compatible with the efforts of Birmingham, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Detroit and other local communities to create a less auto-centric corridor,” Markus wrote.

MDOT informed Birmingham that they have had this in the works since 2015 – yet only thought to notify them in early June of this year. Same with Bloomfield Hills.

Markus wrote to MDOT that there are numerous improvements needed for their traffic infrastructure – but this isn't one of them, especially in light of apps available to driver's, such as Google Maps and WAZE.

Residents recognize when it's a state freeway, such as I-75 or I-94, which MDOT is making unilateral decisions about. Unfortunately, Woodward Avenue is a state trunkline. The fact it runs through so many local communities doesn't seem to have connected with those at the state level – who don't realize that digital signage and 85-foot poles amount to local visual pollution.

Cleaning up roadways is much more than picking up trash. Reduced sign clutter falls into that category – especially when it's blaring digital signs. It's high time for MDOT to get the message.


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