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Review sought for Calgary bylaw to ease election sign ‘garbage’

Councillors will consider putting a stake in the proliferation of boulevard election signs with an upcoming notice of motion.

The motion, put together by Couns. Kourtney Penner and Sonya Sharp will come for approval to the Dec. 14 Executive Committee meeting.

It asks that city administration to come back in the first part of next year with proposed amendments to the Temporary Signs on Highways bylaw. The goal is to reduce the visual clutter and the distractions along roadways.

Penner said it first jumped on to her radar in the last election. She’d gone to fix one of her own signs and other signs had popped up. They were all inside the bylaw-prescribed two-metres from one another.

“Really, it looks like garbage strewn along the roads,” she said.

On social media, people were talking about the visual pollution, Penner said.

Penner said sign complaints in 2021 jumped in a year-over-year and month-over-month period from between 10 and 30 per cent.

Last election there were a record number of candidate, adding to the sign spree. Penner said she recognizes her own contribution to the mess.

The request to administration includes examination of the distance between signs, roads where signs should be prohibited and the distance from the roadway itself.  It also asks to look at specific rules around election signage.

“Well, if you’re driving at 60 kilometers an hour, you don’t have time to even read signs that are two meters apart, whether they say the same thing or not,” Penner said.  

“I think even increasing the distance between signs from the same person – maybe it’s 50 meters, maybe it’s 100 meters to help, again, cut down on the number of (signs).”

It’s visual pollution, but they’re plastic, too

According to the city’s webpage for election signs, there should already be a minimum of 20 metres between signs from the same candidate.

Also, signs are supposed to be two metres (six feet) from the curb or the edge of the roadway.

The other aspect to this is the waste generated from election signs. Most signs are made from single-use corrugated plastics.  These signs aren’t allowed in the city’s recycling stream, so many end up in the landfill.

The city recently adopted a single-use item reduction strategy. While signs weren’t explicitly mentioned in this strategy, the upcoming notice of motion mentions how it could influence changes to the temporary sign bylaw.

“This is environmental stewardship, visual pollution, and this is really responding to what I saw during the campaign of people complaining,” Penner said.

Enforcement could be an issue, however. Earlier this year, Coun. Raj Dhaliwal brought up the issue of illegal signs along Métis Trail in northeast Calgary.  Part of the problem was 311 complaints were being made and nothing was being done.

“I don’t want it to come to a point where residents are taking these signs out because they shouldn’t be,” Dhaliwal said at the time.

The city said they were trying to fix the issue.

Penner said the use of technology could help with some of this. They could require geotagging and dating of the signs so the city knows who might be tied to illegal placement. Adherence to the changes could also reduce bylaw complaints themselves, she said.

Ultimately, the bylaw needs a review, Penner said. It’s been 25 years since there was a full rewrite (1997).

It’s possible the changes could be in place before next May’s scheduled provincial election. The review does mention compliance with provincial election sign bylaws.

If it passes the merit test at Executive Committee, it will still need approval at a full meeting of council.