Plan to line LAX traffic loop with digital signs up for key vote

A digital billboard along Santa Monica Boulevard on the west side of Los Angeles. LAX would be lined with similar billboards under a plan before the city council.
A digital billboard along Santa Monica Boulevard on the west side of Los Angeles. LAX would be lined with similar billboards under a plan before the city council.
Reed Saxon/AP

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A plan to hang enough signs across LAX to cover five NFL football fields laid end to end goes before a Los Angeles City Council committee for approval Tuesday, it's last step before the full council.

The city is searching for new revenue to help pay for about $7 billion in construction projects including a people mover, a train connection at LAX and a major rental car center, said Lisa Trifiletti, LAX's division director for environmental land use planning.

"We have a major need, we have aging infrastructure," she said. "We're looking at any initiative to help us accomplish that effort."

The City has not said how much it would receive from the new billboards - the vast majority of which would be stationary, not digital. It already takes in about $25 million per year for ads posted inside passenger terminals.

One-fifth of the signs would be digital displays that light up the airport traffic ring used by cars, buses and shuttles to pick up and drop off 65 million passengers per year.

Some would hang from the parking garages and change every eight seconds. Other digital signs would be installed on the bridges that cross traffic lanes - but would only change displays twice a day.

"They're intended to be distracting," Dennis Hathaway, of Ban Billboard Blight, said of digital signs. He said that's especially a problem at the airport where "people going different speeds, different directions" to get to the right gate to drop off or pick up loved ones.

Trifiletti, of LAX, said planners  made the signs safe for drivers. An environmental report on the project  said the digital signs would not have a significant impact on traffic circulation.

"The signs on the parking garages are not intended to be viewable by the drivers," she said. "We have a series of control mechanisms that will control animation, flashing, lighting, glare."

The signs on the parking garages that change messages every eight seconds would be intended to be seen by passengers leaving terminals and would be positioned so that they are not a distraction to drivers passing by, she said. The digital signs on the traffic loop would not be animated or have sound.

The digital signs on overhead pedestrian bridges would be directly in drivers' line of sight. Those would change messages only twice a day.

Trifiletti said studies have been inconclusive about the effect digital signs have on drivers' safety.

She said the airport will do a baseline study on the number of traffic collisions that occur on the traffic loop so officials can study before-and-after effects of the signs on traffic safety.

The non-digital signs that make up the bulk of the LAX proposed sign inventory would be hung on pillars on the traffic loop and on jetway ramps that passengers use to board airplanes.

Some of the ad revenue would be used to buy out and dismantle about 20,000 square feet of billboards now posted on streets around the airport.

The LAX proposal would create a district with special rules for signage on airport property.

The sign district was first proposed in a 2004 and has had several hearings before the city Planning Commission and Board of Airport Commissioners.

If the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee approve it Tuesday, the measure goes before the full council for approval.