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

City councilors will consider getting involved in distributing voting signs on the boulevard with an upcoming announcement of the motion.

The application compiled by Couns. Kourtney Penner and Sonya Sharp will appear at the December 14 Executive Committee meeting for approval.

It’s asking the city government to come back with proposed changes to the ordinance on temporary highway signage in the first half of next year. The goal is to reduce visual clutter and distractions along lanes.

Penner said it first jumped on their radar at the last election. She had gone to fix one of her own signs and other signs had turned up. They were all within the two meters required by law.

“Really, it looks like garbage strewn on the streets,” she said.

People were talking about the visual pollution on social media, Penner said.

According to Penner, sign complaints increased by 10 to 30 percent year-on-year and month-on-month in 2021.

The last election saw a record number of candidates, adding to the frenzy of drawing. Penner said she acknowledges her own contribution to the mess.

The request to the administration includes consideration of the distance between signs, roads where signs should be banned and the distance from the carriageway itself. It also asks to look at specific rules for voting signage.

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

“I’m even thinking of increasing the distance between characters of the same person — maybe it’s 50 meters, maybe it’s 100 meters, again to help reduce the number of[characters].”

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

According to the city’s website for election signs, there should already be at least 20 meters between signs for the same candidate.

Also, signs should be two meters (six feet) from the curb or side of the road.

The other aspect to this is the waste of voting signs. Most signs are made from corrugated disposable plastic. These signs aren’t allowed down the city’s recycling stream, so many end up in landfills.

The city recently implemented a strategy to reduce single-use items. While signs were not specifically mentioned in this strategy, the forthcoming announcement of the application does mention how it could affect changes to the Temporary Signs Bylaws.

“This is environmentalism, visual pollution, and it’s really in response to what I’ve seen during the campaign from people complaining,” Penner said.

However, enforcement could be an issue. Earlier this year, Coun. Raj Dhaliwal addressed the issue of illegal signs along the Métis Trail in Northeast Calgary. Part of the problem was that 311 complaints were filed and nothing was done.

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

The city said it is trying to fix the problem.

Penner said using technology can help with that. They could require geotagging and dating of the signs so the city knows who might be associated with the illegal placement. Adhering to the changes could also reduce complaints about the statute itself, she said.

Ultimately, the statute needs to be reviewed, Penner said. It’s been 25 years since there was a complete rewrite (1997).

It is possible that the changes will come into effect before the scheduled provincial elections next May. The review mentions compliance with provincial electoral code regulations.

If it passes the Executive Committee’s test of merit, it has yet to be approved by a full session of the Council.

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