Editorial: Bus signs are a form of pollution | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: Bus signs are a form of pollution

There are many different forms of pollution. The most common types recognized by the public involve air, water and ground. Fortunately, in the United States, certain local, state and federal governmental entities — if they are doing their jobs — keep track of pollutants that tangibly harm the environment and health of communities and take action against violators. Sometimes businesses are forced to bear the cost of fixing their mistakes, but in many cases, taxpayers are on the hook for the cleanup.

There are other types of pollutants, the effects of which could be deemed subjective. One that has been identified in certain areas of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley is an excess of light and noise. That’s why there is a debate over live music in downtown Aspen; that’s why when you drive to many areas of the valley at night, you’ll have difficulty reading street signs (unless you travel with a high-powered flashlight).

What we currently don’t have in mountain communities from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, not to any tangible degree, is something known as sign pollution. As in other areas of the country that enjoy federally designated scenic byways, the valley’s residents can take heart in that billboards are not allowed on Highway 82. Such forms of advertising might be acceptable along roadways in certain major cities or industrial areas that lack aesthetically pleasing landscapes. But they clearly are not a good fit for this area, which is defined by its iconic mountain scenery.

Now, to the matter at hand: The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board met on Thursday and considered the revenue-raising idea of allowing exterior advertising on the outsides of its buses. There was good news and bad news in the wake of the discussion. First, the positive: The board voted unanimously not to allow ads promoting products. So, the idea of our buses displaying those tacky beer, cigarette and real estate ads that you see on public-transit vehicles in big cities was a non-starter — and the board should be commended for that.

But the concept of company sponsorships for public-service announcements still is alive among the RFTA decision-makers, and to us that’s troubling. They directed the transportation entity’s staff to gauge whether a market exists for such messages. Nothing was defined, and the direction remains squarely in the exploratory stage. New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin, a RFTA board member, said an example could be a PSA that says, “Please hang up and drive.” A sponsoring company’s logo could accompany the announcement.

This type of signage, too, would be a stain upon the unique valley communities that pride themselves on keeping such forms of advertising at bay. There are other, more effective ways of encouraging people to stop texting and driving, or smoking, or polluting, or abusing kids — whatever the cause or social ill may be. While we understand that the board is simply examining ways to reduce taxpayer subsidies to RFTA, which enjoys solid financial footing, we would suggest that it go back to the drawing board.

Simply put, it’s highly unusual for a local taxpayer-supported entity to consider allowing sign pollution in communities that largely are void of it and don’t want it. This is a concept that should be placed in the scrap pile immediately.

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