The City Plan Commission took up the ongoing debate over the large advertising signs that accompany the city’s new bike share stations, even as it gave the green light for the third phase for the project.
Commissioners in their regular monthly meeting Wednesday gave unanimous approval to five more stations of the planned 30 station bike share system but only after nearly 30 minutes of discussing some complaints.
The loudest concerns center on advertising that apparently for the public is unexpectedly large, featuring an international brand — McDonald’s — advertising food seemingly at odds with the perceived healthful mission of the program, and the location of those signs near city schools.
Commission Chair Ed Mattison said that he’d received between six and 12 calls from residents who expressed concerns that the bike share signs are much larger and intrusive than expected. While he said the calls might not be a representative sample of feelings around town, he said, some admonished commissioners for not talking more about these details. He said one caller even characterized the signs as “scary” because they’re big enough for someone to hide behind.
“I think everybody who called me said they approved of the idea and that the bicycle part looked pretty good, but they felt that New Haven has traditionally avoided this sort of advertisements on the sidewalks unlike many other places which have a lot of this sort of thing,” he said. “I think everybody started off with the proposition that these bike things are great when we first heard about this and you gave us a demonstration. I don’t know if we should have been more awake to what we were actually buying.”
The City Plan Commission took up the bike share program on two previous occasions, approving nine bike stations in November and another 10 in January. The first phase was unveiled Tuesday. Phase one and two stations are located in downtown, Dixwell, Newhallville, Fair Haven, and Hill North.
On Wednesday, commissioners ultimately approved five more stations that would expand the program, which will eventually include 300 bikes. Phase three expands the system further in downtown, specifically at the State and Union train stations, in East Rock, Fair Haven, and the Hill.
Mattison noted that people were upset that the McDonald’s ads promote inexpensive food that is not particularly healthful.
Mattison said he was a little upset with himself because he didn’t think very hard about what the signs might actually look like or how they might appear to people. But ultimately he’s not sure that the commission would have made different decisions even if they knew that the signs would be as they are given that the advertising is really what pays for the program.
Traffic, Transit, and Parking Deputy Mike Pinto said that when the bike share program was making its way through the aldermanic approval process and eventually the City Plan site process, no one hid the fact that the signs would be large four-by-eight panels. Big advertising was the trade-off for making sure that the system could exist without any funding from the city. And though people have heartburn about McDonald’s, he noted that the brand is a major advertiser with New York City’s transit system as well as the Olympics.
Pinto said the guidelines for advertising with the city’s bike share excludes obscenity, grossly misleading or false information, tobacco, electronic cigarettes, and firearms. But it does not exclude fast food. He also noted that the location of stations near schools was at the request of some alders.
Westville Alder Adam Marchand said he first encountered one of the McDonald signs over on Audubon Street and was “taken aback,” particularly because such a large sign would usually have to be approved by alders. He said he had forgotten that such signage was associated with the new bike share program.
“I agree with you Mr. Chair that there could be an element of buyer’s remorse here when you see a schematic and it doesn’t have the actual advertiser in it that first buys space,” he said. “It doesn’t hit you as seeing the physical object in three-dimension in real life. So when I saw it, I was like, ‘Whoa that’s a big McDonald’s advertisement right here on Audubon Street. How did this get approved?’
“It got approved because I and others of my colleagues approved it although we certainly didn’t have any say, or didn’t exercise any say, about to whom the company would sell that space,” Marchand added. “It was certainly eye-catching.”
I am truly envious of these people if their lives are otherwise so perfect that they can take 30 minutes of their time discussing the horrors of having to see an advertisement that is large and have pictures of cheap unhealthy food.
I also find it a bit comical that the story directly below this is about New Haven potentially getting rid of 55 teachers due to lack of funds. You would think that they would take all the advertising money they can get and, perhaps shockingly, allow people to choose for themselves whether or not dollar menu fast food items are a good idea or not.
posted by: Atwater on February 22, 2018 10:44am
Six to twelve residents complain and it warrants a response? Stop whining! The ads help pay for the service and McDonald’s isn’t being forced onto people, it’s offered and the individual chooses to eat it or not. Other advertisers are welcome to buy space, even local businesses, non-profits, etc. You would think that the people of New Haven and its elected and appointed officials have bigger concerns at the moment.
posted by: robn on February 22, 2018 10:46am
ON the subject of food…how about you just teach your kids what healthy food is and tell them that they shouldn’t grab a burger on the way home because it will ruin their dinner?
On the subject of advertisements…I understand this will help pay for this program and don’t mind the smaller scale of these placards. Nevertheless I cringe every time I leave the house and see how much billboards have polluted the visual landscape of Connecticut.
posted by: robn on February 22, 2018 10:47am
Your poll formatting leaves off some of the color legend.
[Paul: Yes! I learned from this that I need to limit the number of responses so they can all fit in the pie chart. Thanks!]
posted by: HewNaven on February 22, 2018 10:53am
Thank you for some common sense, City Plan!
Large billboards being erected on our sidewalks was unprecedented. There has never been anything like it before. It definitely deserves more scrutiny.
posted by: Pedro Soto on February 22, 2018 11:11am
Can we remind everyone that the city isn’t paying a dime for these bikes? This is a business that needs to figure out how to make money and is providing a new transit option to the city, and is doing it in a pretty reasonable way, and a way that is pretty normal in most cities. The ads come with the deal.
I mean… I get that it sucks and it’s not sending the best message, but having the bike share program at zero cost to the city is a huge benefit. The city isn’t in a position to be subsidizing any more transportation options currently, as we try to carve a cool $10 million from education and lose all kinds of transportation funding. Perhaps there needs to be a policy about fast food advertisements near the schools, however. But I have a hard time believing local advertisers are going to be able to afford the ads that will sustain the bike program, either. Is there a link to how much it costs to advertise?
posted by: robn on February 22, 2018 11:57am
One things for sure, they’ve made the bikes ugly enough that not even the most consistent of thieves will be tempted to steal them.
posted by: Noteworthy on February 22, 2018 11:58am
As taxes rise - we’ll all need to eat cheap food. Too bad there’s not a map so we know where to find the nearest McDonald’s on the bikes.
posted by: HewNaven on February 22, 2018 12:05pm
We should let corporations have their way with our city. We should give them unprecedented access to our public space for the purpose of advertising… just as long as we don’t have to pay for a bike share program! The horror!
posted by: JCFremont on February 22, 2018 1:04pm
If these ad’s are so hypnotic maybe CT Transit can post an advertisement at these bike stations. “Relax all, Ride don’t Peddle….Meet your fellow citizens, We’ll even carry your bike!” Hey they need the money.
posted by: Mooks on February 22, 2018 1:31pm
“”“posted by: HewNaven on February 22, 2018 11:05am We should let corporations have their way with our city. We should give them unprecedented access to our public space for the purpose of advertising… just as long as we don’t have to pay for a bike share program! The horror!”“”
Just curious how you would pay for it? Get rid of 65 teachers instead of 55? Not sure how much the program costs but it seems they can save about $70k or so with each teacher they get rid of. I am genuinely curious because people often bemoan cuts (or in your case bemoan the City allowing someone else to pay for something in return for advertising space) but people rarely offer ideas as to where to get funds from.
posted by: EPDP on February 22, 2018 1:40pm
There must be a middle ground that would satisfy all concerned. I would propose that the McDonald’s ads be written in Gothic lettering so that the ads will blend in with the Gothic architecture of Yale and City Hall. The McBikes need to be painted black, with gargoyles attached to the front handlebars. Because the bikes benefit Yale, and Yale is not contributing anything to the cost of the McBikes, I would propose that Yale offer free lectures on how corporate power is leading to the enslavement of American citizens.
posted by: RobotShlomo on February 22, 2018 2:04pm
My big problem isn’t the ads for Micky D’s (who doesn’t love a burger every now and then), it’s calling this a “bike share”. It’s a bike RENTAL.
posted by: Atwater on February 22, 2018 2:05pm
@NewHaven: Corporations already have their way with the city, i.e. Yale, etc. This bike program is not unprecedented, there are similar programs in many cities. The fact that it is privately funded is a good thing, as others have pointed out New Haven and Connecticut in general is in no position to fund any more transit programs. A sign attached to the bike kiosk is not the first stage in the corporate take over of New Haven, that already happened, you’re a bit late to realize it. Yale sells ‘knowledge’ and access to power, they drive up rents, destroy small businesses and homogenize culture. McDonalds sells hamburgers. Which corporation is really more dangerous?
posted by: HewNaven on February 22, 2018 2:22pm
In New Haven, advertising has never been delivered in this form. That is the meaning of UNPRECEDENTED. Anyone who would roll over and accept such an assault on public space is not thinking clearly. Either they are too invested in the idea of having a bike share to be willing to justify such means to an end, or they simply don’t understand the meaning of PUBLIC SPACE. Still others have been so damaged by corporate advertising as to name this situation normal.
posted by: Atwater on February 22, 2018 3:56pm
@NewHaven: Public space is always for sale, especially in New Haven. I think you’re being a bit hyperbolic in calling this an assault on public space. It’s a sign on a privately owned kiosk. There are a lot of them in other cities, i.e NYC. It might look tacky to some, but it is what it is. Again, aren’t there bigger concerns to worry about? The bike share (or rental) might actually help people get to work or just get around town, it might ease congestion a little bit (emphasis on a little) and it might increase awareness for physical activity. All of these are good things for the people of New Haven.
posted by: Springlady on February 22, 2018 3:57pm
What would be really cool is an article on exactly how one uses these bikes that have now arrived. I spend a good deal of time at Creative Arts Workshop and have heard the complaints about the tacky advertisement. Personally? I am a vegetarian and I ignore all fast food advertisement so I wasn’t afraid I would succumb to the siren call. There isn’t even a MacDonald’s within the city district, is there? Again - how to use the bikes would be a great service here.
posted by: 1644 on February 22, 2018 4:20pm
Spring: There’s a McDonald’s near Lowes. There may also be one by route 15.
posted by: Elmer Shady on February 22, 2018 4:43pm
posted by: Elmer Shady on February 22, 2018 4:58pm
There are four McDonald’s in New Haven ‘proper’....
2 on Whalley, 1 on Kimberly, 1 on Rte 80…
posted by: Elmer Shady on February 22, 2018 5:04pm
Notice the second sign lurking amidst the bike queue, as of yet un-finished…. how much signage do we need to ‘clump’ around these things….. I thought the bright green color of the bikes was the ‘eye-catch’....
posted by: Perspective on February 22, 2018 10:11pm
Elmer- So there is a massive full length placard on the station billboard and a postcard size ad on the Bike?
posted by: Elmer Shady on February 23, 2018 12:17am
You obviously don’t have any….. that is a ‘parody’ ad…..
But to take that ‘fake bike ad’ concept a little further, maybe ‘approved’ local ‘clip-on’ advertising that supports the BikeShare cause, and is affordable, easy, and disposable…...and gives locals and incentive to patronize local business….. like a ‘coupon’.
If we can’t support ourselves as part of this ‘roll out’ we are screwed…
These bureaucrats are a bunch of beholden idiots…..
posted by: EPDP on February 23, 2018 11:42am
By definition bureaucrats are “beholden idiots.” Who is this Elmer Shady character anyway? He sounds a bit shady to me. I think the City should pay overtime to cops to guard those puke green McBikes.
posted by: Perspective on February 23, 2018 1:23pm
@ Elmer-thank you for the clarification and I hope you feel better now. Perhaps the NHI should have an area to post insults as your “comment” might be more apropo there!!
posted by: Elmer Shady on February 23, 2018 8:28pm
The only insult is the over-sized corporate signage….. Looks real nice in front of Cafe Romeo on Orange… A nice addition to a historic neighborhood….
posted by: robn on February 27, 2018 9:36am
It was my understanding that these signs would only be downtown but just saw one on Orange Street. Extremely bad judgement to pollute our historic neighborhoods with large commercial advertisements. The non-downtown units MUST come down immediately.
posted by: HewNaven on February 27, 2018 11:58am
The 9 squares are no less historic than “Downtown North” (i.e. Orange/Trumbull area). If they don’t fit there, they certainly don’t fit downtown.
posted by: robn on February 27, 2018 1:31pm
Downtown has historically always been a commercial district. That’s the difference. ER and Newhallville are residential neighborhoods with relatively small scale housing and just a small scattered number of tiny markets and cafes allowed for convenience.