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Why American highways aren’t lined with even more billboards

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Author: Brian

Americans like highways, solidified in the Interstate Act of 1956. Benjamin Ross in Dead End hints at why there aren’t more billboards along these roads:

The most visible of suburbs’ problems was ugliness, assaulting the eyes on highways lined with billboards and strip malls. This was something the reformist spirit of the sixties would not ignore. President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, chose highway beautification as her signature issue. After a fierce legislative battle – the billboard industry did not lack for clout in congress – the Highway Beautification Act was passed, removing billboards from rural stretches of interstate highways. (p. 81)

And here is more from the Federal Highway Administration:

The President signed the Highway Beautification Act on October 22, 1965. The signing ceremony took place 2 weeks after the President had surgery to remove his gall bladder and a kidney stone at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Although he had returned to the White House only the day before, President Johnson seemed to be in an expansive mood as he recalled the drive from the hospital to the White House along the George Washington Memorial Parkway:

I saw Nature at its purest. The dogwoods had turned red. The maple leaves were scarlet and gold . . . . And not one foot of it was marred by a single unsightly man-made obstruction–no advertising signs, no junkyards. Well, doctors could prescribe no better medicine for me.

He added:

We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of our countryside. In our eagerness to expand and improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, banishing it from our daily lives. I think we are a poorer nation as a result. I do not choose to preside over the destiny of this country and to hide from view what God has gladly given.

After saying, “Beauty belongs to all the people,” he signed the bill and gave the first pen to Lady Bird, along with a kiss on the cheek.

Given the pervasiveness of advertising in the United States and a highly consumeristic society, this was a forward-thinking bill. Granted, seeing nature from the windows of a car doing 70 mph down a major interstate isn’t exactly a positive interaction with nature. But, things could be worse: the jumble of signs and logos that tend to mar many suburban strip mall areas aren’t present along highways.

Now, how about dealing with those digital billboards…

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