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Banners–Nice but Demanding

By: Tom Davis Category: Placemaking, Sidewalk Features

Banners in Houston cannot include "advertising"  so are artistic as seen here.Banners are a favorite addition to the streetscape as they create a festive feel and a sense of pageantry. But they are not inexpensive to install and maintain and will take more staff time than you may think. One of the big issues in Houston is what is allowable on the banner–the type of content–and the quality of the image. In Houston, we have a very strict sign ordinance that comes into play as soon someone wants to use the banner as a sign depicting a company, service or product. There is a short list of special provisions that allow for deviations from the norm for specific areas and for very large events.

This post is about the practical side of a banner installation–so let’s move on to that part of the banner story. Check back as I will include a short post soon about the banner regulatory and political issues in Houston with a link to the ordinance.Banners on Travis St. at Jones Plaza

In the photos here you see the various banner installation configurations that are always on a relatively new, powder-coated pole. All the banner poles in downtown were installed primarily by: a transit street program; the Cotswold program; or the Southeast Streetscape Project funded by the City and managed by the Downtown District. Hence they are all of the same design and age as they were all installed since 1999. Those in the transit streets program, a federally funded project for the basic street, were funded by the Downtown District who installs and maintains almost all the banners. Occasionally, an event will pay to have their banners–once approved by the banner district–installed and maintained. Usually such banners are in a specific area so there are many other areas where the Downtown District must pay for banners.Banner Pole and Street Light Pole with Banner Not all locations with banner brackets have banners at all times.

The basic configuration is the banner pole between the street light poles. Looking closely at the photos you will note the poles with banners are just like the poles with street lights that have banners. They were installed as part of the same project and are the same poles. Looking even closer you will see that the banner poles without street lights have up-lights. As the street lights are staggered down the street so are the banner poles thereby providing consistent, evenly spaced view of many fluttering banners–creating a clear sense of pageantry. But pageants are not cheap and take a lot of work. The up-lights are an additional expense to install, maintain and pay the electrical bill so they were only added to primary or “gateway” streets.

The banners on independent poles without up-lights were the easiest installation as all that is needed is a drill-pier foundation. But then there are basements extending to the curb and so some foundations must be designed accordingly.

Those with up-lights—only on the “gateway” streets–provide lighting on the poles where there are no street lights. For those up-lights an electrical feed is needed and that must come from a separate metered service. Therefore, there is a conduit under the sidewalk running parallel to the street light conduit. Then there must be someone to pay the bill for the meter and replace the light when it burns out.Banner with Wind Damage

The banners on the street light poles are the cheapest to install as CenterPoint Energy–the area electrical distribution company–provides the pole and all the district had to provide was the brackets. There is an agreement between the District and CenterPoint with very clear responsibilities associated with the banners. The one that every year during hurricane season comes to mind is that the District must be ready to take down all the banners if the wind velocity is expected to reach a certain speed. In addition. the banners have to be attached to the arms with breakaway connections-a simple electrical wire tie–so they will not act as sails in high gusting winds that occasionally bluster through downtown. In the first picture in this article you will see there is one banner that is blown away from the lower support. The ties have broken and must be replaced soon or the banner will be damaged by the wind beating it against the pole.

If you are thinking of adding banners to your street be sure you know all the tasks it will take to install them and maintain them. While you are working on that be sure you know what the regulatory issues are, if there are any. If there are none then think about the need for some type of regulations so your banners do not become cheap mini-billboards. Banners are nice and can look great but the process is demanding.

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