Leaders at Odds Over Way-Finding Tech in North Carolina’s Capital City

While some city officials are certain interactive kiosks would help visitors find what they are looking for, others see problems waiting to happen.

by Anna Johnson, The News & Observer / October 3, 2018

(TNS) — City leaders want to help residents and visitors find their way around in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

But that’s where the agreement seems to stop.

Some City Council members were excited about proposed 8-foot tall interactive kiosks meant to give people real-time information and updates.

Other worried they’d become too-bright, ever-changing advertisements, opening the door to digital billboards throughout downtown. And still others wondered if stationary kiosks were the best way to meet the city’s needs.

Ultimately, the City Council took no action Tuesday afternoon, instead asking that different ideas be brought back in 30 to 60 days.

“I am convinced we need better wayfinding in this city,” said Council member Kay Crowder. “I am just not convinced that this specific one is best the best route to take for Raleigh.”

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Council member Nicole Stewart were the sole members who expressed interest in moving forward, though council members Corey Branch and Dickie Thompson were absent.

The kiosks, called IKE, were recommended by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and discussed at several meetings last year. The alliance still wants to bring robust wayfinding downtown, CEO Kris Larson said, adding that the service IKE offers is “second to none.”

“We’re still committed to helping stakeholders, visitors and residents discover all the great things in downtown, and this system does this,” Larson said.

How IKE works

Downtown Raleigh Alliance and IKE Smart City, the kiosk company, proposed 15 locations downtown with future locations in Glenwood South and at Shaw University.

The kiosks display eight rotating images. Two would be reserved for the city and the alliance. The remaining six would be sold as ads, with the alliance receiving a portion of the revenue.

When the kiosk is touched, the images are replaced by different buttons people can select. They could include a map to find nearby businesses and restaurants, bus routes and other transit options; a location for jobs postings; information about nearby shelters or clinics; a photo booth that sends an image to your phone; and surveys. The kiosks can count pedestrians, offer free wi-fi, monitor air quality and can include a phone for emergencies.

IKE Smart City would likely pay the city a fee to puts its kiosks on public property, though the amount has not been set. There is no cost to taxpayers.

The concerns

The problem? The kiosks are considered signs not currently allowed under the city’s ordinances, and the rules can’t make an exception for one company, the city attorney’s office advised the council Tuesday.

Depending on the rules, other similar sized signs could also be installed on private property, which gave some council members pause.

Crowder, who had a number of questions, thought the technology was “cool” but worried about intended consequences.

“We can’t regulate the ordinance just for them,” she said. “And businesses that have the means could potentially come in and promote their businesses. And we lose some of the ability to control what is going on. It is a lot of light pollution. We are already dealing with a lot of those issues now.”

Some council members also asked questions about light bothering downtown residents, pedestrians or drivers.

Jibran Shermohammed, director of development and corporate counsel for IKE Smart City, said the company would be willing to submit a light study, but that the lights on the 65-inch screen dim to match the ambient light. And the proposed locations aren’t near any residents who live on the first floor, he said.

©2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.