Twenty-Five Years Ago Today NYCT Subways Became Graffiti-Free
May 12th, 2014
May 12, 2014,
Twenty-five years ago today, NYC Transit celebrated a milestone many believed could never be achieved when a paint-scarred Train reached its terminal, was pulled from service and sent to the showers. What was so special? At that point, the largest subway system in North America was finally graffiti-free.
The nearly two decade-long scourge of vandalism began with felt-tip markers and soon escalated to spray-paint. The practice turned the subway system into an unwelcome underworld where it seemed that all official control had been lost. Subway cars and stations were covered with grime and layers of graffiti, which gave the system an air of rot and decay. During this period, ridership plunged, crime soared and a generation of subway riders was left thinking that things would never get any better.
At the height of this destructive urban phenomenon, subway cars were so completely “tagged” that it was nearly impossible to see out of the windows. NYC Transit’s initial attempts to squash graffiti all failed. In 1981, guard dogs and a double set of ten-foot high fences were deployed at the Corona Yard in Queens. Initially, the program worked but vandals eventually switched tactics. The low point came in 1983, when hundreds of subway cars were painted bright white, a virtual invitation to an army of graffiti vandals who took full advantage of a fresh canvas.
However, beginning in 1984, a new management team, the first capital program, new stainless-steel cars, and freshly painted older cars, along with stepped up security measures all combined to turn the tide. By May 12, 1989, major investments in the subway system had created a car fleet that was made up of either new or rehabilitated subway cars. Trains were taken out of service at the end of their runs and scrubbed when a piece of graffiti did appear and removal of graffiti from subway station walls and columns had to be accomplished in a defined period of time.
At the time, then-NYC Transit President David Gunn told the New York Times, ''When you're sitting in a graffiti-covered car, you don't feel safe. When the trains were covered with names, codes and epithets, there was a sense that the system was out of control.''
Today, NYC Transit continues the war on graffiti, maintaining close cooperation with the NYPD and deploying its own Eagle Team, which is made up largely of retired NYPD officers with vandal patrol and investigation experience. The NYPD is responsible for maintaining control of subway car lay-up areas around the system while the Eagle Team patrols yards. Improved hardware includes cameras, stronger lighting, tougher perimeter fencing and nearly 50,000 vigilant employees who believe in saying something when they see something.
NYC Transit’s commitment to maintaining a graffiti-free system remains as strong as ever, even extending to telling members of the creative universe a resounding NO when requests are made to “graffiti” a train or station for a movie, television show or advertising campaign.
“The subway system is the joint property of all New Yorkers and the selfish and destructive acts of graffiti vandals are a slap in the face to our five million plus daily customers and the force of workers who are charged with keeping the system clean,” said NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco. “And we will not disparage the efforts of those charged with protecting our system by allowing the appearance of even staged vandalism.”