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Report Paints Ugly Picture Of NY Subway Paint

Friday, February 3, 2012

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It may not be news that New York’s underground subway platforms are ugly and hazardous, but now it’s been documented. And the numbers may be the ugliest part of all.

 NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

 Photos: NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

“Substantial” amounts of peeling paint were found in 79% of the underground station platforms.

Nearly four in five platform areas are rife with peeling paint, one in three has “substantial” floor cracks, and one in five has significant amounts of graffiti.

Add in a lot of missing tile, exposed wiring, broken lights and stair railings, missing safety strips, rats and water damage, and you have “the good, the bad and the ugly” findings of the first “State of the Station Platforms” survey by New York’s Public Interest Research Group.

The good? 100 percent of the stations had trash cans that were not overflowing.

‘Fix It’

The campaign released the survey last week, not long after new Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota named himself “rider-chairman” and vowed to tackle the subway’s extensive peeling paint problem.

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Lhota compared the peeling subway paint to the “broken windows” theory espoused by his former boss, Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giulani said that unattended visible eyesores like broken windows encouraged crime.

“The thought was if a window is broken, someone is going to break another window or someone is going to break into the house,” Lhota, a deputy mayor under Giuliani, told the paper. “Fix it. Fix it up front. When paint starts peeling, either peel it off or repaint it.”

He added:  “It’s one of the things that bothers me, and I’d like to fix it as much as we can.”


NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign examined 250 different subway platforms from July through September—28 percent of the 909 platforms in the system.

Interns and staff examined 15 different conditions in the morning and the evening. For peeling paint, broken lighting, water damage and rats, only underground platforms were surveyed, to eliminate weather as a factor.

 NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign
The good, the bad and the ugly truth about New York’s underground subway stations includes (top to bottom, left to right) garbage cans (good), bags of garbage, graffiti, broken overhead lighting, crumbling stair edges, exposed wiring, peeling paint, water damage, degraded and missing tactile warning strips, floor cracks and missing wall tiles.

The survey sought to catalogue conditions for which the campaign “felt transit officials could fairly be held accountable and were not overly time or weather sensitive.” For example, the group did not rate the presence of litter.

Five of the measurements were described as “substantial.” These were defined as follows:

• Peeling Paint: five or more feet of continuous peeling paint on platform ceilings or walls;

• Graffiti: five or more feet of continuous graffiti, excluding graffiti on ads and billboards;

• Cracks: those creating an uneven floor surface or at least five feet long;

• Water Damage: rust on floors, tiles or pillars; and

• Tiles: continuous tiles five feet or more in length.

‘Clearly Unacceptable’

“We found the good, the bad and the ugly, from no subway station platforms having overflowing garbage cans to clearly unacceptable conditions, such as peeling paint at three-quarters of the platforms observed,” said Jason Chin-Fatt, the Straphanger Campaign organizer who oversaw the survey.

The Bad

A measurement result was deemed “bad” if it was observed in at least 10% of the platforms, but less than half the time. That means a rider might come across these conditions one to five times in 10 uses of the platform.

‘Bad’ conditions included:

• Substantial floor cracks at 33% of the platforms surveyed;

• Substantial graffiti at 20% of the platforms;

• Staircases or handrails in disrepair at 15% of the platforms;

• Substantial areas of missing tile at 15% of the platforms;

• Exposed wiring at 28% of the platforms; and

• Rats at 11% of underground station platforms, including roadbeds.

The Ugly

Measurements were deemed “ugly” if they were observed 50% of the time or more. The “ugly” included:

• Substantial peeling paint at 79% of underground platforms;

• Substantial water damage at 53% of underground platforms; and

• Broken lighting fixtures at 50% of underground platforms.

The report did not say how old the peeling coatings were, nor did it address the health risks of widespread peeling coatings.


Tagged categories: Graffiti; Industrial Contractors; Peeling; Protective coatings; Rail; Transportation

Comment from James Hobson, (2/6/2012, 9:09 AM)

One eight hundred pound gorilla remains unmentioned - chewing gum. Can the City + NYCTA + the gum manufacturers be persuaded to start a campaign to reduce the disposal of used gum on the platforms. In some stations, it forms an unbroken resilient floor system applied over the concrete or tile.

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (2/11/2012, 11:22 PM)

Even as only an infrequent visitor to the Big Apple over a 45-year period, subway conditions must be horrific due to their age & use. Stations in the State St. Subway in Chicago (Red Line) are being refurbished piece-meal, but they're less than 70 years old. I can only bet that the peeling paint is lead-based, and therefore, must be handled as a lead abatement project with full containment. With all the other problems associated with them, complete closure of NYC stations would be required to accomplish all the work. At that time, the addition of elevators for wheelchair users must be provided. Obviously, this entails large capital expenditures spread out over a number of years. The stops must be chosen carefully to minimize the impact & inconvenience to riders. Public meetings should be scheduled for public input.

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