In DC, more fresh coats of paint in less time


A few weeks ago, a regular SAS reader sent me a link to an article on Progressive Railroading about the WMATA’s plans to spruce up their stations. Over the next 18 months, DC-based authority will restore 42 Metro stations. The work includes “cleaning masonry surfaces, painting interior and exterior surfaces, repairing interior masonry, installing or repairing signs, and refinishing platform shelter benches” and is part of the four-year maintenance-and-restoration the WMATA has implemented for its stations.

In New York, station repair and beautification efforts move at a rather slower pace. The MTA is currently amidst a 39-year program in which just 12 stations a year get a fresh coat of paint. By the time this program wraps up in 2047, most stations will be decades overdue for a new coat of paint. Of course, this program is probably going to be discarded in favor of the new component-based maintenance efforts the authority has proposed, but the two projects’ estimated durations are alarming.

On the one hand, the WMATA enjoys the benefit of five hours a day when their stations are not open. Trains do not run, passengers aren’t in the way. Furthermore, in 2008, the MTA said that its painting efforts were delayed by the need to remove old lead-based paint. Still, public acceptance of the MTA would be higher if our stations weren’t so dingy and in need of beautification. If DC can tackle 42 stations in a year a half, the MTA should be able to paint more than 2.5 percent of its stations per year.

Categories : Asides, WMATA

19 Responses to “In DC, more fresh coats of paint in less time”

  1. Jonathan D. says:

    Allow me to be the first to point out that WMATA “cheats” at this (I’m in DC right now, trust me on this one! There’s incredibly little to paint in a station. It’s almost all bare concrete. When they refurb a station, all they need to do is take down the sound dampeners, wash/replace them, powerwash the concrete, paint a few doors, replace any broken bulbs and signage, and call it a day. Having the luxury of being closed 39 hours out of 168 a week is also rather handy. Everything in NY is all tiles and painted and ceilings, etc. It’s an unfortunately high maintenance task.

    • Oh, I’m certainly willing to grant the difference in style and infrastructure approach. But does it really take one full month to paint a subway station in New York City? Outside of the hub stations that serve as major transfer points, I find it hard to believe that there is no way to speed up the process.

      • Jonathan D. says:

        So while it shouldn’t, there’s some complications arising from the difference in styles. Most NYC stations have far more entrances than the ones down in DC (most stations here feel lucky to have 1 entrance at all let alone 2). That greatly increases the number of pieces of the station that must be closed off for a day at a time to paint and dry. The other big problem is painting the ceiling. Because the station can never be closed, you need to scrape, paint, and block different pieces of the ceiling over time. This alone is probably the biggest part of any given task. From watching the 181st St repaint/reno going on, they haven’t even begun to try tackling the ceiling, having painted only one small strip to test things out. The rest of the station took the better part of a week to clean and paint in pieces. If they’re doing the reno the correct way in NYC, they also need to reseal the station from leaks. There aren’t nearly so many leaks in DC as their are in NYC.

        • Ray says:

          I look at the same facts and see possibilities.

          Multiple entrances = TA can close one and work in the vicinity of that area.

          Platforms – Plenty of room for sections of platform to be closed while crews do their thing – even in the middle of the day. The TA doesn’t have sever the length of the platform, just take what’s needed.

  2. Christopher says:

    DC’s station walls are rough concrete. That are cleaned chemically. The amount of paint is not significant. Also, unlike in NY. Their escalators (which are pretty much the only way in and out of most of the stations.) Are in constant state of repair. As are the elevators. So it’s not really apples to apples.

    • Jehiah says:

      Unless i’m mistaken, most of the DC underground metro stations are painted concrete. Some of them do look rough, but i’ve looked closely at some, and they seem to be painted. (I’ll look more closely this weekend).

      It would also be interesting to see the breakdown vs underground and aboveground stations that are being painted. are the 42 above ground?

      • Jonathan D. says:

        Well, the breakdown is 39 above and 47 underground for the whole system. There’s not a major difference in paint application between the two. In fact, if they’re repainting the gull wing roofs, there is probably more paint to be used outside than inside.

        • Christopher says:

          They aren’t painted except for in a few place. They tried to paint them a few years ago as thinking that would speed things up instead of powerwashing. Turns out it doesn’t. At all.

          So the majority are rough concrete. The overhangs are new and probably won’t require painting for years to come if ever. They maybe powder coated at present and designed to not be painted.

          Oddly the DC system takes a lot more money and space and planning to build station. Part of the reason their are so few entrances is that the process is costly, and must fit the design guidelines of the original system — out of necessity of getting through the planning process as well as the design-nannies within DC urbanists. This doesn’t allow you to shoehorn in new entrances, new mezzanines and everything else that NYC does. They’ve talked about joining two stations downtown for decades. NY would have done it along time ago. Just put in a tunnel and been done with it. This also means that the NY system is not at all standardized, so maintenance is more time consuming and costly.

          Advantage is we have a much more comprehensive system in my opinion. I lived in DC twice and find the system is wonderful as a showplace, but less useable as transportation.

          • Jonathan D. says:

            Well, and part of it is that the system was mostly built out at a time of ADA compliance, etc. Think about what it’s taken to build the newest 10 stations in NYC. It’s been the last 20+ years, and they have 6 more until 8-10 are open (and 2 more for #7). Since the station distances are so far apart in DC, the fact that there aren’t entrances all over makes much less of a difference too. There’s what, 86 stations and 106 miles of routes? In NYC it’s 468 stations and only 229 miles. That’s a major difference in station density.

            • Christopher says:

              Actually the station density in the core is fairly high in DC. But part of what makes NY’s feel denser is that we have many, many more entrances.

              Most of DC’s system was built in the 70s and 80s, before ADA. They had a requirement, though, from the beginning to include accessibility. (In fact there was a delay opening the system as there were lawsuits over elevators.)

              But NY has added connections in that same time frame, especially in and near Times Square that have aided in the connectivity of our system while also being accessible. DC’s system very badly needs expansion in the core, and very much needs connectivity between stations and added entrances, but the design and build process — to say nothing of the funding — is a serious hindrance. Those lovely expensive stations look great. And were meant to invoke the great train stations and particularly Union Station, but money was free flowing to build the Cadillac of train systems. A showplace for post WWII power. (Older stations that were built for the long gone DC streetcar network were far more utilitarian.)

              Now that focus on trying to replicate that type of building stile and standardization gets in the way. (And newer stations have diverted from that sameness while keeping things like the hexagon tile. And use of brass for the metal.)

              Thankfully, newer buildings especially in dense areas like Arlington, have started to accommodate room for future station enhancements. Now just to find the funding…

  3. Kid Twist says:

    Forget paint — how about just hosing down the walls and platforms once in a while?

    • Working Class says:

      The TA has the mobile wash unit that hoses down the platforms, stairs, and walls every night. The problem is that they seem to do the same stations while most stations neve get done.

      • Additionally, it seems as though cleaning stations sometimes makes them dirtier. I’ve watched units take out the garbage at, for example, 7th Ave. in Brooklyn on the Brighton Line. They drag bags down the platform, up the stairs and out to the drop-off spot. Along the way, juices from the trash leak all over the place, and no one goes back to clean it up. Thus, the stations are both dirtier and smellier than before the garbage was taken out. Strikes me as an inefficient process.

        • Scott E says:

          And, of course, there are the clogged floor drains (particularly in mezzanines or stairwells, where the sludge can’t just runoff into the tracks). All that does is takes the grime off the walls and concentrates them in one big puddle on the floor.

      • Ray says:

        WC – are you serious? Which stations do you think are the primary focus? I live in the Village just south of Union Square – my commutes take me to Herald Square and Times Square almost every day. Seems to me station floors, walls and stairs are perpetually filthy.

  4. Think twice says:

    Even better than regular painting is some serious paint stripping and then repaint.

    Some of those columns look like they’re nothing but rusted gristle held together by 20 layers of lead paint.

    • rhywun says:

      Heh, true.

      Then there’s the tracks… which look as if they’ve been trucking out the contents of the Fresh Kills Landfill and spreading it around town. I observe people just throw random stuff down there without a second thought and think that “we” users bear much of the blame for the disgusting state of our stations (and city).

  5. Anon says:

    Getting a Fresh coat of Management soon. DC guy just quit.

  6. StreetsPariah says:

    I would love to know when the Broadway (or Brodaway) G station was last painted or refurbished. There are some seriously gross orange stains all over the platforms. Walk to the north end of the station and you can see the point where the cleaners just start to give up.

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