Floodgap Roadgap

[Keep graffiti off our highways!]
Click the EXIT signs to return to the main page.

A Roadgap Rant: Why Vandalism Stinks

[Return to the main page] I don't write a lot of rants or opinion pieces precisely because I'm not too interested in reading myself think. However, the more I roadgeek in the field, the more I have discovered what a tremendous liability vandalism and graffiti is for the hobby, for specific unique reasons in addition to the fact that vandalism is frankly just plain hooliganism and makes things ugly.

In this particular mini-essay, I've focused primarily on painted graffiti (the ubiquitous spray can; apologies to the Krylon/Sherwin Williams Co as theirs was the kind I found at the store for the photo), as this is really the biggest eyesore plaguing highways. However, there are other kinds of vandalism, such as sign defacement by cutting, shooting, sticker placement and so on, that are equally deleterious.

Why vandalism stinks in general

This should be pretty obvious:

  1. It's expensive. Vandalism obscures signs and ruins facades. If it's not cleaned up, it tends to attract more (the "broken window" theory), so someone has to go out and repair and repaint it. That costs money in time spent, projects delayed because of people diverted to go clean up, and supplies bought for that purpose. Los Angeles in 2002 spent $55 million just on graffiti (and the city government isn't *that* inefficient).

  2. It's destructive. Some of the more self-proclaimed "art taggers" have argued that their work is not vulgar hoi-polloi Kilroy wuz h3r3!!! graffiti, but art. Doesn't matter, as one man's art is another man's crap; it's not what was supposed to be there, and it destroys whatever thought went into the design of a sign or structure because of someone's selfish desire to splash their own mark on it. Most importantly, it's not their property to alter in any case no matter what the motivation -- so hands off.

    A new trend has been taggers marking up murals, especially community pride murals. This hasn't been just your normal hate brigade spraying, say, swastikas on Martin Luther King Jr., but also obvious gang tags over 1) other people's hard work, but more specifically 2) the depictions of those who worked hard to bring them improved rights as citizens in the community and country they live in.

  3. It diminishes property values and lowers community standards. No one likes living in a community with stuff sprayed everywhere, and the numbers show it. According to the National Association of Realtors, on the average, properties located in graffiti-blighted regions lose 15% of their market value just by being there.

[Graffiti in the Arroyo Seco channel, along CA 110.]

Why vandalism stinks for roadgeeks

Besides the eyesore factor -- which, make no mistake, is the major ill effect of graffiti for regular folk as well as roadgeeks -- there are also several alarming problems vandalism presents, for roadgeek enthusiasts specifically.

  1. Vandalised signs are illegible. Paint covers up evidence of signage that was (things like glue damage or rivet holes, which are often clues to the way a sign was originally constructed; this is especially key in areas where overhead signage has long life, such as in California), and signage that is (present routes and directions). This makes them unsuitable for photography and navigation alike.

  2. Vandalised signs get replaced. This is a problem in two situations: first, as before, long-lived signs that have gone through multiple signage changes with evidence of the changes still present; as well as actually out-of-date signs that haven't been noticed yet and therefore removed. Either way, eventually the vandalism will attract someone's attention, and if the sign cannot be easily cleaned up (old signs where the button copy may be difficult to restore) or shouldn't even still be out in the field (defunct signage), it will be either replaced -- destroying any historical evidence that sign might bear -- or in the case of defunct signage, removed altogether. As a result, a part of the historical record for a particular road may be destroyed because of that act of defacement.


What you can do about it

  1. Act by example. If you are a tagger, consider the community and financial consequences of your actions. There's something else you could do with your cash than buying extra-gloss at the Wal-Mart. Please, keep your community clean.

  2. Report vandalism, in one of two ways:

    • If you see it in progress, don't confront them. Call your police or sheriff's department and report the activity.

    • If you see it after the fact, see if your city or municipality has a repair or graffiti hotline. Many cities offer 311 service for non-emergency repairs, and graffiti reports are usually accepted by those services. To use them, simply dial 311 and follow the instructions to make a report. For example, San Antonio, TX,, Chicago, IL and Baltimore, MD all offer graffiti removal reports via 311, and also have online reporting, too. A quick Google search will reveal if your city offers similar services.

      Also, regardless of any 311 service it may offer, your city or municipality may have specific anti-graffiti programs. For example, Los Angeles County offers the Totally Against Graffiti program for reporting, education and outreach, and has a toll-free reporting number.

  3. Make a difference in your community by participating in community cleanups. This could be through national organizations (such as Keep America Beautiful and its subunit Take Action Network, which offer directories of local chapters and affiliates), government agencies (in California, Caltrans offers the Adopt-a-Highway program for highway cleanup; other local state transportation authorities may offer similar programs), or local churches, schools and city governments. At the local level, this isn't just altruism -- this makes your community better for you, too.

For further reading

These may be useful supplemental resources for those interested in this topic, as well as general community activism and preservation.


[Main page] All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2009 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2009 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying or duplication without express consent of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited. Please contact the sitemaster to request permission if you wish to use items from this page.

Go back to the main page