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.
This should be pretty obvious:
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.
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.
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.
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signs that have gone through multiple signage changes with evidence of the changes still present; as well as actually out-of-date signs that haven't been noticed yet and therefore removed.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.
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.
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. Some cities offer online reporting; 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.
Make a difference in your community by participating in community cleanups. This could be through national organizations (such as Keep America Beautiful, which offer directories of local chapters and affiliates), government adopt-a-highway 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.