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The MTA Is Painting Over Its Porcelain Tiles Now

If we recruited the old Trading Spaces team to give our subway stations a cheap makeover, they would 100000000% paint over the subway tiles. A classic Ty Pennington/Paige David solution. And moments after the reveal, we would all realize we actually preferred the more authentic look of raw subway tile, even if that tile was a bit dirty and dinged up. Well, the MTA took it upon themselves to freshen up the Union Square station recently, taking flat white paint to the subway tiles instead of, say, replacing them, power washing them, or just leaving them the hell alone.

In a series of tweets fired off after I asked for comment on the painted tiles (I was then sent a link to the tweets), the MTA's Communications Director Jon Weinstein wrote: "The station is historic, but these tiles are not, they’re the same tiles used throughout the system (in fact these were replaced in the last 5 years), they were damaged beyond repair and completely defaced by water damage, and covered in soot and grime. To replace the tiles costs incredible amounts of money (that is better spent on other things like signals, infrastructure etc.) and long service outages to get track access. So instead we’re trying out painting the tiles in a small section of one station to see if that holds up."

When I asked Weinstein why, instead of cleaning the tiles—which in his tweets he mentions were "covered in soot and grime"—they were painted over, he replied via email that they were not dirty.

"They were damaged," Weinstein wrote. "Not dirty. There is a fundamental difference. These tiles were basically destroyed and unable to look like anything other than grime and soot covered messes. So your implication that instead of cleaning we painted is not accurate. I look forward to your very balanced, nuanced story about the new approach we’re trying to improve our station environment in the short term."

Asked why the MTA decided paint was the best solution, Weinstein wrote, "Power washing would not work. Replacing the tiles costs more money and requires extended service disruptions. The people who make the decisions are the subway maintenance teams."

FWIW, when we went over to check out the paint job (on the 4/5/6 Uptown platform), it didn't appear that there was much damage to the porcelain tiles under the thin coat of paint.

But let's go back to Weinstein's thread on Twitter, which ended with: "Of all the problems we have, this isn’t one." Indeed! So why even bother wasting any money or manpower on painting tiles, when the subways need a systemic overhaul? At press time, Weinstein has not tweeted a reply.



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