Twitter has been in a frenzy since Sunday, January 22, as news broke that the Washington Heights graffiti tunnel was suddenly wiped clean.
The iconic tunnel, located at the 191st station on the 1 line, has become a neighborhood staple, constantly facing controversy. It’s graffiti-covered walls stretch along the nearly 1,000-foot-long length that connects St. Nicholas Avenue and Broadway to the station. The subway station is one of the deepest in all of NYC, reaching about 180 feet below the ground.
However, the tunnel wasn’t always adorned with spray painted walls. The DOT Art Program first partnered with Groundswell Community Mural Project, the YM + YWHA of the Washington Heights and Inwood, and artist Belle Benfield to embellish the tunnel’s entrance with painting New York is a Roller Coaster in 2008.
Seven years later, the city once again launched a tunnel beautification project, seeking out artists skilled in large-scale murals to paint more of the tunnel.
The intention was to create “an attractive corridor for pedestrians walking to and from the 1 train at 191st Street.” In addition to the installation of lights in the dark tunnel, “[we] wanted to make the long walk not only safe but attractive to the people who use the space every day,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner of Design + Art + Wayfinding, Wendy Feuer.
The project set out to “transform the tunnel into an inviting throughway to the 1 train and destination for the neighborhood.” And now, with its sudden removal, community members have expressed their frustration.
City council member, Carmen De La Rosa, who represents the neighborhood of Washington Heights released a statement sharing that the art in the tunnel was “a labor of love” meant to “uplift local artists while capturing the essence of [the] community.”
“We are angered and disappointed by the lack of notification and care employed by the Department of Transportation in painting the tunnel without community engagement or planning,” De La Rosa wrote in her Instagram post on Sunday, January 22. “We jointly call on the Department of Transportation to immediately engage our community, local elected leaders, community board 12, and NOMAA in re-installing the initiative of public art in the tunnel.”
As of yet, there seems to be no official response from the Department of Transportation. Stay tuned as we will provide any further updates as they come.