Why our sidewalks are covered in spray paint

One of the most egregious visual blights in the Brickell neighborhood is right under our feet. “Sidewalk graffiti” is everywhere you go. But the taggers in this case aren’t willful youth seeking self-expression, but rather utility company workers (or their subcontractors) who are laying horizontal markings to delineate where critical infrastructure lines are below.

teamonsidewalkTheir unsightly markings have been a major issue for our community for a long time, especially exacerbated by construction of new projects and major upgrades happening everywhere in Brickell and Downtown, as well as other parts of Greater Miami.

BHA is grateful to Jose F. Soto, who was at a Board meeting in February 2012 as Chief of the New Customer Division of Miami-Dade Water & Sewer to tell us about major sewer projects coming in the area. He couldn’t help but hear neighbors’ graffiti complaints in our annual visual “State of the Avenue” presentation. We were fortunate in that Mr. Soto also serves as an officer on the centralized, statewide body responsible for processing the requests for those markings as well as setting and monitoring statewide standards.


The chart above shows which colors belong to which utilities

Since that time, Mr. Soto has joined BHA leaders on two occasions for walkabouts in the neighborhood. With his dual roles as a water and sewer specialist and as a board member in the “Sunshine 811” agency, he was able to aptly explain many infrastructure issues to BHA. And, to his tremendous credit, he called out his own people and those of other utilities where their markings were not done properly, sometimes to the extreme.

Truly committed to “low impact markings,” Mr. Soto shared with us that a lot of the worst examples of spray paint gone wild that we saw were not done within the statewide standards. So, at the second meeting, he brought several key utilities folks along to see first-hand what he had seen in the Brickell community and to help them understand why residents are so frustrated with the practices.

closeupbWe learned that whenever developers or contractors are planning a project they contact Sunshine 811 and put in a “ticket” for those utility companies that have lines in the vicinity to mark those lines. Each utility type has its own color to delineate what’s theirs under the surface. Those tickets get renewed every 30 days by developers and contractors as long as the project continues, starting in the planning stage when they’re preparing engineering drawings or even before that when envisioning what they might do. The builders have to see what’s in the area underground so they know where they can dig. The utilities receive the tickets and send a worker out to mark. Often the work is subcontracted by the utility. Each time a ticket goes in or is renewed, the utility has to go out and check or remark the area.

There’s been talk of requiring paint that disappears after 30 days, but no truly suitable, reliable product is being uniformly used. The idea of pressure cleaning the marks off was discussed but then raises the question of who would be responsible and who would bear the cost.

The inherent, overriding fear is that if a mark has been removed too soon or isn’t there for some reason and a gas line, for instance, is broken, lives and property could be at extreme risk.

The practice of using a can of spray paint to mark what’s underneath seems archaic in the computerized, interconnected age we live in. Why not a master electronic map that would show builders what they need to see underground in one picture?  BHA learned that even the utilities don’t have such “as-built” master maps, and that this information, if available, is tightly guarded since 9/11 due to the threat of terrorists who would love the chance to destroy infrastructure and shut down entire cities or states.

callingHQSo, what to do? BHA will continue to show the utilities where they’ve gone wrong. We will work with these professionals who spent time with us seeking a more beautiful Brickell Avenue.

BHA extends its sincere thanks to Jose Soto for his leadership on this issue and to David Bridges for getting crews out to paint Brickell fire hydrants and make needed repairs.

Photo to Right: Sergio Clavijo, Angel Larramendi and Margaret Rodriguez agree this stretch of sidewalk with indecipherable markings of all kinds is crazy.­

Photo at Top of Page: At a pre-walkabout meeting, utility leaders discuss markings with BHA. L to R: Cristina Amores, Jose F. Soto and David Bridges of Miami-Dade Water & Sewer, Sergio Clavijo who is Damage Prevention Liaison for Sunshine 811, Margaret Rodriguez of AT&T, Angel Larramendi of FP&L and Gail Feldman of BHA.


From BHA News Vol. XXII No. 2, Fall 2012