NYC looks to ‘beautify’ 191st Street tunnel again

March 17, 2023

Two months after painting the mural- and graffiti-covered 191st Street pedestrian tunnel white, New York City announced plans to “beautify” the underground path once again. The Department of Transportation on Thursday issued a request for proposals seeking artists to submit “bold, colorful designs” for the tunnel that reflect the “rich cultural identity of Washington Heights.” The request comes after community members criticized the agency for “whitewashing” an iconic piece of the neighborhood, as Gothamist reported.

Painted over 191st Street Tunnel. Image courtesy of the NYC Department of Transportation

Known as “Tunnel Street,” the 1,000-foot-long underground passageway connects Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue to the 191st Street subway station. Sitting roughly 180 feet below street level, the 191st Street Station is one of the deepest in the system.

While the tunnel connects to the subway, it is officially mapped as a street, therefore falling under the ownership of the transportation department.

In 2014, DOT updated the signage and lighting in the tunnel after outreach from the local community. The following year, the agency selected five artists to paint large-scale murals in the tunnel with each artist given a 200-foot section of the tunnel to design. The tunnel was quickly covered with graffiti, obscuring most of the work.

This past January, the city painted over the tunnel’s famed graffiti walls. The community accused the city of “whitewashing” the tunnel and criticized DOT for not giving Washington Heights residents enough representation in the decision-making process, according to Gothamist.

It’s unclear as of now whether DOT will prioritize hiring local artists for the work.

According to the RFP, the agency will select up to four artists to develop a design treatment that will be painted on the tunnel walls with help from the community. The city is looking for a unique, but “simple, bold pattern” that can be painted using stencils or easily translated to the wall with no more than four colors.

“The 191st Street tunnel is a community landmark, providing critical connection between Broadway and the 1 train for tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” Ydanis Rodriguez, commissioner of the DOT, said in a press release.

“We are excited to find artists to beautify the tunnel with designs that reflect the rich cultural identity of Washington Heights and create a vibrant space for the commuters who use this major hub every day.”

You can view DOT’s Request for Proposals in English here and in Spanish here.

Submissions must be submitted via e-mail no later than Friday, April 14th, 2023 to be considered. All submissions should be emailed to: [email protected].


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