September 28, 2020
Complexities of Spray Painted Utility Markings in New York

In this 2018 article by Nick Pevzner, he explores the language of spray-painted street markings in New York USA and the complexities of buried infrastructure networks underground. Beneath the busy streets of New York, a maze of aging pipes and cables carry the essential services required by New Yorkers to carry out their daily activities. For most people, these buried systems are out of sight, and consequently out of mind and they rarely give a thought to these crucial networks providing the continuity of services such as gas, electricity, and telecommunications.

Pevzner explores the following points in his article:

  • What the spray-painted street markings reveal about New York’s city infrastructure.
  • How might updating the city’s subterranean network increase public safety, given the potentially explosive nature of the aging infrastructure?
  • What impact will pipe replacement have on the more menacing danger posed by methane leaks?

It is interesting to note that the utility markouts, and their origins stemmed from a 1976 excavation accident in Culver City, California when a crew excavating hit a high-pressure oil pipeline, caused an explosion that killed nine people and took out an entire block. It was following this accident, the (American) Dial 811, DigAlert, DigSafe, and Dig Safely NY systems were born, which led to the practice of the companies that own the infrastructure marking out utility lines to follow a standardized set of symbols and colours.

Similarly, in 1984 a major incident in Bibra Lake, Western Australia, a bulldozer punctured a high-pressure gas pipeline causing significant damage to the bulldozer, ripper, rail tracks, high tension electric towers, the gas pipeline, and other infrastructures nearby.  Fortunately, the bulldozer operator survived without injury.

It was a result of this incident that Dial Before You Dig WA Foundation Members (Telstra, SECWA (now ATCO Gas Australia and Western Power) and Water Corporation) created what was then known as the Perth One Call System.  Perth One Call became operational on the 16th February 1987 and by the 1990’s, all States and Territories began operation to what is now a National organisation known as Dial Before You Dig.

In both instances, the USA and Australia, pinpointing the presence of buried infrastructure assets was demanded after excavation activities damaged high pressure gas pipelines causing major explosions. Maintaining continuity of services, avoiding disruption, and importantly protecting the community are major factors in infrastructure asset owners seeking standardisation in utility markings.

Pevzner’s article is an interesting read and highlights the complexities of buried infrastructure. Click here to read the full article.