Skip to contents
Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

A ‘Dramatic Increase In Graffiti’ Seen Along Expressways And CTA Stations Reflects Badly On The City, Residents Say

Graffiti reports are up 30 percent in Chicago, and crews are struggling to keep up with removing it.

Graffiti along the Kennedy Express near the West Loop.
Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

CHICAGO — City and state agencies are being bombarded with complaints about graffiti along expressways, on buildings and at public transit stations.

Along the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways, graffiti pops up overnight on the interstate walls, concrete dividers and some private buildings, residents said. Neighbors in West Town and Fulton Market also said they’ve seen more graffiti throughout their area.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation are responsible for removing it. IDOT oversees expressways and state roads while Streets and Sanitation handle graffiti complaints on city property. Both agencies said crews are struggling to keep up with the volume of graffiti, which sometimes is in locations they can’t immediately clean.

Graffiti removal requests have jumped 30 percent this year for Streets and Sanitation. IDOT doesn’t track those reports.

“Shortly after graffiti is removed, it almost immediately returns, and in some instances the graffiti is back up the same night,” said IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda.

It’s hard to ignore while driving along the Kennedy and Eisenhower, said Davor Engel, of Old Irving Park. He said he worries the tagging doesn’t reflect well on the city. 

“It’s everywhere. … It’s embarrassing,” Engel said.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Graffiti along the Kennedy Express near the West Loop.

Graffiti costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, Castaneda said. IDOT oversees the highways, and dangerous graffiti that obscures signs — along with offensive, inflammatory or racist tagging — are removed as quickly as possible, Castaneda said. 

Crews typically remove graffiti overnight, and city and state agencies partner for “massive graffiti removal” before holidays, Castaneda said. Most recently, 18 crews helped remove tagging along the Kennedy, Dan Ryan, Stevenson and Eisenhower. Another removal effort is planned before Labor Day.

But some graffiti around the Jane Byrne interchange is unreachable because of construction or construction staging. IDOT plans to return to those areas when it’s safe to do so, Castenada said.

IDOT “continues to evaluate and look for solutions to address this constant issue,” Castenada said.

The increase in graffiti isn’t relegated to the highway. Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, said the group had been “alarmed by the dramatic increase of graffiti” at CTA stations, too.

“It’s really important that if we are going to have no crime in Chicago, all crime has to be taken very seriously, and graffiti — when unauthorized — is a serious crime because it defaces the property, reduces its value and makes a community look unsafe,” Romanelli said. 

Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Cristina Villarreal said the department responds to graffiti removal requests within four days to deter more vandalism on public streets and private property. The agency offers free removal services to private property owners, according to its website.

Graffiti removal is “one of the significant ways the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation lives up to its mission to keep Chicago safe and clean for all residents,” Villarreal said. 

Romanelli said there needs to be an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to deal with the tagging. He urged other residents to call 311 to have illegal graffiti removed.

“The public can’t be passive observers; they need to help the city and the police to report these crimes,” Romanelli said. “We need to take this seriously.”

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Graffiti along the Kennedy Express near the West Loop.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: