BART escalators should be part of Market overhaul

It has become clear that the BART escalators in San Francisco, and the entrances to the stations, need to be reconfigured.

The stairs and escalators that lead down from street level to the downtown stations, which BART shares with Muni, are open-topped and expose the machinery to the elements. This has led to increased breakdowns of the escalators.

In addition, the gates that close off the stations after-hours are at the bottom of the stairwells. That has created a space that has become popular for transients seeking a place to sleep at night — and, in some station areas, a place to deposit human waste onto the escalators. In July at the Civic Center station, there was so much urine and feces in an escalator that a hazardous-materials team had to be called in for cleanup.

BART is now considering canopies for its station entrances. The coverings would be helpful in keeping the escalators running smoothly, and they would make the stairs and escalators safer for riders by keeping them dry when it rains.

The coverings also could make it possible to close the stations at street level, which would help to keep the escalators from being used as toilets.

But on Market Street, which has four stations, the plans for entry covers need to be coordinated with the Better Market Street program. This is the project involving five San Francisco agencies that are working to make Market Street more accessible for mass transit, bicyclists and pedestrians. The project right now is in the information-gathering stage. But if BART moves quickly to coordinate the coverings with the program, the new canopies could be incorporated into the environmental review process that is expected to begin next year.

BART could facilitate its own canopies for the stations — likely being able to design, purchase and build them faster than if it waits for the Better Market Street program — but the long-term benefits for everyone are greater if the transit agency works in coordination with the larger plan.

That way, more thought can be put into the elements of the design to make sure it meshes with any new pedestrian or bike flows that are anticipated with the new street, sidewalk and plaza configurations along the corridor.

BART has a good plan to fix an escalator problem, but also to improve the overall experience in its downtown stations. This plan, however, should not be executed in isolation; it needs to fit into the grander plan for Market Street.

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