BART considering reopening restrooms in SF, Oakland stations

BART is taking steps to reopen some restrooms in its underground stations that have been closed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the advice of the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Only two restrooms would open at first, at Powell Street in San Francisco and 19th Street in Oakland, and wouldn't open until the spring of 2018 according to the current plan. But based on what BART staff and the Board of Directors learn from that pilot program, closed restrooms in all 10 underground stations could reopen after that.
The Board of Directors heard a report on progress for designs to reopen those two restrooms at its meeting this morning. They plan to take construction proposals for the project over the next few months.
BART officials estimate that it will take $225,000 for necessary renovations at Powell Street and $175,000 for 19th Street. Each restroom will cost between $100,000 and $125,000 annually for maintenance.
Closing the restrooms was just one of several changes BART made after the Sept. 11 attacks based on advised best practices by Homeland Security. BART also removed trashcans from its station platforms and installed closed circuit TVs, though the cameras on board the trains were recently revealed to have been mostly fake.
Now that they are considering bringing back the restrooms in the underground stations, BART is considering a variety of other issues that can come up in urban restrooms, such as people using the restrooms to bathe and wash their clothes or using intravenous drugs and disposing of needles in the toilet.
To prevent such behavior, the restrooms will be redesigned to have the doors open behind a translucent screen with the sink located outside of the restrooms. The doors will be within the line of sight of the station agents. Blue lighting would prevent drug users from shooting up.
But some directors were still concerned that having restrooms in underground stations would be a security risk and wanted the plan vetted by Homeland Security.
Director Joel Keller said he was against closing the restrooms in 2001 because of the inconvenience for riders, but recognizes that it was a safety precaution recommended by experts.
"I'm going to have a hard time supporting this, even on a pilot basis," Keller said. "Maybe this is OK, I'm not an expert in the area of security, maybe this will meet that threshold but maybe it's not and we should at least know that."
Director Gail Murray said that in light of recent terrorist attacks in open areas, including in France, the risk of terrorism in the BART station restrooms remains potent.
"We're kind of inviting more problems in a closed area where more mischief can be done," Murray said.
She also suggested that she might oppose the project on the basis of cost. To open restrooms in all 10 of the system's underground station could cost $1.6 million in annual maintenance and more than $2 million in construction costs, she said.
Rather than BART paying for restrooms, she suggested the individual cities should have to pay for them.
BART has already worked with San Francisco to have restrooms near its station with the popular Pit Stop program that has installed new restrooms in the Tenderloin, South of Market, Civic Center, Castro and Mission areas of the city. The toilets were placed in areas with a high call volume to clean human waste.
BART has had its own problems with human waste in its stations as it has been discovered in jammed escalators, particularly in San Francisco stations.
Director Rebecca Saltzman said she strongly supports reopening the restrooms and pointed out that the Berkeley City Council recently sent a letter asking BART directors to reopen the restroom in the downtown Berkeley station.
The city is already paying for restrooms itself, she said, having one public restroom in the street-level plaza and is working to open another nearby, but it's not enough to handle the high demand in the area.
Saltzman and Director Zakhary Mallett also suggested the restrooms should be gender neutral, both to accommodate the transgender community and to prevent lines.