Of elevation, excretion, and security on BART
BART rider Devin heard a voice. Here’s his story:
I passed through Embarcadero station on my way home a few months ago. Got to see the taillights of the train I’d wanted, so I had about ten minutes to kill, and started to do a slow lap of the platform. Part way down the station attendant got on the PA, somewhat brusquely asking “the person in the elevator” to “vacate the elevator immediately.” Somehow these same-station announcements are always jarring. They lack the lumbering, easily ignored and anyway largely inaudible cadence of the BART control center’s own mumbled platitudes. I was also surprised by the inference that anyone in the elevator cold hear the PA to begin with — but perhaps it’s there for just these sort of occasions. Whomever “the person in the elevator” was, they had evidently vacated it by the time I got past the platform elevator, leaving a fresh pair of wheelchair tire tracks in wet liquid.
You can probably see where this is going. After September 11th, BART’s contribution to our collective safety was to close all the toilets in underground stations — which is to say, all the toilets in downtown San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, etc. It’s a fine piece of security theater, an ineffective defense aimed at one particular avenue of imagined attack and serving mainly to annoy and inconvenience everyone else. Though BART denies it publicly, there was probably a budget-conservation motive also — those restrooms can’t have been easy to maintain.
In any event, with the toilets locked, some of their traffic duly shifted to the elevators. It’s a practical choice — BART’s hydraulic elevators are so slow as to provide ample time. You won’t get attacked, and you’ll have some degree of privacy. They’re also mostly ADA compliant, with grab rails and adequate room to maneuver. If you’re homeless and in a wheelchair, and the alternative is paying money you can’t afford for a street-level pay toilet (which presents its own issues), it makes a degree of sense from your point of view.
What makes less sense is keeping the toilets locked, given that doing so doesn’t provide any security and the cost savings is going into cleaning elevators. BART’s elevators were pretty bad even before this; now they’re significantly worse, extra janitorial attention or not. That in turn means that everyone who’s able to avoid them does so, leaving them even more available for alternate uses.
One person who wasn’t able to avoid them was the woman waiting up on the concourse level (along with the station’s janitor, mop and bucket in hand) for that same elevator. She was in a wheelchair too, and had presumably been obliged to get the station management to roust the offender out of there. Then she had to wait while the elevator was cleaned out enough for her own trip down, missing at least a couple of trains in both directions.
Security’s a tricky thing. It’s harder than it sounds. It’s especially hard when you don’t review your own choices to judge their effectiveness and side effects. Reopen the bathrooms, BART. This particular strategy was a bad idea in 2001 and it’s still a bad idea now.
What do you think? Should BART open its restrooms in underground stations?