Bike Racks And Poles At Center Of New BART Car Design Debate

BART directors voted 5-2 today in favor of a proposal for the design of future train cars that seeks to achieve a compromise between the competing requests of bike riders, wheelchair users and blind people.

BART is in the early phases of a plan to buy 1,000 new train cars by 2023 to replace its current fleet of cars, which the transit agency says is the oldest fleet in the nation.

BART plans to begin testing 10 pilot cars next year and start phasing in additional cars into revenue service starting in 2017.

The initial design for what BART calls its “fleet of the future” called for three grip poles on each car, but many wheelchair users said at a four-hour meeting today that they don’t want any poles on cars because they make it hard for them to get on and off cars.

However, Alan Smith, the chair of BART’s accessibility task force, said blind people “need a pole” because they need something reliable to hang onto when they board crowded cars.

Bicyclists said their priority is having bike racks on all cars.

After about three hours of public input and one hour of discussion by BART directors, the board majority approved a proposal by board president Joel Keller that calls for having bike racks on eight of the 10 test cars and having fewer poles on cars.

Keller said his proposal would allow BART to test cars “in a real world environment” and make changes, if necessary, before work begins on the bulk of the new cars.

Specifically, the measure approved today calls for eight of the 10 test cars to still have three poles but moves them 6 inches further away from wheelchair areas to allow more room for wheelchair users to enter and exit trains. On two of the cars, there will only be one pole.

There won’t be bike racks on two of the test cars, which Keller said will allow for more open space on those cars.

After the meeting, Keller said, “We compromised with the community but we’re trying to be as responsive to people as possible.”

Ted Jackson of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers said, “It’s a step in the right direction to do more testing” but said he doesn’t want any poles on the new BART trains because he thinks they get in the way of wheelchair users.

Jon Spangler, a member of BART’s Bicycle Advisory Task Force, said, “If a compromise is meant to leave both sides unhappy, I’m unhappy.”

Spangler said he’s “unhappy with the pole placement” and that he thinks BART should have racks for six bikes on each car.

BART directors Zakhary Mallett and Tom Radulovich voted against Keller’s plan and directors Gail Murray and James Fang were counted as absent, although Murray was present for the vote.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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