Berkeley Rebuilt

What’s Going on With the Downtown Berkeley BART Station?

By Jesse Rosenthal

Downtown Berkeley has been filled with the sounds of hammers banging, metal grinding on metal and the blaring beeps of utility trucks in reverse for so long that it has come to seem normal. Much of the construction has been centered at BART’s Downtown Berkeley station plaza, and some wonder just how worth it the new BART station plaza will be.

Construction on the new BART plaza began in July 2016 and is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. Beginning with a budget of 7.5 million dollars, costs have increased to close to 9.5 million, according to Chris Filippi, spokesperson from the BART Communications Department.

The new plaza will have entrances housed in glass, and a landscape design which utilizes a bio-retention system to treat storm water, according to BART’s website. The corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue will have an open layout, designed to increase “transparency” and riders’ “comfort and safety.” There will be a display of Armstrong maples, new seating with LED lights and interchangeable metal panels for future art installations. Cyclists can look forward to additional bike racks throughout the plaza.

You may have also seen some new trains on your daily commute; these are what Filippi refers to as the “Future Fleet.” BART’s website promises these new trains will be quieter and equipped with a cooling system for hot summer days and better air flow for the stuffy commutes. The layout of the new fleet is designed to be more spacious to accommodate busy commutes, though there are fewer seats for lazy afternoon rides.

“I don’t think it was necessary,” says Jim Barnett, 11-year Berkeley resident and daily BART rider, “that money could have been funneled into something better; cameras that actually work on trains, system security, and rider safety.”

In a follow-up response, Filippi assured The BCC Voice that all the trains, Legacy Fleet, or Future Fleet, have working security cameras. “Safety is the top priority for everything we do at BART,” states Filippi.

“I think [the new plaza] will be a nice change,” says Sam Fletcher, East Bay resident and frequent BART rider, “A change of scenery could be good for the community. I’m optimistic.”

“I’m actually excited for the space for new art, all we’ve had is gross advertisements down there,” Fletcher went on adamantly.

“I think it’s a fine idea,” chimed in Megan MaGill, overhearing the brief interview with Fletcher. “Maybe they’ll do something about the smell too,” MaGill added. MaGill, mother of two, rides BART into San Francisco every week and painstakingly combats some “unearthly odors” with snacks and juices for the kids.

The BCC Voice asked MaGill if BART could have used the money more effectively. “They’re doing fine as far as I’m concerned, as long as the trains don’t stop underwater, I can handle the smells.” A simple request from a mother of two.

After taking these questions to the streets, The BCC Voice found many Berkeley residents held no opinion about the major changes in the downtown area.

According to BART’s website, some upgrades will take place at the 19th Street Oakland BART Station as well, though the project will not be as substantial as the Downtown Berkeley changes. With an aim to improve the overall experience of the riders, they will be adding an elevator at the north end of the platform, and public artwork throughout the station. The existing lights will be replaced with LED lights to save energy. A new agent booth will be added, and the paid ticket area will be expanded. BART plans to begin this project in 2019.

The BART website has all upcoming plans listed, including changes to El Cerrito Del Norte, Concord, Lake Merritt and some San Francisco stations as well. You can check it out for yourself at: www.bart.gov.

At the top: The skeletal frame of Downtown Berkeley Station’s previous entrance, shortly before its final demolition in early November 2017. Photo Credit: Alexander Coates

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