Underground BART station to be renovated in addition to plaza improvement project

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Simon Greenhill/Staff

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With construction beginning on the plaza above the Downtown Berkeley BART station, transit officials sought community input Tuesday and Wednesday on plans to improve and modernize the underground station, furthering efforts to rejuvenate the Downtown area.

Intended to improve accessibility, reduce congestion and make the station more aesthetically appealing, the proposed renovations come in addition to the $11.2 million plaza improvement project, which began construction in late August.

“There’s been a lot of thought (given to) how to integrate (the plaza) design a little bit into this station,” said Rebecca Saltzman, who represents the Downtown Berkeley station on BART’s board of directors. “We really want to change the complete look and feel of the station.”

The new plaza will improve pedestrian access to BART and make significant design improvements, including the addition of a large glass rotunda and community art featured at the station’s entrances and nearby bus shelters.  

Renovations inside the station will take place in three phases. Each phase — intended to prioritize the most necessary improvements and minimize station closures — will take between three and four years.

The plaza improvement project and in-station renovations are the Downtown Berkeley station’s first major renovations since it opened in 1973.

As commuters rushed to and from trains Wednesday morning, Saltzman and her colleagues stood in the station’s dimly lit concourse wielding surveys and colorful signs. They presented BART customers with designs drafted from community suggestions collected last year.

“There’s a lot of potential to do some really cool things to make it feel like, ‘OK, you’re in this cool place that’s new and different,’ ” said Susan Poliwka, a senior planner at BART.

Proposed improvements include placing an elevator in the station’s center, building new escalators to decrease congestion and installing public art at either end of the concourse.

“The biggest issue is congestion,” said Noah Beil, who commutes to Berkeley every day. “When it’s busy, it’s hard for people to come up the stairs. … The escalators get really congested as well.”

Saltzman also said she is pushing to install new restrooms in the Downtown Berkeley station as part of a pilot program to reintroduce public bathrooms in underground BART stations, which were closed down because of security concerns after 9/11.

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Funding for the project could come from municipal, county and state tax revenues, federal grants or BART itself, Saltzman said. The costs of the plaza renovation will be shared by BART and the city of Berkeley.

According to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Downtown Berkeley attracts visitors primarily for dining and entertainment. He added that improved public transportation — combined with expanded Downtown parking options — will continue to bring traffic Downtown.

“All of the improvements that we’re going to bring to the station will be great for riders,” Saltzman said. “They’re going to make the station feel like a place you want to hang out in. It’ll be a really big improvement.”

Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @simondgreenhill.