New BART car design prompts concern from disabled community

Zoe Kleinfeld/Staff

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A new car design that seeks to revamp BART trains has raised concerns among the Bay Area’s disabled community — especially a pole featured in the cars that would potentially decrease wheelchair accessibility.

Disabled and elderly individuals voiced dissatisfaction with the pole during a Tuesday event at the North Berkeley BART station, organized to garner feedback about the new design. The event was part of the “Fleet of the Future” tour, and featured a two-thirds-sized mockup of a new model that developers hope will begin to replace the current fleet in 2017.

The potential replacements were spurred by the high cost of replacing outdated technology and the need for more cars, according to Brian Bentley, a BART vehicle systems engineer. BART aims to provide a more available map system and easily discernible automated announcements.

However, the proposed central pole — which would run from floor to ceiling and provide stability for standing patrons — is placed too close to the doors of new car models, said John Alex Lowell of the San Francisco Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee.

“This (new system) implicitly favors people who are standing,” said Lowell, who utilizes a rolling walker. “There is no sufficient seating for people with mobility devices.”

Concerned about the hazard this would pose for wheelchair users in the event of an emergency, other community members voiced concern about the lack of accessibility for disabled persons.

Brandon Young, the systems change coordinator at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, said the poles’ location is “more of a hindrance.” However, he was impressed by the new implementation of an LCD screen that would display important safety information.

“The LCD screen is a very useful innovation for hearing-impaired individuals,” Young said. “It is definitely better than what they have now.”

Bentley, who was present at the event, said although the new cars were designed to better cater to those with disability needs, he recognized the central poles might encourage people to congregate in the center.

“There are a lot of people who like and who need the poles,” Bentley said. “They’re offset from the center to allow more room for wheelchairs.”

He added that the new fixtures in the models exceed requirements enumerated in the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the stipulated distance of the poles from car doors.

Jessie Lorenz, the executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, hoped BART would seriously consider their qualms.

“The current system already provides a hindrance to people with disabilities,” Lorenz said. “(The new pole) is just going to put a barrier in the middle. I hope this is just a preliminary model and (BART) pays attention to public feedback.”

Contact Zoe Kleinfeld at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @zoekleinfeld.