Not everyone is excited about the brand new fleet of BART cars that's supposed to make your commute quieter, more comfortable, and less smelly.
BART riders with disabilities say the new fleet -- expected to roll out in the next two years -- actually offers less access for them. Specifically, the new design has added handhold poles in the middle of the entry ways, giving standing passengers something to hang onto while the train is moving.
But that pole is blocking the ability for wheelchair users and other riders with disabilities to access handicap seating, says Jessie Lorenz, executive director of Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, which serves 5,000 people in San Francisco.
The issue has motivated passengers with disabilities and activists to protest the grand opening of the new BART fleet tomorrow afternoon.
"Our message is simple: they need to remove the damn poles," Lorenz tells SF Weekly.
Lorenz, who is blind, says she got a call from one of BART's managers today who asked her to cancel the protest. But Lorenz says her community isn't backing down from their request. "They're trying to give us this song and dance that they're getting so much flak from the bike community because they don't accommodate bikes to which I say: this is a Civil Rights issue," Lorenz says.
"[The BART manager] straight up said 'yes this is going to cause more problems for people who board trains with mobility problems and strollers, but how much sacrifice for the few do we make for the ability of many to stand -- and stand safely?'"
BART Spokeswoman Alicia Trost says that BART has tweaked its pole design after hearing various complaints from passengers. While they have no plans to ditch the handhold poles, the transit agency has moved it several inches away from the wheelchair area, increasing the width of the path to 49 inches.
In addition, BART has also raised the point where the three tripod branches meet the pole by 3 to 4 inches to eliminate "pinch points" for wheelchair users.
"We also plan to actively remind customers to step aside to make room for wheelchair users to more easily enter and exit the train, especially when conditions are crowded," BART states on its website.
But that's not really going to solve the accessibility issue for wheelchair users and passengers using scooters, Lorenz says. She points to Washington, D.C. which is currently being sued for the very same thing.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Lorenz and fellow activists plan to attend BART's grand opening of its new fleet at the Justin Herman Plaza. But they won't be there to celebrate.
"We know we have less political pull than the Bike Coalition, and it's playing out," Lorenz says. "Our folks have had a hard time accessing BART since they allowed bikes on trains at all times so this has culminated and everyone is ready to take it to the streets."