BART permanently closed off another street entrance at Civic Center Station in San Francisco last week, sealing the stairwell that formerly exited just outside the Hotel Whitcomb at Market & Eighth Street.
This action was announced in advance but likely came as a surprise to some commuters. The transit agency warned in August via a single-sentence update that “the 8th and Market entrance [...] will be permanently closed November 1, 2018.”
In December of 2016, BART closed the other southernmost station exit, which had previously operated directly across the street from the city’s Main Library building. At the time the problem was “infrastructure damage caused by a collapsed sewage drain pipe beneath both escalators.”
Later the agency made the decision to permanently remove both of these exits in order to make room for a new power substation in what was previously the southernmost part of the station:
BART needs to install a new traction power substation at Civic Center [...]. We currently run 24 trains per hour in each direction through the Transbay Tube, these planned improvements will enable us to increase to 30 trains per hour.
We studied possible locations of the new substations extensively and reached the conclusion that the west end of the concourse level of the Civic Center station is the only place where the new substation can go. Therefore, it makes sense to permanently close [these entrances] to accommodate the new traction power substation equipment when the time comes, which is still to be determined.
A presentation to the BART Board of Directors in January revealed that BART currently maintains 68 such substations throughout the system, including ones at nearby Powell Street and 16th Street and Mission stations.
However, BART also warned the board that many stations “are original to the system and at growing risk of failure.”
Voters passed Measure RR in 2016, affording BART a $3.5 billion bond to fix the system. In 2017, the agency estimated that it would spend $301 million of that on power system replacements at 28 sites.
New stations provide extra juice but also protection against breakdowns in the form of redundancy. The Civic Center power station in particular is meant to address a “low voltage area” between Civic Center and 16th Street.
Of all of the stations in the BART system, Civic Center Station tallies the highest number of arrests—453 in 2017, beating second-place Powell Street Station by over 100—most of them for crimes like “vagrancy” and drug use.
The station’s southern stairwells were previously commonplace hangouts for drug use and dealing, although it remains to be seen whether removing them will have any effect on the number of arrests or complaints there.