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BART will finally reopen SF station bathrooms—but only at Powell Street

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After nearly 20 years, most facilities remain shuttered

An underground BART station with white walls and a new gray grid ceiling studded with lights. Adam L Brinklow

If you’re in a San Francisco BART station and nature calls, the agency wants to keep you away from the elevators, but offers precious little relief elsewhere, as almost all of the city’s stations have been without restrooms for nearly two decades.

But after Thursday’s BART Board of Directors meeting, that will change for at least one station, the Powell Street Station, where the still-ongoing renovation will include reopening its long closed bathrooms.

Oakland’s 19th Street Station will also see its bathrooms open once again, but both stations’ toilettes will come with a new look.

“[T]he new bathrooms at the Powell Street Station in San Francisco and 19th Street in Oakland won’t be the same ones that riders used in the 1990s,” reports Rachel Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Powell Street’s forthcoming all-gender facilities will have sinks and hand dryers outside, as well as an attendant to keep them clean and safe.”

Following the terror attacks of 9/11, BART closed the restrooms in its underground stations, fearing that terrorists could hide in the facilities while preparing an attack. (Gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 saw just an tactic employed. This is also why there are no trash cans on underground platforms.)

Although this was framed at the time as a temporary security measure, more than 18 years later there’s still no place to urinate in every SF except Glen Park and Balboa Park.

The board considered reopening facilities in 2015, leading to a surreal public hearing where several BART honchos confessed they would not want to use a BART bathroom but grudgingly agreed to consider a pilot reopening in 2017.

That never happened.

At this week’s meeting the board approved a nearly $15 million deal with an Oakland contractor to work on a number of improvements at Powell Station, including glass barriers to stop fare evasion, extra fare gates, new lights on the platform, and the reopening of the underground restrooms.

“I would like to see all of our restrooms open, period,” Mark Foley, a BART board representative, said Thursday (a sentiment that was anathema in the chamber four years earlier), but right now there’s no concrete plans for loo openings elsewhere.

BART’s ongoing renovation of Powell Street is now more than a decade old, starting in 2009 and then accelerating with the dramatic removal of the ceiling in 2011.

The project sat in limbo for years thanks in part to contractor error and red tape. The new grid ceiling installation mostly wrapped up earlier this year.

The new contract also includes plans to “relocate” the tile wall partitions at the entrance nearest Fifth Street in order to “improve the line of sight” through the station.