Posts Tagged ‘bart’

Ambient sound of new and old BART trains

April 10th, 2019

Now that BART’s new “Fleet of the Future” trains have been in regular service for a while, I’ve found myself on them dozens of times. The extra set of doors in the middle is my favorite feature, followed by the significantly improved ventilation. The live map is nice too.

But the biggest change is the audio. No more unintelligible operators mumbling what train you’re on or what station you’re arriving at; now a generic female voice clearly states this information automatically.

This got me to wonder what else might be different about the way the new trains sound vs. the old ones. Listen below to two recordings I made with my phone on two short morning BART commutes.

 

 

For comparison, here’s the same ride on a much older BART train. The only automated announcement is the warning that the doors are closing, and there’s also no door chime.

The biggest surprise to me listening to these on my headphones is the slight rattling sound. Definitely didn’t notice that when I was recording this and I’m surprised my phone’s microphone even picked up such a small detail.

 

 

You can tell in both recordings there’s still some squealing as the trains go around the corner from 16th and Mission to Civic Center, though nowhere near as much as with the previous wheel design. I kind of wish I’d made a recording a couple years ago for comparison but I don’t know how that awful sound would have come out on a phone. Lest we forget, the old BART rail screech was so unbearable in the Transbay Tube it was once recorded by an audio designer for a survival horror video game.

Future transbay tube fantasy planning

February 4th, 2019

Recently there’s been talk of building a second rail tube under the San Francisco Bay. This new tube would be larger than the existing transbay tube and serve two major purposes:

  1. BART could offer limited 24 hour service while still having a maintenance window if one of the tubes had to be closed
  2. Future expansion possibilities for CalTrain, high speed rail, and perhaps even Amtrak

If we put aside the question of when to build this second crossing the next question is where? There’s no pressing reason to build a second tube next to the existing BART tube between Embarcadero Station and West Oakland.

BART has previously expressed concern about a tube to Treasure Island due to soil stability issues so I won’t include that as an option (even though I personally like the idea.)

Here are the fantasy transbay tube plans I’ve come up with. All maps images are courtesy of Google.
 

Alameda connections

The distance between San Francisco and Alameda (the island, not the county) is short enough that a tube could be practical. Today Alameda isn’t well served by transit so this route may help bring visitors to Alameda’s breweries and boat adventures.

On the Oakland side BART could connect to the existing Lake Merritt Station, ideally stopping along the way at a new Jack London Square Station. There’s also an obvious place to connect to Amtrak as well.
 

Geary Street

Let’s start with the obvious: BART intended to build a subway under Geary Street since day one, but somehow never got around to it. It’s easy to see the appeal: Geary is close to the Legion of Honor, Japantown, the Presidio, and could potentially go all the way out to the beach and the Cliff House. It’s also a major shopping district with restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, etc.

On the eastern side this subway could connect to the existing Market Street BART subway before meeting at the Transbay Transit Center and exiting San Francisco through a tube to Alameda.

The biggest problem with BART adding a Geary Street subway at this point is how it would get there: Muni Metro’s's upcoming Union Square station is quite deep, probably too deep to tunnel under. Digging under the Financial District seems equally troublesome. If only San Francisco had some kind of “subway master plan”
 

Mission Bay

Connecting somewhere near Mission Bay, BART could build a new line to major event spaces like AT&T/Oracle Park, the new Warriors stadium, etc. It comes close enough to the CalTrain line to provide an opportunity for future expansion, and would serve as a connection to Muni’s upcoming Central Subway line near the south portal.

On the San Francisco side BART would have a few places to connect to its existing subway, though all of them would be expensive. The longest route would be to tunnel all the way to Cesar Chavez, the shortest would be to go under 16th Street.

The pros of this plan seem pretty clear: connecting BART to one of San Francisco’s biggest new neighborhoods is a no brainer. The cons? There’s no direct connection to BART’s busy Market St. tunnel or the Transbay Transit Center.
 

 

North Bay connections

It’s unclear BART will ever go to the North Bay, but this was part of the original plan and I have a few ideas. Just getting BART to connect with the new SMART trains in the North Bay would be a major achievement and is worth considering for that reason alone.

For better or worse these plans involve skipping the East Bay entirely and focus on the North Bay via San Francisco. Connections from the North Bay directly to the East Bay are out of scope for now, negating the ability for BART to operate 24 hours — but it’s still worth thinking about. These are fantasy plans after all.
 

Golden Gate Tube

Okay, let’s return to the Geary Street subway. Originally BART planned for the Geary line to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on the lower deck. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be feasible today without major changes to the bridge. Building a second Golden Gate Bridge presumably wouldn’t be very popular, so why not go underground?

The subway tunnel would head west under Geary, take a sharp turn somewhere near the Presidio, then go underneath the Golden Gate before connecting somewhere on the North Bay side. Clearly there’d be a BART stop in the Presidio, if not two.

How this would connect to the Transbay Transit Center is a whole other can of worms but it does provide a potential shared crossing, assuming some minor hand-waving about the details of the Transbay Transit Center connection.

 

Island tubes to Tiburon

I’ve saved my favorite for last, a costly plan best described as “a series of tubes.” Specifically three of them.

What if BART built a subway tunnel from Market Street to Columbus Avenue in North Beach to a tube system connecting via islands to the North Bay? This would hit many key areas including the Financial District, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Tubes would be built to connect Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Tiburon.

Connecting this huge tunnel system to the Transbay Transit Center could be reasonable depending on the route configuration. While some North Bay locals would benefit from this plan, it could also be a huge benefit for tourism. Imagine coming to San Francisco on vacation and taking a train to not only Alcatraz but also into wine country. Obviously the ferry companies would strongly disagree with me here.
 

Those are my proposals. Will any of these ideas ever come to fruition? If so hopefully I’ll be remembered as a modern day Emperor Norton.

Narrow streets, remixed

May 8th, 2015

Over at Steve Dombek’s Narrow Streets SF website, he proposes undoing America’s 20th century mistake of building ultra-wide streets here in San Francisco. Instead, the land would be sold off to build new housing, and we’d be left with traditional (or “narrow”) streets like you find in the rest of the world.

Naturally, this idea caught some buzz in the press given SF’s current housing shortages.

To look at one example, here’s Dombek’s plan for McAllister with before and after diagrams:


Seems like a nice plan, right? You get rid of the (largely wasted) space and put in new housing and retail.

But here’s the thing: where will all the money go from selling the land and the subsequent property tax? Well, that’s where my proposal comes in. Before the new structures get built, let’s dig a cut and cover subway underneath them.

I’m not sure McAllister Street would be the best fit for a subway, but to borrow Dombek’s diagram for illustrative purposes it could look something like this:


Personally my choice would be to build Muni Metro subways under a narrowed down South Van Ness and 19th Ave. to make up for Muni’s awful north/south service, and a new BART subway under a narrowed Geary Street. But those are just details.

The important point here is this: this is a way to kill two birds with one stone. And although I like birds, narrow streets with new subways is a win/win in my book. We can get this right.

BART needs platform walls

January 27th, 2015

Shanghai Metro

Recently we’ve had a number of cases in and around San Francisco where someone was hit by a train in a subway station. These tragedies — whether intentional suicides or simply accidents — have become common enough that we really should be doing something about it. It’s only fair for everyone involved.

Fortunately there’s a solution that already exists: walls. Specifically, walls with sliding doors that line up with the subway’s doors, just like how elevators have inner and outer sets of sliding doors.

Would you want to work in a building where the office elevator didn’t have outer doors, and instead you just stood next to an opening to the elevator shaft? No? Why should riding the subway be any different?

If you’ve ever taken the driverless airport tram at SFO (or many other airports) you’ve seen this first hand: there’s a glass wall between you and the tram, and the doors only open when the tram arrives. The tram only departs once both sets of doors are safely closed.

But this wall “technology” isn’t just for driverless trams — some major transit systems already have this, for example Shanghai Metro in the photo above. As the photo illustrates the yellow-tiled safety zone has been replaced by a thick piece of glass separating people from fast moving trains on the other side.

Walls have a side benefit as well: stopping the wind. No need to worry about holding a paper steady or having your hair re-arranged by the wind from a fast approaching train.

The good news is that BART has at least considered this recently, but so far they don’t seem to be in much of a hustle to build anything. That’s a shame for us all.

UPDATE:

Newly elected BART director Nick Josefowitz responded on Twitter:

BART to the future fleet

April 17th, 2014

BART's Fleet of the Future prototype BART's Fleet of the Future prototype BART's Fleet of the Future prototype BART's Fleet of the Future prototype

Today BART launched the first of several workshops with a full-scale prototype of their new train cars. They’re looking for rider feedback before finalizing the design. Most of it seems pretty nifty:

  • Comfortable, easy to clean seats
  • Extra set of doors for faster boarding
  • Bike racks
  • Digital signs and maps

BART says their new trains will be quieter on the inside and have better air conditioning, but these features weren’t part of the demo.

I took the time to voice my concerns about the boarding difficulty that the redesign didn’t address. One BART representative suggested a couple mirrors might solve the problem, which is an interesting alternative I hadn’t considered.

If you’re interested in checking out the prototype and giving feedback, several more workshops are scheduled. If all goes as planned we’ll start seeing these new trains in 2017.

Handwritten song lyrics taped to pole

April 11th, 2014

Hope There's Someone lyrics

I’m not entirely certain what compels someone to write out the lyrics to the 2005 hit Hope There’s Someone by Antony and the Johnsons, then tape the page to a pole in a BART station. Perhaps they were inspired by the recent Avicii version?

In all likelihood we’ll never know. It will remain as one of the unsolved mysteries of our time, just like that wooden box.

BART station side hatch

March 14th, 2014

This morning I arrived at the 16th Mission BART station only to find the entry was blocked by a steel gate! Oh no! How would I get to work?

Turns out a detour through a secret passage was necessary, as documented in the photos below.

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New BART trains don’t address boarding issue

March 8th, 2014

The new BART train cars will have lots of improvements over the current ones. But there’s one boarding issue that they didn’t quite tackle.

See what’s missing from their design, as pictured above?

You may have to take a step back, so to speak, in order to notice. Consider how people board BART trains: commuters and other frequent riders wait in a line or small group on the station platform near where the train’s doors stop when it pulls into the station. Generally they let other passengers off first before anyone gets on.

Or at least, they try to. On current BART trains it’s difficult to tell if there’s someone waiting to exit before you get on, because the trains are designed like this:

Now Boarding

As you can see from Todd Lappin’s above photo, there aren’t windows next to the doors. This means you can be standing on the platform, unable to see an exiting passenger before you try to board. Not exactly a well thought out design.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Van Ness Muni Metro Station

As the above photo by Roshan Vyas illustrates, even when Muni Metro’s doors are open you can still see the people inside. You can wait for them to get off before shoving your way on — or not, like certain impolite Muni passengers at rush hour. But either way at least there isn’t a wall at a crucial point in the train car exterior.

BART’s new trains narrow this boarding blind spot, but they don’t eliminate it. Look at all this wasted space:

I understand there needs to be a place for a map and maybe some ads on the trains, but this isn’t the place for it. There shouldn’t be a need to pick between faster boarding and information — both goals are attainable without sacrificing one for the other.

Proof that Mitch Hedberg never rode BART

March 7th, 2014

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“An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. You will never see an escalator out of order sign, just ‘escalator temporarily stairs — sorry for the convenience.’”

– Mitch Hedberg

 
While he may have taken Muni Metro, it’s clear that Hedberg never rode BART.

Things San Franciscans despise: filth

May 7th, 2012

Most visitors would be shocked to learn that San Franciscans hate filth.

Ours is a city that doesn’t want to stay clean, but we try our best. Some cleaning accomplishments we’re especially proud of include:

  • We require restaurants to display a hygiene score card.
  • We have a number to call for park and sidewalk cleaning.
  • We heavily fine anyone who dares block our street cleaning vehicles’ precise schedule.

Yes, we live in moldy old buildings. Yes, the entire city often smells terrible. And yes, that’s human urine on your car door. Sorry, I should have told you not to park here.

Tourists don’t recognize our little obsession with cleanliness because we often focus on minor details, ignoring larger issues that are politically unpalatable to address head-on.

The poster child for our cleanliness obsession reaching a disorder level is Bart. Despite drug deals and human excrement problems in certain stations, Bart focuses on appeasing germaphobes who demand free hand sanitizer and inorganic germ-resistant vinyl seats.

This isn’t to say San Franciscans are trying to scrub away our hippie image; we’re just washing our organic heirloom tomatoes with soap these days.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go confirm that the overflowing trash can I reported to 311 was emptied.

 

Original photo by gruntso.