Can the city clean up the 16th Street BART plaza?

District Supervisor Hillary Ronen (left) on one of her visits to 16th Street BART plaza to clean up. Photo by Susie Neilson

The 16th and Mission BART station is looking a lot cleaner these days, and if city and BART officials succeed in their plans, throwing on your blinders every time you walk through the plaza may no longer be necessary.

“The bottom line is, for a transit hub as big as the 16th Street BART station, it is absolutely unacceptable that the residents of San Francisco and transit riders have to subject themselves to those conditions on a daily basis,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen at a hearing Wednesday.

Ronen decided to take on the plaza after regularly cleaning it with BART Board member Bevan Dufty for the last several months.

“We have made it a crusade to change conditions at the station,” she said, acknowledging that the station looks much better than it did months ago.

The changes?

Paul Oversier, BART assistant general manager of operations, said that by April the station will have more dedicated cleaners. Two shifts of at least one cleaner will be assigned to the station every day, adding up to 14 total shifts, seven days a week. Six of those shifts will have two cleaners dedicated to the plaza.

Before, he said, six of the shifts split one person between the 24th and 16th street stations. “When you’re trying to keep two major stations like that clean, you barely have enough time to empty the garbage and not do a whole lot more,” he said.

Oversier also said BART upped steam-cleaning at the station from one hour every night to four hours, seven days a week. In April, BART will be applying a sealant over the surface of the plaza so that urine and other liquids don’t soak into the tiles, he said.

The 24th Street station will also have 14 shifts of cleaners, though without the same level of steam-cleaning and without the sealant, Oversier said.

He said similar changes are happening at San Francisco’s other four main stations. The cleaning staff is also undergoing more formal training and using better equipment, and the agency has one person dedicated to overseeing maintenance for the whole system.

“The goal is to professionalize the function of cleaning stations at BART,” Oversier said, explaining that the agency hired an outside consultant to recommend changes.

Oversier said BART and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency independently funded two workers to do homeless outreach at the four downtown stations, although not at 16th and Mission.

However, Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said that the 16th and Mission area has been one of the most active areas for his department’s homeless outreach workers.

He also said that his department is considering expanding BART station outreach to other stations – though only with the proper staff and resources.

Kositsky noted that homelessness is a regional issue: San Francisco has 24 percent of the Bay Area’s homeless population, 44 percent of the area’s permanent support housing, and 33 percent of its shelter beds. Every year, he said, roughly 5,000 homeless people come to San Francisco from other Bay Area counties.

“So I agree with Supervisor (Jeff) Sheehy on the need to look at this as a regional problem and coordinate better with our surrounding counties,” he said, referring to calls by Sheehy for a more holistic approach in addressing homelessness in BART stations and trains.

Larry Stringer, deputy director of operations at the Department of Public Works, said his department power washes areas surrounding the plaza four nights a week. He noted, however, that in order to truly keep it clean, a dedicated person is needed seven days a week.

But he did say Public Works has so-called “corridor workers” cleaning the areas surrounding the plaza Friday through Monday.

Regarding public urination, Stringer said Public Works cooperated with BART on installing the “pee wall” – a wall that, supposedly, splashes urine back at delinquent urinators – with marginal success. “It was somewhat effective,” he said. “It didn’t totally solve the problem.”

More successful, however, were the so-called two bathroom “pit stops” installed on or near the plaza, he said.

“This is the only place in the city where you’ll find two pit stops right across the street from each other,” he said. “But the amount of urine and everything that was going on there – we decided this was a definite location where we needed to try this.”

He said BART has agreed to continue funding for the pit stops for the next couple years.

Separately, opponents of the proposed 1979 Mission St. development argued during public comment that the initiatives being undertaken by the city were more appropriate for improving the intersection than a 10-story, 380-unit project that its developer says will have the same effect.

“I really want to applaud what you’re doing – it’s exactly what needs to happen there,” said a woman named Susan who said she was a parent at Marshall Elementary and a member of the Plaza 16 Coalition, which opposes the development.

“Maximus stated from the beginning how they were going to improve the neighborhood by bringing in luxury housing,” she said. “… that’s not going solve the problems at the 16th Street BART station – this is the kind of thing that will.”

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  1. Joe

    The pee wall reminds me of SFUSD, which at one time was using the “Haberman Interview” to screen potential teachers. Haberman was an education researcher in the midwest (?) who found that too many public school teachers quit the profession because they felt under-supported, under-appreciated, and over-worked… so he created an interview that would screen for candidates who would not be bothered by those conditions. So… For the pee wall: If we don’t want a wall to get peed on, cover it with anti-piss paint. And for teachers: If they don’t like getting crapped on, find teachers for whom the crap will just roll off their backs. A classic SF solution.

  2. Sally yu

    shameless one sided plug for plaza 16… how does bart being forced to do its job have anything to do with 1979 Mission st.

  3. I’m looking at the Plaza now and it’s cleaner than it’s been in years. It looks just great.

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