After an emotional four-hour public hearing Thursday, BART directors voted 5-2 vote to postpone decisions on two key design features -- bike racks and grip poles.

BART proposed the freestanding metal poles to prevent slips and falls by standing passengers as train cars accelerate or slow down. Many riders with mobility or balance problems told BART in a survey they favor the grip poles.

But several blind people and people in wheelchairs told the board Thursday that the poles deny their equal rights to public transit by making it difficult for them to get on or off crowded trains.

The BART car of the future could look something like this illustration that shows seats for the disabled and seniors in a different color, wipeable
The BART car of the future could look something like this illustration that shows seats for the disabled and seniors in a different color, wipeable materials and no armrests. (Bay Area Rapid Transit) (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

"We cannot support a pole that limits people's right to equal access on a crowded train," said Ted Jackson, statewide organizer for the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. "We urge you to delay your decision and come up with something for everyone."

Jackson said he wants the train system to dump the plan for the freestanding poles.

The board neither approved nor rejected the poles but decided instead to test them out with riders in late 2016 -- before mass production of the cars begins.

In a compromise, the board agreed to install three grip poles and a bike rack on eight of the 10 train car prototypes that will carry passengers in regular train service in the last few months of 2016.


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The other two cars will have no bike racks and only one grip bar by the center door but no poles by the two end doors where there is the most concern about conflicts because wheelchair areas are nearby.

Board President Joel Keller defended the delay, saying it provides an opportunity to test out the poles.

"We have narrowed our many decisions on the design down to two issues -- the poles and the bike racks," Keller said. "The compromise gives us time to get real-life experience with the options and get feedback from our riders."

Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, said she was heartened that the board agreed to take a step back. "I'm pleased they agreed to look at alternatives," she said.

Lorenz, who is legally blind, said it's hard for the blind or people in wheelchairs to maneuver around the poles as they try to enter or exit crowded trains.

In response to the concern, BART managers said they will shift the pole location 6 inches to provide a wider path for disabled riders.

BART Director John McPartland, a retired firefighter and safety expert, said "handholds" are important to protect standing riders from falls or collisions.

BART plans to order some $2.5 billion worth of new train cars to replace its aging fleet.

The first 10 cars from the Bombardier train car manufacturer will be tested in train service in late 2016.