OAKLAND -- As the BART board prepares Thursday to approve the design for its train car of the future, transit managers recommend two changes in response to criticism from wheelchair users and standing passengers.
BART directors will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in Oakland to give their final design instructions before construction begins on the $2.5 billion new train fleet. The first new cars are expected to go into service in 2017.
Designing the cars, officials say, involves compromises aimed at balancing the needs of different riders, including wheelchair users who need room to roll and standing passengers who can use grips to keep their balance. Then there are bicyclists who want a place to stash bikes, and regular passengers who want to find seats.
Train system managers this week recommended relocating the proposed grip poles about 6 inches farther from wheelchair areas on board to give more room for wheelchair users to enter and exit trains.
Managers also recommended to exclude the poles from lead train cars, which have less space for riders than regular cars.
"The majority of disabled riders like the poles," said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost, "but we're trying to address the concerns of the wheelchair users."
Some wheelchair users say grip pole plans should be deleted because they obstruct wheelchairs.
But in a survey of people who visited a model of the new car, 72 percent of those with disabilities rated the poles as excellent or good.
Under the latest recommendation, a wheelchair user boarding the train would have a path 50.6 inches wide to reach the designated wheelchair area -- nearly as wide as the 54-inch train door, according to a BART report.
In another change, train system managers recommended adding more straps on trains to help standing passengers balance when trains stop or start. Riders who toured a train car model earlier this year complained there weren't enough straps.
Bicycle advocacy groups this week urged the BART board to install bicycle racks aboard train cars, as recommended by the district staff.
Scrapping the plan for bike racks would enable BART to add four more seats on average per train car but could lead to more friction between cyclists and other riders, transit officials said. The new train cars will have 54 seats on average, four less than the current cars.
Abandoning the bike rack plans would mean "a less efficient use of space encouraging more conflicts," said Robert Prinz, education director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.