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BART Finally Remembers That Passengers Need to Pee

But bizarre board meeting means we'll have to keep doing the potty dance for at least two more years.

A sign on the long-sealed Powell Street Station restroom advises you to use the JC DeCaux toilet kiosk upstairs that is also never open or working.


In a meeting last week so surreal we’re not sure it wasn't some sort of hallucinogen flashback, BART’s Board of Directors spent more than 90 minutes debating whether to reopen the long-sealed restrooms at 15 underground stations, which is at least 86 minutes longer than anyone with a human bladder should have needed.

The toilets, including almost all the ones in San Francisco, were locked up in the weeks after 9/11, for fear that terrorists might prep bombs or nerve gas while hiding out in them. At the time it seemed reasonable, but 14 years later we've seen zero major terror attacks on the West Coast and none in the US that involved a subway bathroom. (Those terror attacks that did target transit systems, like in London and Moscow, were directed at trains and platforms rather than stations and wouldn't have been foiled by restricting toilet access.) Meanwhile, our initial survey shows that 100 percent of BART passengers had to urinate at least once a day during that entire period. We’ll be releasing the final numbers later this year.

So reopening the stalls should be a done deal, right? Not so fast. First, BART Assistant GM Robert Powers confirmed (in so many words) what everyone already suspected: some staff prefer the bathrooms closed just because no one wants to have to clean them. “There are challenges with public health and added workload." Then BART Chief of Police Kenton Rainey argued that these bathrooms are still too attractive to terrorists. “We haven’t received any specific threats, but the threat still is real.”

He then pointed out that (wait for it) the housing crisis has created scores of new homeless, so it’s more important than ever that we lock them out. Board President Thomas Blalock got in on this act, asking, “Has sarin gotten less deadly?” a reference to the 1995 terrorist gassing of the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people.

The chief and president presumably know more about any billowing clouds of nerve gas and stealthy terrorists that might come pouring out as soon as those doors are unlocked, but we wonder what terror group has been biding its time for 14 years for access to these bathrooms before striking. And while we sympathize with the extra hassle a bathroom creates for already overtaxed BART employees, if our biggest priority was saving everyone time and work we'd just close entire stations and be done with it. But the Bay Area needs BART, so we don’t do that. The Bay Area also needs toilets. As have all cities, since about the Third Millennium BC.

Then things got really weird: District 7 Director Zakhary Mallett furrowed his brow and wondered aloud whether people riding BART even need to use bathrooms. No, really. “I personally make every effort to avoid public restrooms. I always wait until I get to my office.” District 2’s Joel Keller said he didn’t see any need for bathrooms while also admitting that he’s “Not down in those stations all that often,” which is surely something no BART board member should admit in public?

Gail Murray of District 1 reminded us that “Things can blow up” and suggested people in San Francisco “Just go up to West Oak [sic] Centre and use the bathrooms there,” apparently opting to trade a hypothetical BART terror threat for a hypothetical mall terror threat. Blalock took the prize, though, suggesting that they just post signs telling people where the nearest station with an open bathroom is so that passengers could get off the train there, pee, then catch another train. Because people on BART don’t usually have anywhere to be in a hurry.

Lest you think that none of your BART directors A) ever ride BART or B) have human internal anatomies that resemble our own, Oakland’s Rob Raburn reminded everyone “You can’t mandate bladder functions” and pointed out that basically every BART rider is sick of this. Rebecca Saltzman of District 3 informed her (presumably amazed) colleagues that yes, people do use the bathrooms at BART stations, and she’s even one of them. Nick Josefowitz of District 8 pointed out that New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Atlanta all have available underground bathrooms on their train systems.

At press time, we were not able to verify whether people in any of those cities are particularly worried about terrorism.

In the end, pro-bathroom crusaders insisted that they will develop a “pilot program”  for reopening. Why they'’d need to further test something that worked for 29 years already we couldn’t say, but at least it’s progress. Don’t get too excited, though: There’s no opportunity to fit it into the budget until 2017.

That’s okay. No rush. We can probably hold it until then.


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