SAN FRANCISCO - If there's one thing BART riders are eager to talk about, it's the dirty, noisy, aging escalators that stand between them and the outside world when they exit the train.
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"Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't," said Lily Dang, who rides BART every day. "It can be kind of inconvenient at times."
BART is aware of the problem, and in January, the transit agency's board of directors approved a plan to replace the escalators. The first stage of that plan began overnight on Monday, with a wooden wall half a block long constructed near 4th and Market Streets while most of the city was asleep.
At each end of the wall, a full color rendering displays what's taking shape inside: a steel and glass canopy, replete with digital signage and security cameras, that will cover the escalator leading down into the BART station and shield both its machinery and its riders from harsh weather.
"We've already seen some success with this," said BART spokesman Chris Filippi. "We have a canopy at our downtown station in Oakland, at 19th Street, and there, we've seen a decrease of one-third in down time for our street-level escalator."
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The 4th and Market entrance to the Powell BART station is only the first of 22 canopies the agency plans to construct. Next week, contractors will begin building a similar structure over one of the entrances to the Civic Center station. Each canopy will take five months to complete, but because BART only wants to close one entrance to each station at a time, the whole project will take several years.
"I'm just happy BART's finally getting their act together," said rider Kevin Brown, who told us he'd rather not get his daily exercise climbing a stopped escalator on his way to work.
The construction begins at a busy time of year critical for Union Square merchants: the holiday shopping season. To address their concerns, BART contractors will only work during the overnight hours -- between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. -- when retail shops on Market Street are closed.
Filippi said BART hopes the merchants will benefit from the new structures once they're complete. Better lighting, security cameras and gates that close overnight will all help keep the station entrances clean and safe, he said.
The canopies will also serve another important role: protecting the brand new escalators BART plans to begin installing over the next few years.
"We want to protect that investment for as long as we can," Filippi said.
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