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Critics Say Planned San Jose Underground BART Station Is Too Deep

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- The South Bay got its first glimpse of the planned underground BART station in San Jose's Little Portugal this week, a tunnel with multiple levels and tracks located 86 feet beneath the surface.

And the most vocal reaction on social media: it's too deep!

"I think that the reaction is symbolic of unfamiliarity," said VTA spokesperson Bernice Alaniz.

A BART Silicon Valley tweet earlier this week was roundly mocked by the twittersphere with critics making references to the "journey to the center of the earth" and Mordor.

Proposed BART San Jose Station (artist rendering)
Artist rendering of BART San Jose station (cutaway view)

BART's current plan to place the tunnel at that depth took into account soil conditions, existing utilities, light rail lines and minimizing disruption to the surface, according to Alaniz.

Getting from the platform to the surface using high-speed elevators will take about one minute or 90 seconds using escalators. BART's Q4 2020 report shows stations' elevators were cumulatively in service 99 percent of the time and escalators to street level were cumulatively in service 97 percent of the time.

For comparison, SFMTA's Forest Hill Station (formerly named Laguna Honda Station) is 70 feet below the surface. Riders at the BART Embarcadero Station must descend 54 feet underground.

A VTA "Deep Station Fact Sheet" listed other stations around the U.S. with even deeper subways:

  • Forest Glenn, Maryland: 196 ft deep with all elevator access
  • Wheaton, Montgomery County, Maryland 115 feet deep- all escalator access
  • Rosslyn, Arlington, VA: Upper level 103 ft deep; lower level 117 ft deep
  • Bethesda, Maryland: 120 ft deep
  • Friendship Heights, Washington Metro: 100 ft deep
  • Beacon Hill Station, Seattle: 160 ft deep all elevator access
  • University of Washington Station, Seattle: 100 ft deep
  • Roosevelt Station, Seattle: 80 ft deep
  • Washington Park Station, Portland Oregon: 260 ft deep, all elevator access

"For those who have used public transportation internationally, using a subway system that's 75, 80, 90 feet below ground is nothing out of the ordinary," Alaniz said.

"Anyone who's used that BART station in downtown San Francisco, knows how long it can take to get into and out of a station, especially when it's busy," said Ian Griffiths, policy director at Seamless Bay Area, a non-profit transportation advocacy group.

Griffiths says the added travel time for deeper descents adds up and can turn off riders.

"We can have the best finishes and the best architecture and if it's not a well-designed station ... that makes it easy to use transit, it's going to be of less use to everyone," Griffiths said.

As for the online sarcasm and snark, "It's disappointing because the project is being built for the benefit in the greater good of the community. This is a significant project and it will provide an environmentally friendly alternative to solo driving," Alaniz said.

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