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BART Signage FAIL = Society FAIL?

June 3, 2010

Jeff at Spots Unknown points us to another example of a big thing just not giving a damn:

A few weeks back they painted the Powell/Montgomery/Embarcadero BART stations. Great, right? Well, in the process, they changed the signs. Not that they were so great to begin with, but the ones they replaced them with had me convinced that these were temporary ones until they were able to hang some fantastic new signs that would match the new paint scheme.

I can be naive.

I’ve seen this happen multiple times now – since these signs are posted at a height that is below the height of a BART train, when there’s a train in the platform, the signs are completely obscured…

This is easy enough to fix though:

Is apathy the real issue?

Stuff like this makes me sad. It makes me sad because sometimes I like to entertain the notion that San Francisco is a special place where the people who live here and the people in charge of stuff actually give a damn, that they’re proud. This blog is based on that innocent premise. But other times, I’m reminded that, to a large degree, it’s just not the case, that we are one big earthquake away from Louisiana status.

The frequency of transit fails on both BART and Muni are worrisome — do they point to a lack of investment and preventative maintenance? Is this what the Romans were thinking in the 3rd century? “Hey, the Via Appia used to be great, but it’s total crap these days.”

It’s not like we’re asking for mosaics made of Murano glass. (Actually, that would be very cool. I want stylish and highly visible rows of repeating signs made of Murano glass tiles please, distinct for each station. Thanks BART!)

Between civic apathy, an unwillingness to pay taxes for infrastructure, and government budget shortfalls, if there were a another 1906 level earthquake I have to wonder if San Francisco would end up like Detroit.

And don’t get me started on our creaking water and sewer infrastructure. If that goes, we’re historical footnotes.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 2:04 pm

    This seems to be a problem with democracy in general.

    “Infrastructure maintenance” doesn’t make a sexy campaign platform. Neither does “paying for municipal services.”

    But lowering taxes and building new stuff are cool and exciting to voters. By the time the new stuff is built there won’t be enough money to fund the operation, but by then it will be some new politician’s problem anyway.

  2. June 3, 2010 2:07 pm

    as usual, i am humbled by your mastery of Visual Explanation.

  3. June 3, 2010 7:08 pm

    Nevermind that — people who’ve walked down onto the platfrom very likely are aware of which station they’re at.

    The mind-boggling thing about BART station signage is that by and large you cannot read any of the signs from inside a train. So if the conductor doesn’t announce the stop and you dozed off a while back, you’re basically screwed — and visually most of the stations are indistinguishable.

    • June 3, 2010 7:58 pm

      That’s exactly what I mean! I want a row of (awesome) signs at window level that you can see from inside the train, and maybe even a second row ABOVE the train that you could see from the opposite side.

  4. Marijane permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:47 pm

    SF is working on its water infrastructure. Lots of Bernal’s water mains, for instance, have been upgraded over the last year. Contractors were cutting pipe outside my bedroom window for nearly six months last year.

    You can see a map of current/recent projects at

  5. Dave P permalink
    June 4, 2010 8:42 am

    They *are* temporary:

    • June 4, 2010 11:58 am

      The original signs weren’t very good to begin with. The temporary signs just add insult to injury.

      And it’s been two months. At this rate we will run out of spring before they are cleaned.

  6. 'Gub'mint Employee permalink
    June 4, 2010 8:52 am

    Begin Rant…

    San Francisco will never be Detroit because it’s not a ‘one-horse’ town. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world in one of the most desirable regions in the country near one of the most important tech regions in the world. If all the +million dollar homes in SF crash in value… we’d have a much wider problem on our hands nationally.

    A lot of the problem with muni/bart is at the tip top. It’s malfeasance plain and simple. We all know how and where muni is wasting huge amounts of money, it’s no secret. The board, and to some extent the drivers are unwilling to make the difficult decisions in the short term for the long term benefit– drivers of course have a very hard job and deserve a fair salary!!

    About the tax thing. We on the left have a cross to bear in defending taxes. The right (which seems to include both parties at this point) has been trying to ‘drown government in a bathtub’ for decades, because they want to own fucking everything. Sure they have a lot of rhetoric about efficient government, etc., but after two beers any one of them will tell you they don’t give a shit about democracy.

    Our infrastructure didn’t crumble because your or my taxes dropped, and it won’t be reborn by taxes on our meager earnings. It crumbled because the very rich have weakened government and secured themselves a free ride– and also because our government hasn’t caught up with the financialization of the economy. Those dudes found a sweet scam that’s mystified and not understood, and aren’t paying their fair share.

    Look at all the beautiful theaters on Mission street that are abandoned. The dreadful mid-market area. It’s not profitable for a private group to invest here and the city can’t afford to. So where’s the money? Well, for one, there’s a derivatives market that is larger than the global GDP, and it’s not taxed, at all. That’s wrong. But with that profit margin, why would anyone contribute to the ‘real’ economy?

    The taxes I’m advocating do NOT amount to re-distribution of wealth. It’s called ‘regulating the economy;’ forcing business to contribute to society to make their profit, instead of sucking wealth out of the economy via obscure stock trades and transferring it to offshore accounts at an exponential rate. Capital is water, government’s job is to build dams and utilize it for the greater good.

    I for one, will not accept a CENT of new taxes on my back– and either should you!– unless we get the taxes on the super rich back to at least pre-Regean levels, until we start actually regulating our eocnomy! Once we do that, we’ll have no need for higher taxes, because the things we desire will be a function of our economy.

    • David permalink
      June 5, 2010 6:11 pm

      You see lots of abandoned theaters nationwide. That’s not mostly due to a decrease in demand due to TV? How much of the blight in the Mission and Market areas dates to the disruption to business from building BART? And as to the lack of a return of development, it seems the city government can be blamed for some of that in the case of Market: and Mission housing rights activists have opposed development around Mission, haven’t they?

      I guess these are minor things, but to your larger point — it looks like except for a blip around 2000 (tax cuts? dotcom crash?) — federal tax revenues at least have not declined: . Where’s government shrinking?

    • stiiv permalink
      June 7, 2010 7:42 am

      Tax revenues have been generally trending upward to track the growth of the economy. However, they have been dropping per capita and that’s the real problem.

      When we do eventually get around to fixing this, we’ll probably see tax rates go up on the middle and upper classes. Neither group is paying what they used to.

  7. friscolex permalink
    June 4, 2010 10:47 am

    Doctor Memory and Johnny0 took the words right out of my mouth. It is sooooooo frustrating to not be able to tell what station you are at, even if you are paying attention and are familiar with the system.

    I can’t tell from this post in April when new signs are coming, though:

    I know it’s just madness to hope for computerized panels on each car with location/direction/prediction information, but one can dream… Not that MUNI’s is always on point, but that’s a whole other issue…

  8. jopaki permalink
    June 4, 2010 6:15 pm

    well said and I lov readin yer blogs

  9. Dave P permalink
    June 4, 2010 7:07 pm

    I agree with the general points about BART and MUNI having serious infrastructural problems, but griping about small issues without presenting the facts undermines the argument. There are plenty of real problems to be mentioned: the frequency of equipment problems resulting in significant delays, the frequency of MUNI crashes, the horrible accuracy of NextBus for many bus lines, or the systematic unreliability that necessitates something like NextBus in the first place. (If the buses ran on schedule, we would already know where they were without a web site and GPS.)

    The current signs are temporary. The old signs are being repainted (hence the temporary signs). I’m not saying they couldn’t have done better (indeed, the fact that some people are confused proves that they could have). But it’s important to realize that the fact that they’re doing this project in the first place shows that they *do* care about this very issue, and these nits about the temporary signage are hardly the level of problem that suggests the impending collapse of a civilization.


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