Just outside the Rockridge BART station, the only obstacle barring commuters from enjoying a beautifully manicured plaza is a chain-link fence.
Nearly six months ago, ground was broken on the Rockridge BART Plaza, giving life to a project ten years in the making. The completion date is now set for early October, so commuters will have to wait a bit longer to enjoy the renovations.
Conceived a decade ago by a sub group of the Rockridge Planning Council UnderBART, the project was intended “to tie the station to the community by providing a more pedestrian-friendly space that fits in with the rest of the neighborhood,” BART spokesman James Allison wrote in an email earlier this week. Spearheaded by the Rockridge District Association, the Rockridge Community Planning Council, and former BART director Bob Franklin, the project’s focus was the improvement of the area at the base of the escalators leading to the station.
The area underneath Route 24 had become overgrown with ivy and littered with trash. The UnderBART committee described conditions as dark and dreary. “Before, people would have to sit in the ground while they waited for the train,” said Rockridge District Association manager Chris Jackson. “The idea was to provide a more welcoming place for the residents here.”
Sara Wilson, co-owner of Market Hall and board member of the RDA, said there was a need to transform the area of College Avenue at the bifurcation of Route 24 and the BART Station. “It was a nice area when they first put in the BART station many years ago, but it wasn’t kept up,” Wilson said. “Our community organizations took it upon themselves to change the area.”
Initial proposals included a children’s play area, a community bulletin board, and an outdoor theater. As the project grew, it brought together BART, Rockridge community groups, a landscape architect, arborists, and rock placement specialists. Money was raised through local donations, funds generated from the BART parking lot, and the City of Oakland.
Slowly the ivy was torn out. Bike racks were relocated. Native grasses replaced weeds in concrete planters around the station. An unsightly Black Acacia tree was donated to the Oakland Zoo, where elephants snacked on its branches.
A ribbon cutting ceremony, now scheduled for early October, will unfence the plaza’s serpentine benches, freshly pruned Redwood trees, and Sierra granite boulders. It will showcase the ornate landscape architecture of Greer Alley and the artwork of Austin Cho, inlaid on a metal compass rose. The emblem, placed in the sidewalk along College Avenue, will help orient commuters as they exit the station.
Altogether, the project has cost close to $216,000. BART contributed 176,000, the City of Oakland $40,000, and the RDA and RCPC each contributed $20,000. A portion of BART contributions went to repaving the sidewalks around the station.
Walking past the renovations, Rockridge resident Mike Herman said the changes are well intended but may attract transients to the location. “Having places to sit around that area would be an improvement,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t know how much of a need there is for a bunch of people to sit around a BART station. If anything, it seems like it might be an invitation for people to loiter.” Metal struts have been installed on the benches to keep people from sleeping on them.
James Allison believes the plaza will bring revenue and relaxation to Rockridge. “People are more likely to spend time in the neighborhood, to shop or get a bite to eat if the area is inviting rather than rushing to get home,” he writes. “Both BART and the community benefit when a BART station is seen as more than just a place to catch a train.”
Suzanne Sargentini, standing outside of the plaza, said she is exited about the changes. “I live in Rockridge but I work in San Francisco,” she said. “There’s hardly anywhere you can sit in the city for free. You have to buy something. I think that’s really valuable for a community here. To have someplace where you don’t have to be a consumer to participate.”
The fence currently blocking access to the plaza is set to be taken down a few days before Rockridge’s annual “Out and About” festival, which occurs on October 7th.