Liquid-Repelling Surface Installed at 16th Street BART

When a cleaning crew is done with the station plaza, a new semi-plastic layer promises to keep the grime away.

The fencing that has begun to surround the 16th Street BART station plaza on Monday isn’t just another anti-homelessness measure. Instead, the partial closure is part of a project to keep the famously mucky stop easier to clean for years to come.

Until Sept. 21, crews will power-clean the plaza and resurface it with material that keeps away — rather than absorbs — liquids.

Cleaners in full body suits and masks could be seen blasting the asphalt with a hose on Monday to clear away the grime before the installation. BART identified the cleaning material as compressed water and ground glass, which sounds painful, but it’s actually preferable to hazardous sandblasting. (Industrial sand often contains crystalline silica, which OSHA warns can cause breathing problems, lung cancer, and silicosis in employees.)

Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen and BART Board Director Bevan Dufty called for the high-level cleaning. For months, the two had taken to removing feces, urine, dead animals, needles, and trash on their own.

“It was one of the most obscene and really unhealthy situations that I had ever seen,” Ronen said at a February hearing on station cleanliness. “We have made it a crusade to change conditions at the station.”

That crusade claimed a victory when BART agreed to increase cleaning shifts from six a week to 14, with almost half of those including two janitors. With the addition of Thermoplast, a plastic material that can bond to asphalt surfaces, liquids from spilled coffee to urine won’t peskily seep into the cracks of the pavement and require quite as much power-washing to remove.

While a lack of stable housing and a plethora of publicly accessible bathrooms are at the root of the issue, keeping public transportation clean and preventing that unmistakable urine scent from taking hold is a big step forward for daily commuters — and their noses.

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