Morning light streams in through the windows of the North Berkeley BART station as riders step onto the escalator that leads down to the station platform
Passengers walk through the North Berkeley BART station. Riders who can’t navigate its stairs or escalator rely on a single elevator, which is in the midst of a nearly six-week closure. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

A fire earlier this month is expected to keep the lone elevator at the North Berkeley BART station out of service until late April, transit officials say.

The closure means the station is effectively off-limits for riders who rely on the elevator, such as Mark McGoldrick, a North Berkeley resident who uses a wheelchair and is frustrated by what he said feels like a lack of urgency to fix the lift from an agency that has long faced scrutiny over the state of its elevators. If a BART station was closed for all riders for more than a month, McGoldrick said, “all hell would break loose.”

Architect Erick Mikiten discovered the elevator was out of service when he and his wife, Planning Commission Chair Elisa Mikiten, took BART home from the airport after a trip to Seattle. Rather than wait for another train to take them to an accessible station, Erick Mikiten rode the North Berkeley stop’s escalator in his wheelchair to reach the exit.

“It’s a pretty rotten arrangement to have to do that,” he said.

BART officials apologized for the closure and said crews are working to get the elevator back in service.

Police believe someone intentionally set a fire that extensively damaged the elevator on the afternoon of March 12, BART spokesman Jim Allison wrote in an email. While authorities investigate, BART must repair or replace the elevator’s door, door equipment and wiring.

The system estimates the elevator will be out of service until April 21.

Asked why the closure is expected to take almost six weeks, Allison wrote, “BART technicians are doing the best they can with materials at their disposal, but the advanced age of the unit complicates matters.”

BART recommends riders who need an elevator use the Downtown Berkeley station as an alternative.

McGoldrick, a retired attorney and part-time theater director who rides BART to events in San Francisco, said traveling to downtown Berkeley would add half an hour to his journey each way. With their local station inaccessible, Mikiten and McGoldrick have been driving instead of taking BART.

McGoldrick isn’t thrilled to be sitting in Bay Bridge traffic, but counts himself fortunate to have the option.

“Most of the people who need that elevator, their disabilities are such that they can’t drive or they have no money for cars,” McGoldrick said. “I have the luxury of being able to drive.”

He is no stranger to problems with BART elevators that have prompted multiple lawsuits against the system from riders who rely on them, including encountering urine and feces in cabs that are treated like bathrooms, or having to change plans because elevators are out of service.

A 2017 lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Advocates and Legal Aid at Work alleged that those problems effectively exclude riders with disabilities from BART and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act; the lawsuit is pending in federal court. A similar lawsuit in 1998 led to a settlement in which BART agreed to improve maintenance and provide riders with information about what elevators are out of service.

While being able to check the status of elevators before a trip can be useful, McGoldrick said he’d rather see BART “get the cavalry out there to try to fix the elevators.

“I don’t want notice, so much, of the elevator being broken — I just want the damn thing fixed,” he said.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...