Berkeley Housing Activist Proposes “aBARTments” for Decommissioned Fleet

Published On January 6, 2019 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Transit

BART officials have begun a public outreach process asking for creative solutions for what to do with their iconic older fleet of cars. One idea from a local housing activist to turn them into apartments, or “aBARTments,” stoked conversation on social media platforms over the weekend.

The transit system is in the process of rotating out their original fleet, some in service since the system was launched in 1972, for their new modern cars. BART noted that storage for the older cars will soon reach capacity and they’ll need a solution for what to do with them.

“One pinch point will come in early 2020, when BART’s capacity to store the growing fleet for maintenance will be maxing out,” BART noted in an article posted on their website. They estimated that the entire “legacy fleet retirement” will be completed by the end of 2023.

Creative reuses suggested by a few commenters included the creation of an artificial barrier reef. An idea the MTA implemented with New York Subway Trains back in 2015. BART representatives quickly shot this idea down noting the aluminum composition of the cars wouldn’t be compatible. Other ideas that were well-received included parklets, bike storage, box-seating at the proposed new A’s stadium … and even blowing them up on an episode of Mythbusters.

Alfred Twu, a recent Berkeley City Council candidate and housing activist, proposed an out-of-the-box idea that he dubbed “Abartments” by turning the old cars into stackable high-rise apartments. Twu, a 34-year-old designer/artist, holds a degrees from UC Berkeley in Architecture and currently works for MWA architects in Oakland.

The footprint of the cars, approximately 70′ long by 10′ wide, is similar to a standard single-wide trailer and actually bigger than a shipping container (8’x 40′). Most impressive were the sketchup renderings Twu created that brought his idea to life.

Twu cited a variety sources for inspiring the idea including a 1970s Minnesota shipping container development dubbed Tornado Towers. “Stacked trailer and container housing is a recurring trend in architecture magazines, though it rarely goes anywhere.” Twu conceded that while the project was sturdy and inexpensive to build, it wasn’t mimicked partially because the exterior walls meant huge heating bills.

The idea was generally well received for its creativity with some pointing out the likeness to a scene from the Steven Spielberg science fiction movie Ready Player One about a futuristic, dystopian world.

“The Stacks” was a fictitious housing park in the 2018 Spielberg film “Ready Player One.”

Some commenters cited their personal experiences with the typically unsanitary condition of the older cars. “I don’t think there’s enough bleach in the world for me to sleep in an old BART car,” noted one commenter whose opinion was echoed by many others. Others jabbed that this might be the only appropriate use that involved carpeted floors on the trains and that these were already being used as “homes” by some.

Some pragmatically pointed out the challenges the project would face. “Start with the structure of the cars, no way you can stack them without additional structural upgrades (not designed that way),” noted a commenter who identified himself as an architect. “Next is meeting Title 24 [energy efficiency] requirements for residential buildings (gets really stringent in the next few years), those cars won’t meet the current requirements.” The commenter commended the idea for its creativity but ultimately advocated that the best solution might just be to recycle the raw materials for reuse.


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While some challenged this commenter for dismissing the idea without properly vetting it, Twu conceded that the idea wasn’t completely flushed out and the many hurdles the project would face because of stringent building codes. “Low ceiling height, lack of insulation, and inefficient use of space compared to regular apartments that share walls,” were among a few that Twu cited. Seismic reinforcement was also an important consideration.

Twu wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of using them for housing even if this idea of stacking them was deemed unpractical. “A more realistic option would be using them individually as accessory dwelling units – a modern-day version of San Francisco’s “Carville by the Sea” homes made from old streetcars a century ago.” Twu also cited that there were workarounds for the lower than standard height including achieving an exemption or modifying the cars.

Twu incidentally is running for a delegate seat on the Assembly District 15 ADEM election which is being held in Emeryville on January 26th.

The BART Board of Directors will hold a meeting on January 10th at 9 a.m. and hear a presentation about some of the options that the public is encouraged to attend and weigh in on.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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