Bay Area Rail – Background

OldRailBy the late 1960’s the Bay Area’s interurban passenger rail systems were mostly gone. Since then travelers, encouraged by the State State of California’s long standing practice of widening and expanding its freeways to temporarily ward off gridlock, have turned increasingly to automobiles to get around: to the point where things got completely out of hand. Caltrans’ myopic struggle to build its way out of traffic congestion failed.

InsideViewIt didn’t take long for urbanites to recognize the damage being done to the Bay Area by an ever expanding highway system. In the early 1960’s San Franciscans mounted a mighty campaign that successfully prevented their city from being chopped up by freeways. By the early 1970’s people in the Bay Area were talking about how to bring the Region back into transportation balance. Unfortunately there was no local or regional governmental follow-up. The freeways continued to dominate and the non-automotive alternatives (except for BART…more about BART below) remained in a state of stagnation.

In the late 1960’s, the State Legislature created the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) which began operations in 1971. But nothing changed. For a few years, Paul Watt, MTC’s first Director, patiently and persistently tried to build support for a regional transportation approach to what was clearly a regional problem. And he was making headway. In the mid-1970’s, in response to a letter signed jointly by San Francisco George Moscone and President of the SF Board of Supervisors Quentin Kopp, every major public and private transportation operator in the Region; (namely Muni, BART, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Samtrans, the VTA, Southern Pacific and Greyhound) assembled in San Francisco, ready to talk regional coordination. The charge was to how to make the non-automotive modes of travel more attractive and more useful to more travelers. MTC was also invited but by this time Mr. Watt was gone. Mr. Watt’s successor arrived 20 minutes late to break up the meeting, saying that regional coordination was MTC’s responsibility and that he would soon be attending to the matter.

That was 40 years ago.

Since then tens of billions of transportation dollars have been spent in the Bay Area, and MTC now is much more powerful now than it was then. But the transit properties still perform inadequately and the Bay Area is mired in more traffic than ever. MTC takes no responsibility for this and instead continues to broker deals among local political cabals, the result being cobbled-together clumps of parochial projects submitted as “regional plans” in pursuit of voter approval or State and federal funding.

The need to return transportation balance to the Bay Area is stronger now than ever. This means first of all, effective expansion and better integration of the Region’s rail, bus and ferry boat services as required to render non-automotive travel safe, secure, comfortable, convenient and reliable.

To read about High Priority Programs, click here.