On the occasion of the recent 50th anniversary of the creation of the BART bureaucracy, I noted the prescience of members of the commission that decided the Bay Area really needed a rapid transit system. They said that new freeways, which Los Angeles had pinned its hopes on, could not solve traffic congestion by themselves.
Now BART is contemplating its next 50 years with the knowledge that those guys in 1957 were pretty sharp. Freeways did not solve our congestion problems, and a robust rapid transit system is now integral to getting people around, especially when the odd freeway ramp collapses in flames or an earthquake takes out a bridge.
I may seem curious today to talk about drilling a hole to the Presidio or laying another Transbay Tube. It’s difficult enough to extend BART to the South Bay, to Livermore or Antioch even with considerable public support and money in the bank.
But back in 1957, I’m sure a lot of people though the commissioners who had limited faith in freeways needed a good lobotomy or had perhaps already received one.
The Bay Area of 2057, if not leveled by a quake that no one expected, will certainly be a place where commuters will regard transit to be just as desirable as driving, if not more so. Anyone who has driven in Manhattan has a sense of how that could be possible.
But are we ready to accept that future, as those guys in 1957 were? I am as guilty as anyone of sneering at public transit when it doesn’t perfectly suit my needs. My new office is a great example, with access to BART via an AC Transit bus that comes every 30 minutes when seven minutes is all I can spare.
The signs of that future are all around us: In recent weeks, politicians, pundits and experts have been ripping at carpools like a piece of raw meat thrown to the big cats at the zoo. Some want to open that valuable lane space to everyone, others want to charge tolls for it and others want to kick out the hybrids.
Even transit advocates can’t get their act together, some believing that buses are the true path to transportation equality and efficiency, while others say rail can’t be beat. Even the rail people can’t agree on whether BART or commuter rail should go to San Jose and I just discovered today that the rail people are suing each other over mailing lists.
Global warming is a huge issue, but it won’t drive our decisions about transportation nearly as well as a good hour inching along I-580 past the Dublin/Pleasanton BART Station.
As the MacArthur Maze collapse showed us, we need ALL modes of transportation to survive the next half-century. That includes more and better BART, along with buses, ferries, commuter rail and yes, even cars and trucks working together.