Any idea of linking the East Bay to San Francisco was still just a pipe dream in the first quarter of the 20th century, when the only way to get to the city was by ferry. But there were ideas to ease the commute, including a proposal floated in 1920 that would have extended the Key System pier all the way to Goat Island (the popular name of the day for Yerba Buena Island).
The pier was already touted as the longest in the world at the time, and an extension would have closed the relatively short remaining distance to Yerba Buena.
Years before the design of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge came up with a similar idea, the pier extension plan called for a tunnel through the island, this one bored at a different angle and connecting train service with a new ferry pier on Yerba Buena’s western side.
From there it would be a mere 1.25-mile ride to the Ferry Building on the San Francisco waterfront.
The plan was hailed by Oakland business and elected officials, particularly for what the idea of making the daily commute not only easier, but safer.
“(Oakland) Mayor Davie, Mayor Bartlett of Berkeley, Joseph E. Came secretary of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Rutus Jennings, head of the large project for the Berkeley waterfront and others today expressed themselves in favor of the plan as one that would bring the two great cities of San Francisco bay closer together and one that would eliminate duplication of certain public services as well as the danger of fog to transbay traffic.” the Tribune reported.
Ferries and competing rail systems were king as far as commuting at the time. There were thousands of East Bay riders making the train-ferry connection to San Francisco each weekday via both the Key System and the competing Southern Pacific rail and ferry lines. East Bay officials “strenuously” opposed an alternative plan that would have instead extended the pier of the rival SP.
In fact, the conservative officials of the time seemed to be calling for a consolidation of the two rail lines — not a coincidence as establishment of the state’s original highway system was well under way to accommodate all the new motor vehicles being purchased.
The golden age of public transit was ending, the rail operations (the Key System was the locally owned operator) lost money and interest, and just 17 years later the Bay Bridge opened.