Fight to underground BART in Berkeley one of many tales told in new book

In 1960, as transportation engineers laid out plans to build BART around the Bay, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution calling for the line to be underground within city limits.

But when BART officials unveiled the actual plan in the spring of 1962, it called for the underground section in Berkeley to run only from Shattuck Avenue at Derby to around Milvia and Hearst streets. The northern and southern sections of the rail line would be above ground, as would be the two stations.

For about a year, no one seemed to notice. It was not until Wallace Johnson was elected as Berkeley’s new mayor in 1963 that the city sat up, paid attention, and launched a fight and bond measure campaign that eventually assured BART would run under Berkeley’s streets, according to a new history of BART by Michael Healy, the rail line’s former spokesman.

Healy will be speaking about BART: The Dramatic History of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System today, March 14, at 5:30 p.m. at University Books, 2430 Bancroft Ave. Heyday Books is the publisher.


Johnson, a Republican, thought an elevated track would be an eyesore – and accentuate the city’s racial divide since the train would run along Grove Street, now known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

“Wally Johnson was concerned that an aerial structure would divide the city socially, plus the aesthetics and general environmental negatives,” said Healy.

To rally citizens around a bond measure to pay to underground BART, Johnson paid to erect scaffolding about 30 feet high in two neighborhoods, one on the north end and one on the south end of the city, where the planned BART line was to go through. The soaring structure demonstrated the mass of the stations and what they would look like. The anti-aerial Berkeley Citizen’s Committee raised $14,000 to pay for large signs that were posted around the city that read “Bury The Bart Tracks,” said Healy.

There were numerous public hearings, testy exchanges between Berkeley and BART officials, thousands of pages of recorded testimony, and scads of articles, television and radio spots and editorials over the issue. Healy’s book goes into detail about the battle, as well as other interesting tidbits about the creation of BART and its various controversies. In the end, Berkeley residents decided to pay for the undergrounding themselves. On Oct. 4, 1966, Berkeley voters approved a $20.4 million bond measure by 80%.

In an ironic twist, Johnson, the man who fought hard against BART’s original plans, was appointed in 1966 to the BART board of directors.