BART: The Dramatic History of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System

The history of Bay Area Rapid Transit, as told by “Mr. BART” himself

When BART opened in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1972, it became a catalyst for a renaissance in modern rail transit, both nationally and internationally. The concept as sold to Bay Area voters was gargantuan: by adopting aerospace technologies such as microchips for ground transportation, the new computer-operated rail system would bridge counties and curb urban sprawl amid a booming automobile culture. But it all came within a gnat’s eyelash of not happening. The question raised by pundits and taxpayers alike was: would this space-age plan actually work, or be the biggest boondoggle in the country’s history?

In the first-ever history book about BART, longtime agency spokesman Michael C. Healy gives an insider’s account of the rapid transit system’s inception, hard-won approval, construction, and operations, “warts and all.” Written with a master storyteller’s homey wit and sharp attention to detail, Healy recreates the politically fraught venture to bring a new kind of public transit to the West Coast. What emerges is a sense of the individuals who made (and make) BART happen. From tales of staying up until 3:00 a.m. with Bill Stokes and Jack Everson to hear the election results for the rapid transit vote to weathering scandals, strikes, and growing pains, this look behind the scenes of an iconic, seemingly monolithic structure reveals people at their most human—and determined to change the status quo.

Advance Praise

“The Metro. The T. The Tube. The world's most famous subway systems are known by simple monikers, and San Francisco's BART belongs in that class. Michael C. Healy delivers a tour-de-force telling of its roots, hard-fought approval, and challenging construction that will delight fans of American urban history.”—Doug Most, author of The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America's First Subway

 

“From Emperor Norton's 1872 dream of a transbay tunnel to the BART tube opening one hundred years later, Healy explores the nuanced history of the Bay Area's Subway system through the convergent lenses of social, cultural, engineering, and political forces. In this exquisitely researched work, Healy not only brings the dramatic stories of BART's development to light, but shares the fragile web of energies, power, funding, and sheer will that created this monumental system of people-moving.”—Anthea M. Hartig, executive director of the California Historical Society

About the Author

Nicknamed "Mr. BART" by his colleagues, Michael C. Healy was responsible for BART's media affairs and marketing activities from 1971—about ten months before trains started running—until his retirement in 2004. He wrote for radio and film and was the editor of the Sausalito News before taking a public relations job at the nascent transit agency. He is an alumnus of the University of Southern California.
John KingJohn King is the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic. He joined the paper in 1992 and has been in his current post since 2001. His writing on architecture and urban design has been honored by groups including the California Preservation Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the California chapters of the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2002 and 2003.