You know that screeching turn that BART trains have to make between Lake Merritt and 12th Street-City Center in Oakland? It didn't need to be that sharp, or that screeching, if it weren't for a decision forced by a political favor during BART's design phase.
KPIX's Wilson Walker takes us into the history of BART's design and construction today, and to a moment in the early 1960s when then mayor of Oakland John Houlihan demanded that the train system's construction not impact a hardware store that belonged to a friend of his.
At issue is what's called the Oakland Wye, the Y-shaped intersection of underground tunnels that connect the tracks leading from West Oakland to those heading north toward Richmond and Pittsburg, and those heading southeast to Lake Merritt. The original design called for the tunnel between Lake Merritt and 12th Street to go up 8th Street and take a wider turn under Broadway. But because Mayor Houlihan's friend had a hardware store in a historic building at 8th and Broadway, which would have had to have been demolished to construct the tunnel, he told BART that he would oppose the whole project if the tunnel wasn't re-routed. The resulting move, one block over to 9th Street, meant that trains would have to slow down and make a sharper turn.
The awkwardly tight turn at the Oakland Wye has led to a few derailments over the years, as Walker reports, but more importantly it has impacted the speed of everyone's commute for over 40 years. This 2013 operations report by BART brought up the issue with the slow-down requirements at the Oakland Wye, and proposed solutions for how to speed up trains in order to improve efficiency.
The great unfortunate fact in all this is that, as former BART spokesman Mike Healey tells KPIX, that dumb hardware store went out of business about six months after the design change was made. And the building was eventually demolished anyway.