GM Architect of Light Rail’s Dismantling


Light rail tracks on The Alameda in 1984 near Santa Clara University

As GM gets its multi-billion-dollar government bailout using taxpayer dollars, let’s take a look back in time and see what this goliath did to assure its climb to power at the cost of public transportation.

GM began by funding a company called National City Lines (NCL), which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 American cities, including San Francisco.

“Despite public opinion polls that showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically closed its streetcars down until, by 1955, only a few remained,” writes author Jim Motavalli in his 2001 book, Forward Drive.

They went on to back a powerful lobby for an interstate highway system. The money we poured into building freeways could have gone toward bullet trains crisscrossing the country.

The freeway-building madness finally ground to a halt in the late 1960s when the cost became too high and the environmental movement got underway. Let’s not forget:

Freeways were slated for Highway 84 from Woodside to San Gregorio, Highway 17, San Francisco (several), Highway 1, Highway 29 Napa Valley, Highway 121 Sonoma Valley, Highway 35 Skyline Boulevard, San Tomas Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Capitol Expressway, and that’s not all.

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