By Steven Finacom
Berkeley Historical Society
A well-heeled Berkeley neighborhood was upset over traffic on Tunnel Road 75 years ago.
On July 26, 1938, the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported that “a petition complaining of the increased vehicular traffic on Tunnel Road and urging that a more practical route for traffic between Berkeley (the tunnel) and East Oakland be sought before any more money is expended on the present route was presented to the City Council today with a communication from Reginald H. Linforth, chairman of the traffic committee of the Claremont Improvement Club.
“Signed by approximately 337 taxpayers and property owners in the affected area, the petition asserts that since the opening of the (tunnel) and the completion of the highway connecting Tunnel Road with East Oakland there has been a heavy increase in the traffic flow over the road, as well as on Ashby Avenue. It is contended that the Tunnel Road is now being used by a large number of trucks and that the average speed of traffic is in excess of the limit under the law.
“It is a problem that became apparent six months ago” City Manager Hollis Thompson told the council. “It is extremely unfortunate to have a State Highway running through one of the best neighborhoods of the city and I have attempted to have the State reroute trucks, but without success.”
Hollis suggested Chabot Road be connected to Alcatraz Avenue to take the traffic; in other words, make it Oakland’s problem.
Readers will remember the numerous mentions I’ve included in this column of the planning and construction of the Broadway Low Level Tunnel (today’s Caldecott) through the 1930s.
The tunnel opened to much fanfare in 1937. Previously, Berkeley had turned Ashby Avenue over to California to be a state highway, and local businessmen had sung the praises of the planned new connection that they were sure would bring many shoppers from beyond the hills to Berkeley businesses. But when the tunnel opened, as illustrated above, others found the worm in the apple.
Here, to recall, is a commentary from the Gazette in August 1935, in which Berkeley’s “Affiliated Commercial Organizations” urged Berkeley to widen Ashby Avenue pronto. “If Ashby Avenue is not widened before the completion of the Broadway low-level tunnel next spring then the buying public in the Walnut Creek area will go elsewhere to shop. We in Berkeley must be prepared.
“Past President A.E. Brear reported that Oakland firms are making free deliveries daily to the Walnut Creek area. ‘We are all creatures of habit and if these shoppers are allowed to go back to Oakland we will never get them back.’ Lex Jensen, past president of the Telegraph Avenue Commercial Association, was of the same opinion as were numerous College Avenue merchants.”
Managing Director Charles Adams of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce sounded the same theme in a talk to the Rotary Club on August 28, 1935. “Gentlemen, are we going to allow a barrier of a narrow, congested, 24-foot street to divert dollars from our cash registers?” he asked.
“Or are we going to insist that the street be properly widened now, as it will certainly have to be later, now before the completion of the tunnel, before we by our indifference serve notice on those dollars to roll on past Berkeley?”
Just three years later, in 1938, the growing chorus, at least from the residential hills, was “roll on past!”
Here’s another local tennis exploit. “Young Virginia Wolfenden” of Berkeley defeated Dorothy Andrus of New York, ranked seventh nationally, in early round play for the Seabright Cup on July 26, 1938.