Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Kennedy Tunnel

The Kennedy Tunnel was a former tunnel that linked Oakland and Lafayette.  It was initially opened in 1903, and was closed in 1947 for safety reasons.

Where the tunnel used to be.
Digging for the Kennedy Tunnel was begun in 1870.  Prior to the creation of the tunnel, Oakland residents and travelers had used steep wagon trails over the Oakland and Berkeley Hills.  Claremont Canyon contained such a trail and any area cyclist will tell you that it's still steep, even with the modern niceties of pavement and manageable turns.

The digging was begun by Chinese laborers and was initially opposed by Lafayette residents, since they believed that easy access to the undeveloped land of Contra Costa would lead to a land rush and widespread increases in real estate prices.  When the tunnel was opened in 1903, it featured a four foot sideways jog in the center of the tunnels length, courtesy of the engineers and diggers who had failed to align the two opposing bores of the tunnel perfectly.  The tunnel was a 17-foot wide, single lane passage that was shored up with timbers along the side.  It was notoriously dark and damp and could only tolerate one vehicle going one way at a time.  There was initially a system of torches that allowed drivers to know whether or not there was already a vehicle in the tunnel, though this was eventually replaced with a more complex system using lanterns.

E Clampus Vitus marker at the site of the Kennedy Tunnel.
Due to the limitations inherent in the Kennedy Tunnel, excavations were begun on a new pair of tunnels.  Traffic at the Kennedy Tunnel had risen to nearly 30,000 cars a weeks, and ongoing maintenance, ant the nature of the tunnel's construction, led to ongoing maintenance issues and periodic closures.  In 1937 the Caldecott Tunnel opened, much more modern, two lanes, and 200 feet lower in elevation.  The Kennedy Tunnel lingered on until 1947 when it was closed for safety reasons.  The entrance was dynamited and the tunnel is no longer accessible.

Getting There By Bike...

Traffic island at the tunnel entrance.
The east entrance to the Kennedy Tunnel is located on Tunnel Road (which gets it's name from the Kennedy Tunnel).  A quick climb up Tunnel Road will get you to a turnout on the left side of the road.  There is a flag pole and a pair of markers in the turnout, along with a small traffic island.  If you're on the lookout this is a fairly easy landmark to find. The Claremont Hotel is near the bottom of Tunnel Road and is a great place to take a look at on your way back home.  Plus, there's a Peet's coffee there for post-ride caffeine, always a winning option.


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