A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


Long before BART or AC Transit, East Bay commuters relied on the Key System, a network of electric streetcars, for local travel and even to cross the Bay (there used to be tracks on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge!). Despite serving millions of passengers annually, the rails were ripped out and the network was completely dismantled by 1958. This episode explores the forces that brought down the Key System and the lessons this history might hold for those interested in a more transit-friendly future. 

Listen to the podcast to hear memories from former riders who remember taking many exciting excursions on the streetcars, and also from volunteers at the Western Railway Museum, an organization dedicated to celebrating the legacy of track-based modes of transport. Big thanks to this episode’s guests: John Harder, Robert Immergluck, Cambridge Lutèce, and Mickey Simmons. Check it out on Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts. 

This episode marks the launch of my new line of apparel with Oaklandish. The design on the hats and shirts is based on the Key System’s “flying key” logo. Over on the Oaklandish blog, I share some additional thoughts on what inspired the theme of this collaboration. I hope you’ll check it out, especially if you’re interested in thinking about ways to make the Bay Area’s roads safer, cleaner, and less gridlocked.

Key System-inspired hats and shirts are now available at Oaklandish. Check out this post to read about the inspiration behind this design.
At its height, the Key System stretched from San Pablo to Hayward, serving the East Bay with nearly 70 miles of track. The streetcars are long gone, but this recent SF Gate article explores the physical legacy of the network’s vast infrastructure.
On July 27, 2023, I gave a talk about Key System history at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I’m interested in sharing this presentation again and am currently looking for a venue in Oakland. Contact me at eastbayyesterday [at] gmail with tips.
The Key Route Inn, a prestigious hotel, allowed streetcars to pass through the building’s lobby for faster service. This structure, which burned down during the Great Depression, is one of the landmarks featured on the Long Lost Oakland map, which was recently turned into a puzzle. To learn more about this project, come to my event on July 31 at East Bay Community Space.

This episode is supported by UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. I highly recommend checking out their new podcast, “Revolutionary Care: An Oakland Story,” a series about the history of treating sickle cell anemia: www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/sickle-cell

East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your donations. Please make a pledge to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday  

“End of the line”

How we lost the Key System
Recent Episodes