As part of our project on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, we will take a look this week at some lesser-known but important things that came out of the myriad programs that were created and legislation that passed. We now take many of them for granted. Each day this week we'll highlight one.
The Washington, D.C. Metro
Part of Johnson's vision for a great society involved rebuilding the nation's cities, many of which were blighted and decreasing in population. Mass transit agencies that served urban areas were on the decline and many were on the brink of shutting down.
The Urban Mass Transit Acts of 1964 and 1966 gave federal funds to public agencies that operated regional transit systems, helped public and private transportation companies improve facilities, funded research and development and provided fellowships for young people who wanted to study mass transit.
"Through the Mass Transportation Act of 1964, we have moved to relieve the choking traffic which robbed us of time, energy, and dollars. That act committed us to better systems for getting our people to work and home again--and getting them there with speed and safety and economy and comfort," Johnson said.
In 1965, federal legislation allowed for the creation of a mass transit system for Washington, D.C. A previous attempt at passing a law to create the system failed.
The 1965 law created a small, 25-mile long system that "is only vaguely recognizable to someone today," said Zachary M. Schrag, a professor of history at George Mason University and author of the book "The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro."
Schrag said many pieces of the Great Society, from car safety laws to creating a national trails system, were designed to make life better for all Americans. The Metro was one, he said.
"The fact that you were going to design one system for all these folks, the black and white, the suburban and urban, the rich and the poor, represents some of that Great Society ideal that everyone is going to be together," he said.
Even the Metro's architecture had lofty ambitions. In a memo from the bill's planning agency to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, it was suggested that the architecture of the system be planned with care.
"We want this to be worthy of the Great Society," it read.
In 1969 plans for the system were significantly expanded and given a $3 billion price tag.
The Metro's first riders boarded in March 1976. The entire system was not completed until 2001, Schrag said.
The Great Society also helped construction of the BART in San Francisco and MARTA in Atlanta.