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Wires, Yes. Super Bowl Week Streetcars, Still No.

The first two blocks of Market Street, from Steuart (here) west to Main will still be closed to streetcars during Super Bowl week, forcing the substitution of buses on the F-line the entire length of Market Street.

The first two blocks of Market Street, from Steuart (here) west to Main will still be closed to streetcars during Super Bowl week, forcing the substitution of buses on the F-line the entire length of Market Street.

Social media and their news media followers seem to be celebrating yesterday’s announcement by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that they will not seek to take down Muni’s overhead wires on the first two blocks of Market Street after all in the week before the Super Bowl, when that area and the adjacent Justin Herman Plaza will be turned into a big party for the NFL and its corporate sponsors.

But it seems they misunderstand exactly what happened.  Yes, the wires are staying up, avoiding the cost and time of removing and replacing them (the Host Committee had reportedly offered to pay…is it possible they cringed when they saw the estimate?).  But from everything we’ve heard, the street itself will still close.  Muni bus lines will have to be rerouted. And, most importantly to us, the F-line will be cut in half, with no streetcar service on Market Street at all. (Streetcar shuttles would operate from the Ferry Building and Steuart Street stops (where our San Francisco Railway Museum is) and Fisherman’s Wharf. There would be no E-line service at all, either streetcars or substitute buses, Muni says.)

Focusing on the wires ignores bigger issues that almost no one is looking at.

Closing multiple blocks of our city’s main street for a period this long is simply unprecedented.  We are a history-oriented group with Market Street in our very name, and we know of no time when Market Street downtown has ever been closed for longer than it took a parade to pass by.  Sure, we close Market for several hours at a time for civic celebrations, such as the Pride Parade, the Giants Parades, and so on, but not for at least nine days (Super Bowl week plus at least a day on either end for set up and take down on the street.  Parades on Market are a civic tradition, dating back to the 19th century.  This is different.  It amounts to an outdoor trade show for a huge business enterprise.

The F-line will have to operate with buses the entire length of Market, since there is no place to turn streetcars around between Beale (the limit of the closure) and 11th Street/Van Ness.  This denies visitors attractive through streetcar service from the Wharf to Castro, serving all the destinations in between, including Union Square.

Specifically for mid-Market and Castro businesses, it could mean less business from people who come to the city than they would have gotten with attractive streetcar service. The Castro Merchants have stated many times that visitors much prefer to ride the streetcars, which are an attraction in themselves, rather than buses or the Muni Metro.  This cutting off of attractive transit service by this action of the NFL is ironic, given that the NFL has promised an “LGBT-friendly” Super Bowl celebration on San Francisco.

Given the increasingly frequent closures of Howard Street at Moscone Center for more than a week at a time, causing gridlock throughout downtown, is it time to ask where this is going?  If an outside organization can come into San Francisco and pre-empt our public streets on a whim, with no consultation, what is next?  As we said, the length of this closure of our main street is unprecedented.

We have learned through sources that Muni still plans to “bustitute” for the F-line streetcars on Market Street for at least nine days, counting set up and tear down of the displays.  We don’t fault Muni for this.  We know that no one at the Host Committee (or City Hall, apparently) even consulted with Muni before they proposed closing lower Market for this extended period and tearing down the wires.  Muni’s just trying to play the best hand they can, given the crappy cards they were dealt.  

We hope the Host Committee reflects a little more about the uproar over the wires and sees the positive possibilities here.  As a thoughtful commenter on our Facebook group put it, “Redesign some more -so the village fits – and transit (especially the F-Line) – passes through it. Then it will be a real village, and the overall effect and feeling of something special will be greatly enhanced! Tourists and locals alike love the colorful F-Line cars, so why does the Super Bowl Committee think they wouldn’t like them as part of an S.F. focused celebration? Indeed they should be the centerpiece or glue that ties the celebration and village to the rest of The City. No other host city could do something like this again.”

That is a perfect argument for getting the most out of the F-line and showing visitors one of the things that makes San Francisco special. Besides, we could very well have two cities in the Super Bowl who are represented in Muni’s historic streetcar fleet.  Imagine decorating these cars in tribute to their teams and making a big deal out of them.  Can’t do that if they’re on the sidelines.

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Red Lanes on Powell Seem to Work

IMG_1719Powell Street cable cars have some breathing room now, with the implementation of an 18-month test to ban private automobiles from Powell between Geary and Ellis Streets.  The SFMTA Board of Directors recently approved the plan, which Market Street Railway has been advocating for more than a year, and signage went up along with the signature red lanes San Francisco uses to denote “transit only.”

While compliance with the new rules seems pretty good so far, part of that may be because the intersections are filled with SFMTA Parking Control Officers (PCOs) directing drivers away from Powell. The real test will come when the PCOs are pulled off.

But it’s a good start. The Powell cable cars now have three blocks of automobile-free operation after leaving the turntable at Market Street. As the test continues, Market Street Railway will be working with Union Square groups and city agencies to try to create a beautiful permanent streetscape for Powell from Market to Union Square, one of the busiest pedestrian stretches in the city.



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Backlash Against Removing F-line wires for Super Bowl

Super Bowl Party on lower Market

Seven months ago, in April, we ran the photo above and this story. We based it in part on a Chronicle story that mildly said the F-line streetcars would have to be “rerouted.” We knew of course that they meant “bustituted,” since you can’t reroute streetcars without moving the tracks and overhead wires.

We looked at the artist’s conception of the “Super Bowl village” on lower Market Street and noticed that there’s no tangle of overhead wires showing — the ones that power the F-line, the 6, 21, and 31 trolley coach lines on Market, and the terminal loop for the busy 14-Mission. But, we thought, artists often eliminate the lines when they draw pretty pictures of Market. Our big concern was streetcar service on the F-line.  Since there’s nowhere to turn the streetcars between 11th Street and the Ferry Loop, it was clear that they’d have to put buses on the F-line to serve Castro.  At a minimum, this meant that the city’s biggest LGBT center and shopping district would be denied the attractive streetcars that so many businesses there rely to convey visiting shoppers from downtown. (This, despite the fact that the NFL had promised an “LGBT-friendly” Super Bowl celebration to the local community.)

Having been told that the wire removal was a “done deal” and that there was “no way” streetcars would run on Market Street during Super Bowl Week, we focused our efforts on ensuring that at a minimum F-line streetcars could keep running between the Ferry and the Wharf.  SFMTA leadership supported our position and, we are told, have won that small victory. F-line streetcar shuttles will operate from the Wharf to the Ferry, using the loop on Don Chee Way, Steuart, and Mission Streets to turn around. (We plan to keep our San Francisco Railway Museum open during Super Bowl Week if at all possible, but we have heard zilch from anyone at the Super Bowl Committee or the City about how much access people will have to us.)

We have not gotten support, however, for our strong recommendation to run E-Embarcadero line service daily throughout Super Bowl Week along the waterfront from the Wharf to Caltrain. This would have provided an connection to the front door of the Super Bowl Village at Ferry Plaza for people using the Peninsula commute trains or parking remotely in the many lots of Mission Bay.

Meantime, people in the press figured out the missing wires. The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez got on the story last week, sparking lots of complaints on social media, which yielded today’s follow-up story, in which Sup. Jane Kim, quoted in Joe’s first story as saying she thought the wire removal plan was well known, is now calling for a public hearing after many constituents contacted her to complain.

Most of the social media commenters have focused on issues of cost (which could be considerable — the first Examiner article cited “seven figures”) and time (it would probably take several days both before and after Super Bowl Week to take down and restore the wires, meaning the total F-line disruption could be two to three weeks). Interestingly, though, some talked about the overhead transit wires as being “part of our city,” even beautiful in their own way. And many railed at this amorphous Super Bowl Committee ordering transit out of their way with no public input first.

Seems to us the only way to save the F-line streetcars on Market during Super Bowl week is if the directly affected businesses along the route speak out loudly, immediately. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.

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Switch to Cameron Beach Goes Smoothly


The historic streetcars are snug as a bug in a rug during this first rain of the season, now that they’re back at Cameron Beach Yard, their longtime (and we hope future) home during the current shutdown of the connection to the Muni Metro East storage yard.

The historic cars’ trips going in and out of service again follow the J-Church line tracks from Balboa Park to 17th and Church. Ace photographer Curley Reed captured some great shots of the old cars on the J the past few days.12188898_10207801209850910_8799061263723279591_n

With El Nino on the way (so they say), Market Street Railway wants to see the streetcar fleet protected from the drenching overnight rains. Without overhead cover, which already exists at Cameron Beach but not at Muni Metro East, when streetcars are sitting still overnight, heavy rain can work its way into the cars and cause rust and rot to begin.  Leaving the historic cars uncovered for decades before the canopy was built at Cameron Beach caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to Muni’s own most historic streetcars, such as Car 1 (now rebuilt) and Car 130 (still running, but very rusty).


Soon, the LRVs that have been taking the historic cars place at Cameron Beach Yard during the reconstruction of Green Light Rail Division yard across the street will be able to return to Green. As soon as possible, for the long-term protection of San Francisco’s historic streetcar fleet, the vintage cars need to return to Cameron Beach Yard permanently.

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Fleet Heads Back to Cameron Beach Tonight!

Attention shutterbugs!  The F-line’s historic streetcars will head back to Cameron Beach Division via the J-Church line today and tonight (Friday, November 6).  Grab your cameras and snap away!

The historic fleet has been exiled to Muni Metro East, just off Third Street on the T-line, for well over a year now.  Light rail vehicles have been stored at Cameron Beach (formerly the venerable Geneva Division, opened as a streetcar yard in 1900!) instead, during reconstruction of the tracks at their home across the street, Green Division.

But with access to Muni Metro East cut off for the next eight days while Muni installs switches at Fourth and King Streets to connect to the future Central Subway, the only way to continue streetcar service on the F-line is the send the fleet back to Beach.  (The E-Embarcadero line will NOT operate this weekend due to the Fourth and King construction.)

Market Street Railway wants this return to be permanent, not temporary. The historic fleet has been unprotected for too long already, while the $9 million protective canopy we worked so long and hard to have built at Beach has been all but unused.

With predictions of an El Nino-driven wet winter, it is more important than ever that the streetcars get back under that canopy — and stay there whenever they’re not in service.  That’s why, even if the fleet is sent back to Muni Metro East at the conclusion of the Fourth and King work, we will strongly advocate for their permanent return to Cameron Beach before the heavy rains start. The City has too big an investment in these streetcars to leave them unprotected through a winter like this.

We invite photographers to post photos of pull-ins to Beach on the J-line on our Market Street Railway group on Facebook, or email them to tonight, and we’ll post the best ones over the weekend!

Let’s all welcome the fleet back home!

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Cable Cars Get Green Light on Lower Powell

IMG_0283The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board has voted to implement an 18-month trial that bans almost all private automobiles on lower Powell Street, from Ellis to Geary.  That two block stretch has been extra-jammed with cars in the past few years, a consequence of increased population and tourism and the closure of parallel Stockton Street for the construction of the Central Subway.

We wrote about the problem recently, focusing on the wear and damage to the cable, and the exhaustion of gripmen, from having to inch uphill through the gridlock, something cable cars really weren’t designed to do.  Cables were wearing out far more frequently, which was expensive, and the prospect of damaged cables shutting down the system or, worse, causing accidents, had increased.

Cable car head Ed Cobean called us immediately to tell us that signs banning automobile turns will go up tomorrow (November 5) and the track lanes on those two blocks of Powell will be painted red in the next few weeks to warn automobiles off.  (Red lanes are how San Francisco designates transit-only areas.)

After the 18-month trial, the impact on cable car operation and on traffic will be evaluated and a decision will be made on whether to make the changes permanent.  Market Street Railway believes they will be, and will begin working with other stakeholders to envision a facelift for Powell from Market Street to Union Square (including the first block of Powell and turntable area, which were put off-limits to automobiles in the 1970s).  San Francisco’s cable cars deserve a world-class corridor through the downtown area that’s both beautiful and safe, and we want to help achieve that.

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Happy 87th Birthday, N-Judah!


The N-Judah streetcar line turns 87 on October 21. SFMTA’s great blog has already posted some great photos of its 1928 opening, including one (the top one on their blog page) we don’t remember seeing before, so we’re going to share a couple of more recent shots instead. These were taken during a dead-of-the-night test run in 2010, after the LRVs had gone to bed for the night.

The purpose was to check clearances along the surface portion of the N-line to see which historic streetcars would be able to clear. Of course, the N-line was served by its original type of “Iron Monster” streetcars (like Muni No. 130) and then, for a third of a century, by PCCs like the ones that run on the F-line now. But years ago, when Muni installed an accessibility platform downtown-bound right where the tracks turn from Judah onto Ninth Avenue, they didn’t leave enough room for at least a few of the historic cars to clear the curve without scraping the ramp. In response, the Muni leadership of the day simply banned all historic cars from the N-line.

This meant that special event service for neighborhood celebrations or excursions and charters could no longer go out the N to Ocean Beach, as they had regularly since the days of the Trolley Festivals in the 1980s. (Excursions regularly go out the J, K, L, M, and the inner portion of the T, and are very popular. A few Saturdays ago, Muni ran a special vintage service on Ocean Avenue for the merchants there.)

10th&JudahAnyway, Muni already knew that the longest PCCs, the double-ended “torpedoes”, couldn’t clear the ramp at 9th and Judah, and it knew that narrower cars, like the boat trams and the 1050 class of PCCs, did clear.  But what about the 12 full width single-end PCCs, the 1070 class, plus historic car No. 1040, the last PCC built in North America? At 9 feet even, those cars are eight inches wider than the 1050 class, which came second-hand from Philadelphia.

As it turned out, the 2010 test showed they do clear the ramp. Muni hasn’t yet lifted the blanket ban on historic streetcars on the N-line, but we hope they will, and are advocating to allow charters, excursions, and special service for the neighborhood out there.  Maybe after the Sunset Tunnel rerailing project is completed…in time for the N-line’s 88th birthday next year!

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Sign Up Now for Two October Excursions

496 Emb and Chee

It’s great to have your own private streetcar.  It’s even better when there’s entertainment or the opportunity to learn on the trip.  We offer all these things in two excursions open to the public in October. Click here to get the complete scoop and sign up.

Market Street Railway is hosting another of its popular “Night Train” excursions. Come ride Muni’s Australian import, tram No. 496, along the historic F-line from the Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. While riding, you’ll be able to enjoy beer and wine that will be available (your first is free) as well as the sounds of a live band. The excursion is on Friday, October 16, 7-9pm and boards at the F-line terminal at 17th and Castro Streets.

228-1-2-14-2The next day, Saturday, October 17, 1:30-3:30pm, we have a different kind of excursion,  on-board fabulous open-top Blackpool “Boat Tram” No. 228 (an enclosed car will substitute if it rains). Join tour guides Harlan Hirschfeld from City Guides and Paul Lucas from Market Street Railway for their informative ride along the F-line where you will learn interesting historical facts about famous Fisherman’s Wharf, traditional North Beach, the scenic Embarcadero, colorful Ferry Plaza, the busy financial district, world famous Powell & Market, classic Civic Center, imposing Mint Hill and the lively Castro.

Market Street Railway Members get 25% off on one or two tickets for these tours. You can sign up for membership here and get the discount immediately.

Again, here’s the link for the excursions. Come join the fun!

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Successful Heritage Weekend


Muni Heritage Weekend September 26-27 was a big success, with thousands of riders sampling the vintage streetcars, buses, and cable cars Muni rolled out this year. We noticed more families and kids this year, including young Reed Bell, in the window above, who already has an encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco transit.


Buses ran every 15 minutes from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Union Square and back, each carrying a great display of vintage photographs from the SFMTA Archives put together by Jeremy Menzies.


A vintage streetcar shuttle service connecting the museum and Pier 39 every 20 minutes or so. The two Blackpool, England boat trams (No. 233, above) ran together in passenger service for the first time, joined by the oldest vehicle in Muni’s heritage fleet, 1896 single-truck San Francisco streetcar No. 578 (top photo). Meanwhile, vintage Muni streetcars Nos. 1 and 130 ran as part of regular E-Embarcadero service, along with Melbourne tram No. 496. Market Street Railway is advocating for vintage double-end cars such as these to be a regular part of E-line service.


One-of-a-kind O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car No. 42 also packed them in on the California Street line.

Market Street Railway and SFMTA representatives will evaluate the event in the next few weeks and look at how future events might be even better. Thanks to all the Muni operators, maintainers, and managers and the Market Street Railway volunteers who helped make this the big success it was.

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Heritage Weekend: Be There


One of the world’s oldest operating streetcars, built 10 years BEFORE the 1906 earthquake, will play a starring role in this year’s Muni Heritage Weekend, September 26-27. Market Street Railway Company single-truck “dinky” No. 578 (above, surrounded by fans at a previous Heritage Weekend), built in 1896, will be running FREE shuttles from our San Francisco Railway Museum at 77 Steuart Street to Pier 39 and back along the scenic Embarcadero.


But that’s just the start. The newest member of the vintage fleet, Muni’s latest addition to the heritage fleet, Blackpool, England boat tram No. 233, built in 1934, will join the dinky on the FREE museum-Pier 39 shuttle. Thanks to a generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation and shipping by FedEx Trade Networks, Market Street Railway was able to acquire No. 233 and donate it to Muni to join its near-twin, No. 228, a popular member of Muni’s heritage fleet for the last 30 years.


And there’s more.  In 1912, America’s first big city publicly owned transit company, the Municipal Railway, debuted on Geary Street, to compete with for-profit competitors.  Muni’s very first streetcar, beautifully restored No. 1, will be on the Embarcadero as well.  It’s scheduled to be out both days, with two other vintage cars, Muni’s own No. 130 (1914) and Melbourne No. 496 (1928) out one day each. Regular Muni fares apply to these vintage cars, since they’re expected to fill regular runs on the E-Embarcadero (and perhaps F-Market & Wharves) line during the weekend. Note, too, that we expect restored 1948 double-end Muni PCC No. 1006 and 1952 single-end No. 1040, both painted in the classic “wings” livery (shown below on the bus) to be in regular service as well: 1006 on the E, 1040 on the F.

Did we mention buses?  Three historic buses will be operating at 15-minute intervals from the museum to Union Square and back via Steuart, Market, Sutter, Mason, Market, Spear, Mission and Steuart.  Trolley coaches No. 776 (Marmon-Herrington, 1950) and No. 5300 (Flyer, 1975) will be joined by classic GMC “New Look” No. 3287 (1969). These three buses encompass the past three standard Muni liveries: green and cream “wings” (776), maroon and yellow, borrowed from the California Street Cable Car line (3287) and the famed Landor white, gold, and orange (5300). BONUS: Muni will debut new historic photo displays in the vintage buses.

DSC_8917Oh, and one-of-a-kind O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car No. 42, built in 1906 and reacquired and cosmetically restored by Market Street Railway, with mechanical restoration by Muni, will be on the California Street cable car line both days. It will be joined by California Cable Car No. 51, the last car to run on the O’Farrell, Jones & Hude line in 1954 and then, after cable car restructuring, the first to run on the shortened California line in 1957. Regular cable car fares apply for rides on these two cars…but note, you can save on the paid rides by buying a one-day Muni Passport at the museum at the beginning of the day.

Both days, September 26 and 27, Saturday and Sunday, the action starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 5 p.m.  All day, we’ll have special memorabilia sales at our museum, along with displays and some great new merchandise.  (Come and get started on your holiday shopping!)


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