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Improving Our Website

Some of you may have noticed problems with our website, particularly objects appearing where they shouldn’t and the like.

Our website is built on a platform that was okay years ago, but is now obsolete and not supported by its creator. All kinds of creaks and aches appear, as with lots of things that have gotten old. You occasionally get unexplained surprises, like this morning, when our automatic email notification service (for those of you who subscribe to our blog) inexplicably sent out several stories that are months old. That shouldn’t have happened. We don’t know why. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The good news is that we’re in the process of migrating our site to WordPress, the most robust platform around and very widely used, especially for sites with lots of new postings. The new site will have all the features of the current one, plus an improved store and other new features.

We hope to have it up by the end of July. Until then, thanks for your understanding and patience.

F-line PCCs Move to Metro East on Friday

Muni’s 32 streamlined PCC streetcars will move their home base from Cameron Beach Yard to Muni Metro East (MME) at Illinois and Cesar Chavez Streets this Friday, June 20, and will operate out of MME starting Saturday. The ten Milan trams have been operating out of MME for almost two years.

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Milan trams stored together with LRVs at Muni Metro East shortly after their move there, August 2012. Peter Ehrlich photo.

The move is tied to major track replacement at Muni’s Curtis E. Green Light Rail Facility, across the street from Cameron Beach Yard at San Jose and Geneva Avenues, and for the tracks leading into Beach Yard as well. The work will be done in phases, and storage space at Beach Yard is needed for light rail vehicles while their home is being renovated. As of now, the one-of-a-kind historic streetcars, such as Muni No. 1, Melbourne No. 496, New Orleans No. 952, and the Blackpool boat trams, will remain based at Cameron Beach Yard, where they will be protected by the canopy Market Street Railway advocated for many years, and which was completed three years ago.

Market Street Railway is in continuing discussions with Muni’s parent, SFMTA, about creating the best permanent environment to store and maintain the historic streetcars.

F-line streetcars will now use the T-line on Third and King Streets and The Embarcadero to reach the F-line tracks. They will not be picking up passengers on trips to and from MME.

We’ll have much more on this for our members in our next issue of our newsletter, Inside Track, out next month. And we’ll keep you updated here as well.

Muni Operator Shortage Hits F-line

Muni is currently facing a systemwide operator shortage, according to this article in today’s San Francisco Examiner.

This situation is not new, but it appears to be getting worse. It affects all modes of Muni vehicles, including the historic streetcars. And based on anecdotal evidence we’ve received, it’s not just the quantity of people applying to be operators, it’s the quality as well. We were told by authoritative sources that recently a higher percentage of prospective F-line operators have been washing out of training than previously.

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Which way do I go?

One issue in particular surprised us: in one class, a high percentage of trainees were unable to tell which way a switch was set. In other words, from the operator’s position, looking directly at the switch points right in front of them, they couldn’t tell which direction their streetcar would go as they proceeded through the switch. This is really a question of basic visual perception and of course would make one wonder what else they can’t discern on the street.

We’re glad Muni Training is maintaining its standards for all operators. We hope they’re able to recruit enough candidates to fill the vacancies throughout the system, but as that Examiner article and others have recently pointed out, it’s getting harder and harder to find workers for what have traditionally been middle-class jobs in San Francisco as the city gets ore expensive.

In the meantime, the shortage is making an increasing impact on the F-line. We’re told that the extra streetcars added to the schedule recently to cope with the increasing loads are being cancelled, since they were rarely filled due to lack of qualified operators. We’re told that buses will be added to the F-line starting June 23 to try to help out, though streetcar-seeking riders have in the past let the buses go by, so they usually end up carrying few people.

This is an unfortunate development as we hit the peak of visitor season.

"San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future"

It has become as predictable as summer fog on Great Highway. If you’re planning a project in the red-hot mid-Market neighborhood, or reporting on it in the media, you’ve simply got to have one of those colorful F-line historic streetcars in the frame.

The New York Times is the latest bigfoot to jump on this, with this main photo (left, click to enlarge) on a long but very worthwhile story describing how the tech-driven mid-Market revival is focused on adaptive reuse of historic buildings, rather than on new campus-type construction as in Mission Bay (or Silicon Valley).

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen literally dozens of architectural renderings for proposed new developments all along Market Street, and almost every one has included an F-line streetcar — usually a PCC, but sometimes a Milan (invariably orange, though we have yellow and green ones too). The building that kicked off the mid-Market boom, the old Merchandise Mart owned by the Shorenstein Company (and now headquarters to Twitter) is just one example.

If you look at all the new, high-end condo and apartment developments on upper-Market, same deal: gotta have that streetcar in there, presumably because they think the streetcars add character and appeal to the development, along with a sense of place. Of course, the streetcar images also send an unmistakable signal to prospective tenants and buyers that there is efficient and fun public transportation right at the development’s front door.

For that matter, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gives prominence to the historic streetcars in their public promotional and informational materials to a degree way out of proportion with their proportion of passengers carried on the system (though it’s true the F-line is indeed one of Muni’s busiest lines).

We think it’s great that both those who profit from the F-line’s presence (especially Market Street developers) and those who put the cars on the street (SFMTA) see the value of putting the streetcars front and center in their promotional material. In fact, if you only read the subhead of that New York Times story: “San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future,” you’d be forgiven for thinking the story was about the streetcars, not the historic buildings.

But they do go together beautifully on mid-Market, don’t they?

Maya Angelou, SF Streetcar Conductor

Maya Angelou has passed away, at the age of 86. As an adult, she gained global fame as a writer. Well before that, as as a teen-ager, she broke barriers right here in San Francisco, when she was hired by our namesake, Market Street Railway, as the first female African-American streetcar conductor in the city.

She first told this story in “I Know Why the the Caged Bird Sings,” many years ago. She didn’t name the line she worked, but based on her description, it was more than likely the 7-Haight.

She talked to Oprah about it last year. We have a clip of that interview here. It’s well worth watching.

During her tenure with Market Street Railway Company, which did not last very long, she more than likely worked out of the Haight Street car barn near Stanyan. The type of streetcar she worked on was almost certainly from Market Street Railway’s “100-class,” built by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1911, pictured below.

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Maya Angelou worked as a conductor on the rear platform of a streetcar of this type, most likely on the 7-Haight line. Here, the streetcar is crossing Golden Gate Park, having just left Playland-at-the-Beach for another trip to the Ferry Building. They were long trips, and after dark, pretty lonely in the western end of the city back then. Photo from Market Street Railway Archives, Walt Vielbaum collection.

In our San Francisco Railway Museum, you can stand at the conductor’s station of a streetcar identical to the one Maya Angelou worked on. Our volunteers have constructed an exact replica, complete with firebox, conductor’s bell, and all the other details from the period. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. across from the Ferry Building at the F-line Steuart Street stop (77 Steuart Street), and it’s free.

We are all enriched by the legacy of wonderful works left by Dr. Angelou. A life well lived, indeed.