Pier 70 Development: Streetcars Included?
August 30, 2010
The Monday Chronicle lays out an impressive potential future for Pier 70 on the Central Waterfront. What the article describes (accurately) as “the most intact 19th century industrial complex west of the Mississippi River” is being pitched by the city as a new and very attractive home for high-tech businesses. Mayor Newsom calls the 69-acre bayside site “an extraordinary asset that is vastly underappreciated.”
It wouldn’t happen right away, mind you. First off, Muni needs to start up the initial operation of the E-line from Fourth and King to Fisherman’s Wharf. Everything needed to do that is ready, except enough streetcars, which should be ready by the end of 2011. Second, Muni must complete the streetcar terminal loop on Third, 18th, Illinois, and 19th Streets.
As you can see in the Google Earth view below, which looks southeast (click to enlarge), the expensive parts — the switches and crossings on Third Street — are already done, along with most of the track on 18th (at left) and 19th (at right) Streets. Only the curves onto and off of Illinois, along with the block of track on Illinois itself, need to be installed.
A protracted dispute with the Port of San Francisco, which wanted Muni to pay a million dollars in exchange for the right to take over that abandoned freight track on Illinois that would never be used again anyway (true story, but for another time), has kept the loop uncompleted to date.
When completed, this track loop is intended in part as a possible terminal for LRVs to use after the Central Subway opens, either for subway line short turns, or for extending one of the Market Street Subway lines down The Embarcadero and the T-line right-of-way to provide extra service to Mission Bay, should demand grow to the point where that’s needed.
But the loop could be also be used by E-line streetcars, which would then provide single-car direct service that connects virtually every major waterfront attraction in the northern half of the city: Pier 70, Mission Bay, China Basin, AT&T Park, South Beach, Hills Plaza, the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium at Pier 15, the cruise ship terminal, the Alcatraz ferry, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and (when the line is extended as planned) Aquatic Park, Ghirardelli Square, Municipal Pier, and Fort Mason (whew!).
The Pier 70 site has plenty of streetcar history, too. More than 50 Muni streetcars were built here.
Most of Muni’s first streetcar order was constructed in 1913 at the old Union Iron Works (whose headquarters building still stands at Pier 70, pictured right). So were a batch of Muni streetcars built in 1923 at the old Bethlehem Shipyards, which succeeded Union Iron Works at the Pier 70 site.
During World War I, Muni’s competitor, United Railroads, built a big streetcar terminal near the site of the loop to accommodate the flood of shipyard workers at Pier 70. During World War II, our namesake, Market Street Railway, extended streetcar service down a converted freight track to serve Pier 70 directly.
Challenges certainly face any would-be developers of Pier 70, starting with a 150-year legacy of toxic substances used on the site that must be cleaned up, and decrepit buildings and piers needing major seismic work.
At the same time, there’s no question that historic streetcar service to this most historic industrial complex would be very appealing to the tech companies — and their workers — the Mayor hopes to attract. We hope the city’s development team will include an E-line terminal in their plans.