Pier 70 Development: Streetcars Included?

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.”

Pier 70 roll sign.JPG

We think so too. That’s why we have consistently advocated Pier 70 as the ultimate terminal for the future E-Embarcadero line (with Muni agreeing to at least keep the option open by including it on vintage streetcar roll signs).
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.

18th Illinois turnaround2.jpg

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!).

Pier 70 building.JPG

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.

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Snug as a Bug in a Rug

The protective shed for vintage streetcars is almost done at Geneva Division. Today, the first streetcar, No. 1010, ventured inside to serve as a locator for the “track skates,” permanent wheel blocks to be welded to the tracks to keep a car from running into the wall. The “torpedoes” like No. 1010 have the longest overhang in the vintage fleet, so they’re the model. 
1010_New Geneva Shed_082610.jpgMuni historic streetcar supervisor Karl Johnson’s comment is apt: “The building kind of overwhelms the car.”  True enough, but at the same time, the car looks as snug as a bug in a rug.
We’ll let you know when the new Geneva Carhouse is open for business.

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Back to Milan’s Past for the Future

When the first “Peter Witt” designed trams appeared in Milan, Italy, in 1928, they were painted a most attractive golden yellow with black and white trim. Within a couple of years, they were all repainted two-tone green and stayed that way until the 1970s, when the “Ventottos” (“28’s,” for the year they first appeared) became solid orange. All ten of the trams Muni bought from Milan arrived in solid orange in the late 1990s (as did No. 1834, which came for the Trolley Festivals in the 1980s).
At the suggestion of Market Street Railway, Muni’s great streetcar paint shop, headed by Carole Gilbert, painted one Milan in each of the earlier liveries several years ago, 1811 in yellow and 1818 in green.  Now, again at our urging, Muni has taken the next step toward evening out the Milan fleet among the three historic paint schemes.


No. 1807 emerged from the paint shop a few days ago resplendent in the original yellow livery. No. 1888 was repainted in the two tone green last month. Both trams needed extensive repainting anyway following accident repair.
Market Street Railway hopes that more Milan trams will receive these handsome older liveries as they require repainting until the fleet is divided nearly equally among the three liveries.
By the way, No. 1807 is expected to return to service fairly soon; No. 1888 still needs electrical and other work.  

Thanks to Peter Ehrlich for the photo.

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The “N” is Near!

For most of the historic streetcar fleet, that is. (Apologies to Greg Dewar of the N-Judah Chronicles for stealing his great line.)

A recent dead-of-night test could lead to the end of the blanket ban of all historic streetcars from the N-line west of Arguello Boulevard. The ban was put into place more than a decade ago when one of the widest historic streetcars hit the wheelchair boarding ramp where the eastbound tracks turn from Judah Street onto Ninth Avenue. (The ramp was misdesigned, but not cheap to fix now that it’s in).

Even though it was clear that the skinniest vintage streetcars (such as the Milan trams and the 1050-class PCCs) would not hit that boarding island, Muni operations made the ban absolute.  Now, though, there is a chance that could change, after recent tests were run one night after regular N-line Breda service ended.  The two PCCs involved were from the 1070 class, DC Transit No. 1076 and Birmingham Electric No. 1077.  This class of cars has the same nine foot wide body shell as Muni’s old “Baby Ten” class (of which No. 1040 is now nearing the completion of its restoration).

WestPortalSunset.jpgAce photographer Kevin Sheridan took these great pics of the test.  Above, in a moody black and white shot, the two PCCs emerge onto Carl Street from the Sunset Tunnel, with No. 1077 having backed up all the way from Duboce Avenue. They then ran nose-to-nose like this along Carl Street, switching over to the other track at the crossover near Arguello Boulevard, and proceeded to Ninth and Judah, where both streetcars (one facing each way) cleared the boarding island and ramp. At that point, they went back to Arguello, where No. 1076 made the circuit of the outer N-line to the terminal at Ocean Beach, just to make sure. The photo below shows No. 1077 on the Judah right-of-way at Tenth Avenue, right after completing its clearance test.

10th&Judah.jpgThis clearance test means that only the widest PCCs, the seven double-end “torpedoes,” actually are unsuitable for N-line service, along with the two widest vintage cars, Muni Nos. 130 and 162 (ironic, since these two streetcars were stalwarts on the N-line for decades, before the boarding islands and ramps, of course). Some one-of-a-kind streetcars in the fleet, such as the “boat tram,” should clear the N-line, given their dimensions, but have not specifically been tested.

Market Street Railway will now formally request that Muni authorize the streetcars proven to clear the Ninth and Judah boarding island for charter and special service on the N-line. As soon as that is done, Market Street Railway will schedule a members-only charter there.  We’re also hoping that as resources allow, Muni would conduct additional tests for any streetcar type that’s still questionable. At the top of that list: 1912 streetcar No. 1, which, like No. 1040, is now nearing completion of its restoration process.

Except for the Market Street subway, the J, K, L, M, N, and T lines are supposed to be operable by Muni’s entire streetcar fleet, including the vintage cars. The misdesigned boarding island has kept vintage cars from being shared with neighbors of the N-line on special occasions, just as a misdesigned piece of overhead wire work has precluded the vintage cars from operating over (and south of) the Islais Creek Bridge on the T-line. Market Street Railway would like to see that fixed as well, so that vintage streetcars could make special appearances on Third Street for Bayview and Visitacion Valley neighbors as part of Muni’s Centennial celebration in 2012.

Thanks to Kevin for these great pictures.

UPDATE: We have learned from Muni that the specific reason for the clearance test was to see whether the 1070-class PCCs could be tested on the N-line after they return from renovation at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. (The first of the 11 cars in this class, San Diego No. 1078 should be complete and back in San Francisco by October; the rest will come over the following year; 1076 and 1077 are still in service and haven’t left for renovation yet.) 

The F-line maintenance team feels the N-line is optimal for such testing because it offers a long stretch of steady-speed running (the Sunset Tunnel) plus a long street stretch without much traffic (outer Judah Street).

The test was not done specifically to see whether charters are possible; that’s an SFMTA policy decision. Market Street Railway has formally requested charter authorization for historic streetcars that meet clearances on Judah Street.  We’ll let you know what we hear. Meantime, the possibility has already gotten some community support and media attention.

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Information Gladly Given, Period.

Tens of thousands of San Francisco commuters have probably taken a few moments to ponder this simple statement, which has been posted near the operator’s station of every Muni bus and streetcar since the early 1960s: INFORMATION GLADLY GIVEN, BUT SAFETY REQUIRES AVOIDING UNNECESSARY CONVERSATION. The message is simultaneously friendly and forbidding, inviting yet indifferent, personable yet coldly professional. And now, you can wear it. Printed on a 4.5-ounce preshrunk cotton Hanes Contemporary Fit tee, Market Street Railway’s “Information Gladly… — Read More

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Meet Me in St. Louis…

…for a streetcar ride.  Maybe. Once one of the nation’s great streetcar cities, St. Louis has installed one light rail line, and is now the recipient of $25 million in federal bucks to start a traditional streetcar line. This article, originally in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has all the details, starting with a comparison to the ne plus ultra of such streetcar operations, Muni’s F-line. The $25 mil St. Louis scored from the feds was matched by similar-sized grants for… — Read More

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“Parting Thoughts:” The Final Act at the Transbay Terminal

12:15 a.m., Saturday, August 7th, AC Transit 4088 running on the Route O bound for Alameda left the Transbay Transit Terminal for the final time. This concluded 71 years of continuous operation of the terminal. 4088 rolled off the ramp where the likes of Key System Bridge Units, IER “Blimps”, and Sacramento Northern Interurbans once plied. One Frank Zepeda said, “Savor the Moment,” as our small group of transit fans walked out the door onto the Mission Street loop and… — Read More

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